Voters in the Kingston City School District overwhelmingly approved a $180,813,057 budget for the 2019-20 school year on May 21, with 1,180 in favor of the spending plan and 501 opposed in unofficial results.
The approved budget 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.
They might not have needed a supermajority, but the district got one all the same. School officials were concerned that reducing the number of polling places and cutting back polling hours might negatively impact the chances of passing their budget. But while the total number of voters fell from 2,875 a year ago, those who did vote this year approved of the budget by a greater percentage, over 70 percent compared to around 65 percent in 2018.
“We did fare better percentage-wise, but I still would like to see us get back to a higher number of voters” said Superintendent Paul Padalino. “We’re actually not that far off from where we were last year, which is interesting. And we’re already talking about what we can do next year, do different, do better, to get more people out. It’s been a steady decline since we had around 6,000 voters in 2012. We’d like to see more voters, but we’re glad to see that the voters who did come out overwhelmingly approved our budget.”
The district’s hours and polling locations were significantly reduced due to an arrangement with the Ulster County Board of Elections, who very nearly didn’t allow the KCSD 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. Polls were open on Tuesday from 3-9 p.m.
Also approved by voters was the sole proposition on the ballot, the renewal of the district’s warehouse and maintenance facility lease at 918 Ulster Avenue at an estimated $100,000 per year. The district has leased the facility since December 2003. Nine-hundred thirty-seven people voted in favor of extending the lease, while 377 voted against it.
With five candidates vying for four seats on the Board of Education, incumbents fared the best, with Suzanne Jordan (1,459), Steven Spicer (1,342) and James Michael (1,247) all cruising to victory with new three-year terms. With 917 votes, Herbert Lamb will fill out the remaining two years of a term originally held by Danielle Guido, who resigned from the board earlier this year. Spicer was appointed by trustees to take the seat left by Guido. Donn Avallone, who ran as a write-in candidate, picked up 458 votes.
Padalino said he often looks at the school board votes rather than the budget results as an indicator of how the public perceives the job the district is doing. When incumbents are re-elected, Padalino said, it means voters are happy with the job they’re doing.
“This is my seventh budget here in Kingston, and in seven budgets we’ve only had one board member who left the board by being beaten in an election,” said Padalino. “The fact that people continue to elect incumbents says to me that the community trusts in how the school district is being run and trusts the Board, and by proxy trusts the administration and the direction of the district.”
The budget passed easily at all three polling places by roughly the same percentage, as did the warehouse proposition. All three incumbents earned enough votes compared to their opponents at each polling place to earn full terms, while Lamb was also the clear winner of the two-year term at all three schools. Avallone trailed at all three polling places, but while he picked up 262 and 194 votes at Kingston High School and Miller Middle School respectively, unofficial results at Bailey show him receiving just two votes.