Local school districts this week celebrated passage of their budgets for the 2020-21 school year, avoiding shifting to an austerity spending plan. Voters mailed or dropped off ballots rather than heading to polls due to the pandemic. Starting shortly after the deadline of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16, votes were counted in an atmosphere of social distancing.
While some were concerned that participation would be more muted than usual because of the pandemic, turnout increased significantly in local school districts. In addition to an increase in participation, local school districts also received greater support for their budgets than in 2019-20.
Though passing their budgets provided districts with some clarity, uncertainty is still swirling around about the opening of schools in September, officials expressed concern about how their state aid figures might be impacted when one of governor Andrew Cuomo’s planned look-back dates arrives on June 30.
Voters in the Kingston school district approved by a margin of 4278-1690 a $187/4 million budget that maintains programs and extracurricular activities and doesn’t include reductions in staff. The spending plan represents an increase of 3.65 percent over the 2019-20 budget and includes a tax-levy increase of $1.83 million, a 1.73 percent increase that is at the state cap for the district.
The spending plan is based on state aid totaling $64.92 million, an increase of 2.3 percent over the current school year’s aid total. That figure may be reduced periodically during the 2020-21 school year, depending upon pandemic-related revenue shortfalls. According to schools superintendent Pasul Padalino, the district has factored in three potential levels of cuts depending upon the severity of aid reductions from the state.
As in other districts, Kingston experienced a significant increase in voter participation compared to last year, when 1681 votes were cast compared to 5968 this year. The 2019-20 budget passed 1180-501. The 2020-21 budget earned 72 percent approval from voters, compared to 70 percent approval for the 2019-20 spending plan.
Also on this year’s ballot were three uncontested seats on the school board. Incumbents Nora Scherer earned 4829 votes, and Priscilla Lowe earned 4672 votes. Newcomer Cathy Collins picked up 4651 votes to replace the Rev. James Childs, who decided not to seek reelection.
During a meeting on Friday, June 19, trustee Robin Jacobowitz expressed gratitude for the voting results. “I would just like to thank the community or supporting the budget,” Jacobowitz said. “I’m pleased that our turnout was relatively higher, I suppose, and I was really pleased that the budget was supported.”
Saugerties school district voters approved their $66.5-million budget by a margin of 2652-1144. The voting, conducted by mail due to the pandemic, saw a significant increase in participation compared to last yea. The 2019-20 budget had passed by a margin of 670-345. The 2020-21 budget earned 70 percent approval from voters, compared to 66 percent approval for the 2019-20 spending plan.
The budget represents an increase of 1.8 percent over the 2019-20 spending plan, and includes a local tax-levy increase of 2.2 percent, or $867,742, bringing that total to $40,6 million. The proposed tax-levy increase is at the maximum allowable under the state-mandated cap for the district.
The approved spending plan overcame a deficit of $1.8 million by tapping into the fund balance and reserves, The deficit is partly due to a projected reduction in state aid of $408,893, or 1.77 percent. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has indicated that further reductions during the school year are also possible.
“We’re concerned that he’s going to cut funding for school districts,” said school board president Robert Thomann after a meeting to accept the polling figures. “The majority of district budgets (across New York) passed, so is he going to say, Well, you have money now, so we can take from state aid”?
Also on the ballot were three uncontested seats on the school board. Susan Gage got 2920 votes and Krista Barringer 2522. Newcomer Timothy Wells will join the school board after Damion Ferraro decided not to seek reelection. Wells picked up 2493 votes to fill the seat.
While Thomann was pleased that the mail-in ballots led to greater turnout than in traditional polling years, the expense would make it difficult to change to the practice after the pandemic is over. “We discovered that the mail-in ballots are better way to do things, although they’re very expensive for the district,” Thomann said. “I had a lot of people in the community speak to me before the ballot came out, and they were very anxious to get the ballots because they were concerned about their kids’ education and said they were going to both positively on the budget. You don’t have to go to public places, and with the pandemic and everything else that’s going on people worried about ensuring that their kids’ education was in place.”
The next meeting of the school board is scheduled for July 14.
Voters in the New Paltz school district approved a $64.9=million budget for the 2020-21 school year by a healthy margin of 2374-887. Voter participation was nearly three times greater than last year, when the 2019-20 budget passed 782-320. The 2020-21 budget earned 73 percent approval from voters, compared to 71 percent approval for the 2019-20 spending plan.
The budget includes a tax-levy increase of 2.20 percent, below the state-mandated tax cap of 2.84 percent for the district. The district’s state aid is anticipated to rise by $677,234 to $16,702,533, though aid reductions during the school year are possible.
The school board discussed the results during a June 17 meeting streamed on YouTube, with all present checking in from elsewhere.
“I just want to say thank you to the community,” said Teresa Migliozzi Thompson, a trustee who held on to her seat with 2033 votes. “It’s rewarding to be a board member in a community that loves New Paltz and our schools so much …. So happy that it passed.”
Fellow trustee Sophia Skiles also expressed gratitude for the budget passing. “Thank you to the community for moving us through that budget,” said Skiles.
As the highest vote getter with 2040 votes, Brian Cournoyer was appointed to the school board during Wednesday’s meeting. Cournoyer will fill a vacancy left when then-board president Kathy Preston resigned in February of this year for personal reasons. Losing his bid for a seat on the board was former trustee Edgar Rodriguez with 1314 votes. There were also 63 unnamed write-in votes in the election results.
The school board bid farewell to interim superintendent Bernard Josefsberg, who steps down after serving in the role for much of 2020. Last month, the district hired Angela Urbina-Medina as its full-time superintendent beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
The next meeting of the school board is scheduled for July 8.
Voters in the Onteora school district approved a $57.9-million budget for the 2020-21 school year by a robust margin of 1843-707. As in other school districts voting by mail due to the 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 2020-21 budget earned 72 percent approval from voters, compared to 68 percent approval for the 2019-20 spending plan.
The approved budget represents an increase in spending of 0.93 percent over 2019-20. The local tax-levy increase is 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 very slightly, Further reductions in state aid are possible during the school year depending upon the lasting financial impact of the pandemic. While the budget proposal was crafted pre-pandemic, school officials crafted 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.
In uncontested voting for three seats on the school board, newcomer Emily Sherry earned 2015 votes, incumbent board president Laurie Osmond earned 1973 votes, and incumbent trustee Bennett Ratcliff got 1956 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 passage, 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 school board is scheduled for July 7.