Voters in the Kingston City School District will head to the polls on Tuesday to say yay or nay to a $180,813,057 budget proposal for the 2019-20 school year, one which school officials tout as maintaining program and helping expand pre-kindergarten offerings, while keeping the tax levy increase at just 1.45 percent. The makeup of the school board will also be decided by voters.
The district’s new pre-K hub will open in the former Frank L. Meagher Elementary School this September, fulfilling a goal school officials say was set forth to ensure more children in the district would be able to get their academic careers off to an early start.
“We’re going to be able to take a big bite out of the number of four year olds in the school district who are unable to access highly qualified teachers and high-quality pre-K,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino. “That’s the one new thing we have in this budget. We’re really proud that we’ve been able to do it. It’s been a lot of work trying to make sure we do it at a reasonable cost. We’re going to open in September, and this budget supports that effort.”
Padalino also noted numerous initiatives that will be able to continue should the budget pass muster at the polls, including lower class sizes of 21 or fewer in kindergarten and first and second grades; AP and college-level classes; BOCES programs which serve over 300 students in the district; and the P-Tech program, which is used by 70 KCSD students. The district’s push toward focusing on the social and emotional components of education are also supported by the budget, Padalino said, as are extracurricular activities.
“One of the concerns around budgets is always the arts and extracurriculars, which we’ve maintained,” Padalino said. “We have 29 varsity sports, and we’re able to continue with that. Our band program, our choral program, it all continues to be funded.”
The proposed spending plan will see an increase in spending of $5.78 million, or roughly 3.3 percent over the 2018-19 budget. Because the district isn’t seeking to increase the tax levy by greater than the 1.45 percent mandated by the State Education Department, they only need a simple majority at the polls for the budget to pass. The district’s first draft of the spending plan totaled $181.88 million, which would have come with a 3.98 percent tax levy increase. By coming down to 1.45 percent, the district avoided having to seek a supermajority of 60 percent or higher at the polls.
Also on the ballot is a single proposition, the renewal of the district’s warehouse and maintenance facility lease at 918 Ulster Ave. at an estimated $100,000 per year. The district has leased the facility since December 2003.
Finally, there will be at least one brand new face on the Board of Education as two of three trustees nearing the end of their current terms are seeking re-election.
Suzanne Jordan currently serves on the Facilities Committee, Policy Committee, Teaching and Learning Committee, Jefferson Committee, Kingston Parent Group, and is the chair of the Legislative Action Committee.
James Michael is on the Dietz Stadium Commission, and is chair of the Audit and Finance Committee.
Kathleen Collins, chair of the Policy Committee and member of the Guardians of Equity will not seek another term.
Also running again is Steven Spicer, who was appointed to the board by trustees earlier this year after the resignation of Danielle Guido.
Two challengers have entered the race: Officially on the ballot is Herbert Lamb, while Donn Avallone is hoping to make the cut as a write-in candidate. Both Lamb and Avallone are former educators.
The top three vote-getters will earn full three-year terms on the Board of Education, beginning on July 1, 2019. The candidate receiving the fourth-highest vote total will fill out the two years remaining on the term currently held by Spicer.
New times, places
The district’s hours and polling locations have been significantly reduced due to a new arrangement with the Ulster County Board of Elections, which very nearly didn’t allow the district to use its voting machines at all. Historically, the district held its budget vote at each of its elementary schools, but polls will instead be open at Kingston High School, and both J. Watson Bailey and M. Clifford Miller middle schools from 3-9 p.m.
School officials say they’ve tried to get the word out as much as possible about the voting changes, and they hope the reduction in polling places and hours of operation doesn’t have a significant impact on voter turnout.
“We’re very concerned,” said Padalino. “We’re doing a lot of public outreach to try to make sure people know and are informed about the changes in the hours and the changes in the polling places. It’s unfortunate, but we’re playing the cards we were dealt. Hopefully after this election we will be able to sit down with the Board of Elections and maybe the new county executive and have a conversation about not having to do this in the future.”
For more information on how polling location changes affect you, visit: www.kingstoncityschools.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=4534