New Paltz and Highland BOE news, school board election review and budget

New Paltz voters are being asked to approve a budget for the 2018-19 school year on May 15, as well as select three candidates for the school board. Voting will be at the high school from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Anyone 18 years of age or older, who is a U.S. citizen and has lived in the district for at least 30 days, is eligible to vote. No advance registration is required.

The spending plan for the 2018-19 school year would run $61,270,000, with a tax levy increase of 3.2%, exactly this year’s cap. A separate question would authorize another $480,000 to purchase six new school buses.

Incumbents Michael O’Donnell and Brian Cournoyer are campaigning with newcomer Diana Armstead; they hope to continue to shepherd the schools in a direction of financial security and expansion of efforts in areas such as racial equity. Another slate, comprised of Glenn LaPolt, Meghan Goodnow and Joe Garcia, has a campaign framed largely around issues of physical education and athletics. To learn more about the candidates, visit


Sleep time tabled

Superintendent Maria Rice reported to school board trustees last week on efforts to find an additional 45 minutes for high school students to sleep in the morning. The options were hampered by a number of factors, and it was agreed that no change should be made for the 2018-19 school year.

There is ample research backing up assertions that adolescents sleep best at different times than most other humans, and asking them to arrive at school earlier negatively affects their ability to learn.

Adjustment to bus schedules has been used to find 20 of those 45 minutes, but there is not much more to be done on that front without risking the loss of instructional time for middle-schoolers. Buses are district-owned, and presumably to keep the size of the fleet as small as possible there’s one set of routes for collecting students of both schools; the flexibility to add additional buses which might be present by using an outside contractor is not available.

While similar discussions have taken place in other districts around the county, this is not a process moving in lockstep. Rice received confirmation that New Paltz students could all be assigned to morning vocational sessions at BOCES should a change be made, which would be impractical if new schedules were implemented in all Ulster districts.

That athletic schedules would not be changed which would necessitate student athletes leaving class early under some options proposed. Both athletics and BOCES attendance are impacted by the limited number of buses which can be deployed to transport children after school, should later dismissals be in effect.

Board meetings to shift

As of July, New Paltz School Board meetings will be held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, rather than the first and third.

— Terence P Ward



In a budget presentation at the Highland High School on May 1, district Superintendent of Schools Tom Bongiovi laid out the district’s goals for the 2018-19 school year. They include a plan to increase security personnel at the schools in an as-yet undefined manner, and hire additional faculty members to include a “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher at the high school to promote college- and career-readiness, a half-time reading teacher at the secondary level to meet current needs and an athletic trainer to be at all sporting events to help prevent and treat injuries and conduct concussion management. The district also plans to launch five new athletic programs, Bongiovi said: winter track, modified boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, modified cross-country, swimming and gymnastics.

The superintendent of schools, along with the assistant superintendent, Sarah Dudley-Lemek, noted recent achievements of the Highland Central School District: a four-year graduation rate of 95 percent, the highest in Ulster County — the county average is 86 percent, said Bongiovi — continued work with STEM skills and robotics in all three schools; introduction of an afterschool learning academy at the middle school to reinforce concepts and keep students engaged; and implementation of the Teachers College Reading Workshop, a K-5 reading program that will incorporate writing by next year, said Dudley-Lemek, who also detailed a concentrated effort district-wide to expose students at grade-appropriate levels to college and career options.

After taking the helm as superintendent of schools last year, Bongiovi brought the district into a partnership with the Town of Lloyd Police Department and Highland Rotary Club to establish a Highland community task force, to raise awareness of the issues around opioid abuse countywide and to take a proactive stance against addiction. The police department has been an active presence in the schools since, educating the students and faculty about this topic as well as offering timely information on Internet safety, Bongiovi said. “We need to hit the opioid epidemic head-on; it’s all about education and awareness.”

Budget summary

District business manager Louise Lynch presented the numbers for the upcoming budget ballot in May. Voters in the Highland Central School District will have the final say on Tuesday, May 15 whether to approve a budget proposal of $45,280,769 for the 2018-19 school year. The budget reflects a $2,413,839 increase over the current budget; a 5.63 percent increase year-to-year with an associated tax levy increase of 4.45 percent from last year. Because these numbers fall within the tax cap, a simple 50 percent-plus-one majority vote will pass the proposed budget.

The funding for the budget will come from a tax levy of $28,000,464 and $15,231,086 in state aid. Other revenue and PILOT funds will bring in an additional $549,219, and as with last year’s budget, $1,500,000 will be applied to the budget from the appropriated fund balance.

With passage of the budget, a homeowner with a property valued at $100,000 can expect to see an increase of $102.39 annually or $8.54 per month. A homeowner with property valued at $200,000 would pay $204.78 more per year or $17.07 monthly, with a $300,000 property seeing an additional $307.17 annually or $25.60 per month.

The budget allows for a per-pupil spending of $11,167 for general education with a total spending of $21,941. Similar districts average a per-pupil spending of $11,230 for general education with total spending of $21,790. The average per-pupil spending of all districts in the state averages $12,615 for general education and $23,361 total spending.

Proposition for $8 million capital project

In addition, the district will ask voters for approval on an $8 million capital improvement project. The timing of retiring debt and availability of state aid along with money saved in the district’s capital reserve fund make the project a tax-neutral proposition. Twenty-eight and a half percent of the funds for the project would come from replacement of existing debt with 66.2 percent from anticipated state aid. The remaining 5.3 percent of the $8 million would come from the district’s capital reserve fund.

Passage of the proposition would result in a zero percent tax increase, said Lynch.

The proposal is designed to improve health and safety conditions in the schools, replace some infrastructure at the end of its life, improve energy efficiency and enhance some student programs. The district has created a short, informative video about the capital project, available for viewing through a link at


Bus proposition of $588,000

The Highland Central School District will also put forth to voters a bus proposition of $588,000 to replace vehicles in its aging fleet. The district would like to purchase three 65-passenger buses, two 30-person passenger vans, one wheelchair-accessible van and one 7-passenger Suburban. State transportation aid will pay for 59.1 percent of the bill for the vehicles with an additional taxpayer impact of no more than $6.03 per $100,000 of assessed value.

The ballot on Tuesday, May 15 will also place three candidates up for election for three seats on the Board of Education: incumbents Michael Bakatsias and Edward Meisel are running to retain their seats, with newcomer Camille Adoma running for the seat currently held by Debbie Pagano. The three-year terms begin July 1.

Polls will be open on Tuesday, May 15 in the Highland High School band room at 320 Pancake Hollow Road from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters must be 18 years of age or older, a citizen of the U.S., a resident in the Highland district for at least 30 days prior to the vote and registered to vote. More information is available at

To learn more about the candidates, visit

— Sharyn Flanagan