Preview: Onteora School Board trustee and budget vote

Onteora voters are being asked to approve three candidates on the ballot for three seats on the Onteora Central School District Board of Education.

Local school districts are sending paper ballots through the mail, with any vote returned by Tuesday, June 9 at 5 p.m. counting. As in the past, budgets falling within the state-mandated tax cap will pass with a simple majority; spending plans seeking a higher local tax increase than the state cap would need a supermajority of 60 percent or higher.

As for when results in budget votes and school board elections will be revealed, no one is certain. Though ballots will be received sporadically over the next two weeks, they cannot be opened until after the June 9 deadline.

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Budget

On Tuesday, May 26, the Onteora Central School District’s School Board (OCSD) adopted a $57,938,542 budget proposal, an increase of $535,044, or 0.93 percent. The local tax levy increase in the budget proposal is $1,117,748, or 2.56 percent, under the maximum allowable under the state mandated cap for the district, meaning the budget will pass by a simple majority of greater than 50 percent. The budget proposal includes a $20,000 line to support the public library.

State aid overall is expected to rise by around $14,000 to $9,283,995, though expense driven aid is expected to fall by $47,648 to $880,591. Further reductions in state aid are anticipated during the school year depending upon the lasting financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the budget proposal was crafted pre-pandemic, school officials and the Board of Education have included a series of potential savings in their budget presentation, including a reduction of transfer to capital ($750,000), holding off on building repair ($150,000), elimination of a bus purchase ($122,000), a review of non-instructional and instructional staffing, and increasing 2019-20 unappropriated fund balance to use in 2020-21.

School board candidates (three uncontested seats)

Laurie Osmond (Willow)

Laurie Osmond is a real estate agent and a video producer/editor. She was first elected to the Onteora Board of Education in 2008, and has served continuously since then. She’s currently the board president, and has served as both president and vice-president in the past, as well as on various committees.  During her tenure on the board: “I have been part of successfully negotiating contracts with our unions and supervising the creation of yearly budgets consistently approved by the voters to support student excellence, the arts, sports and innovation by our dedicated and talented staff.  I’ve helped craft policies that have abolished a racially insensitive mascot, banned the Confederate flag, increased bilingual communication with our immigrant families, and created a framework for our thriving, empowered student government. I’m proud to have been part of selecting our superintendent, Victoria McLaren, to lead the district into the future.”

What motivates you to want to serve on the Onteora School Board?

My mother was a school teacher and an immigrant who believed in the power of learning and of exploring the world, both inner and outer.  I value the high-quality, multi-faceted education that Onteora offers its students.  I want to be a part of creating a forward-thinking, vibrant experience for young people that reflects this wonderful, extraordinary place that we get to live in.

What skills do you bring to the work?

As both a real-estate agent and small business owner, I understand the intricacies of negotiation, budgeting and scheduling. As a producer with a background in film and television marketing and promotion, I know how to synthesize ideas, communicate them and help them become reality. I like to think that the different aspects of my professional life have also honed my interpersonal and leadership skills.

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

Right now, the greatest challenge is how to resume in-person schooling and transportation with increased social distancing and health monitoring in the face of drastic budget cutbacks.  The federal government needs to step up and prioritize education, along with aiding state and local governments, instead of playing politics with our children’s futures. The coronavirus pandemic has upended education as we’ve known it and also shone a spotlight on the inequities that exist: financially, socially and technologically.  We need to figure out how to get our kids back into a nurturing, supportive environment where they can learn safely.  There’s a lot of talk about the “new normal” and right now there are more questions than answers. I think the conversation is not about “how do we go back to where we were?” but given the chance to view things through a fresh lens, asking, “is there a better way to do this that we’ve not considered?” It’s not about going back, it’s about moving forward, and school districts everywhere will need the financial support to do so.

What would you like to see the board accomplish over the next few years?

I would like to see our board continue to work together for the best possible start in life for our kids.  There are a lot of challenges to navigate in such a large geographic district and we’ve been looking at how our buildings are utilized and configured.  We’ve been discussing revising our homework policy for years, and I think it’s time we confront the stresses and inequities that too much work assigned for home can create.  Healthcare costs are out of control, and we all have to engage with our state and federal elected officials to advocate change there. I think the next few years will be a transformative time, and I look forward to working to create as much positive change as possible.

 

Bennet Ratcliff (Bearsville)

“After spending three decade as a political consultant, I now devote my time to writing.  Two of my non-fiction essays on angling have appeared in the Woodstock Times. In 2015, I volunteered to serve on the Onteora School Board’s Wifi Task Force. In 2016, I was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board and subsequently won a special election to fill the remaining year of the term. In 2017, I won a regular election for a full term.  During these terms, I am proud of the work the school board has done to provide an outstanding education to all of our children while continuing to meet the financial challenges that public schools face. We selected a new superintendent to lead our district, successfully negotiated strong union contracts, and improved the education climate by replacing a racially insensitive mascot, banning the Confederate flag, and expanding student government among other initiatives.”

What motivates you to want to serve on the Onteora School Board?

Our communities are filled with amazingly talented young people and a dedicated corps of educators who commit their professional lives to providing learning opportunities for every child.  In addition to our strong academics, I am honored to support efforts like our amazing music programs, our growing theater arts, our literary and journalism activities and our girls’ and boys’ sports teams. Onteora students are worthy of everyone’s time and attention.

What skills do you bring to the work?

As a child of a lifelong public school teacher, I learned to value education as a path to betterment. As an advisor to diverse clients from President Bill Clinton to His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, I learned that dedication to serving others is its own reward. A lifetime pursuing brook trout taught me patience, persistence and the imperative of catch and release fishing. I hope I bring all of these skills to my work on the school board.

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

Providing an excellent and equitable education to every student in the face of declining enrollment, reduced financial support and increasing health insurance costs is our district’s greatest challenge. How we accomplish this has become even more difficult in the face of a global pandemic which brings new challenges to education, mental health and physical health and safety.

What would you like to see the board accomplish over the next few years?

I hope the board will find innovative ways to provide the necessary resources for our students and district to continue to succeed.  I look forward to the community dialogue that comes when talented people join together to overcome seemingly unreachable goals.

 

Emily Sherry (Woodstock)

Emily Sherry is the co-owner of Provisions Restaurant & Catering, COO of the Table at Woodstock, a community program feeding local residents with no-cost meals.

(She did not return the candidate questionnaire)