Onteora School Budget passes by better than 2-1 margin

On Tuesday, voters in the Onteora Central School District (OCSD) approved a $57,938,542 budget for the 2020-21 school year by a margin of 1,843-707. As with other school districts voting by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voter turnout was significantly higher than last year, when the district’s 2019-20 budget was approved by a margin of 406-192. 

The approved budget represents an increase in spending of $535,044, or 0.93 percent over 2019-20. The local tax levy increase is $1,117,748, or 2.56 percent, under the maximum allowable under the state mandated cap for the district, and the budget also 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 included a series of potential savings in their budget should the need arise, 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. 

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In uncontested voting for three seats on the Board of Education, newcomer Emily Sherry earned 2,015 votes, incumbent board president Laurie Osmond earned 1,973 votes and incumbent trustee Bennett Ratcliff earned 1,956 votes. 

“I was very happy that the budget passed so decisively,” said Osmond. “I think that tells us that the community recognizes the importance of education and also how the staff has pivoted so quickly to continue to provide learning. Plus, I’m very proud of how the district supported the students by providing and delivering meals in this very hard and strange time, with the assistance of our fierce and fabulous new board trustee Emily Sherry.”

Osmond said she was also pleased by the increase in voter turnout. 

I was gratified that people turned out for mail-in voting and stayed engaged,” she said. “Hopefully even more will continue to do so in the future.”

Even with the 2020-21 budget passing, the district has many challenges ahead. 

“The successful passage of the budget is a big relief, as an austerity budget would hobble the district and what it could provide for students, at a particularly bad time as we’re all waiting to see what state aid — and one would hope federal aid — will look like for the kids of New York State and beyond,” said Osmond. “We’re all still wondering what September will bring, and I know our administrators are working through all possible scenarios. My hope is that the silver lining may be that we can look at everything with fresh eyes and reimagine some of the things that have been ripe for change.”

The next meeting of the OCSD Board of Education is scheduled for Tuesday, July 7.