REGIONAL – School districts in the Shawangunk Journal readership area — including Ellenville, Pine Bush and Rondout Valley — all voted in their proposed budgets for the 2012-2013 school year by sizeable margins on Tuesday, May 15. In concurrent elections for board seats in each district, there were no surprises... except for the unseating of a veteran incumbent in Pine Bush, where a popular newcomer came on board with the district's highest vote count.
Voting turnout was light in all cases, a trend that's been growing in recent years, and corresponds with a shrinking of school attendance over the past decades.
The big news of the night was the showing that newcomer Judith Pulver had in Pine Bush, where she will replace Eric Meier, a member of the Pine Bush Police Department who was seeking his fifth term as a board member.
Pulver, a Special Education teacher for 14 years at Pine Bush High School before becoming an administrator there and retiring last year, received 1,329 votes to 1,197 for incumbent board member Roseanne Sullivan and 1,162 for Meier. The $101,315,553 budget proposal passed with 1,392 yes votes to 780 against.
Original counts released Tuesday night had Sullivan out and Meier in until it was discovered that there were quite a few voting irregularities, which were not identified as of press time. The changed and apparently final vote count wasn't released until late on Wednesday, April 16... causing considerable chaos as areas responded to the change in two incumbents' fortunes.
Both Meier and Sullivan were unavailable for comment as of press time, due to the emotional rollercoaster of the voting outcomes.
"I would like to thank all the voters for their support," Pulver said after the count. "I look forward to working with the board members and in maintaining the high quality education — with fiscal responsibility — that Pine Bush is justly famous for."
The evening's second most exciting race turned out to be in Ellenville, where a spirited run was made by Sandra Oglesby, one of the founders of the new Empower Ellenville citizen's group that has its sights on bettering local education amongst other municipal issues.
Voters in the small school district overwhelmingly approved the budget at the polls with 716 yes votes, compared to 278 no votes.
Three incumbent Board of Education trustees kept their seats for another three years. Maxine Chapin and Wayne Storey will begin a second term, while trustee Iris Friedman will serve her fifth term on the board beginning in July.
Chapin received 834 votes; Storey, 854; and Friedman 864. Challenger Sandra Oglesby, who with her husband Don is an outspoken critic of the school board, lost her bid for the board by garnering only 276 votes. There was also one write-in vote for Francis Gurgui, a perennial candidate for the Board of Education.
The school district's $42,107,685 budget for the 2012/2013 school year decreases spending by 2.06%, but increases the tax levy by 2.49%.
"There is a danger of division in America, and the desperate need for small communities like ours to open their eyes — for unity, for finding common ground and coming together," Oglesby noted in a lengthy post-election statement. "The BOE race was no exception. It was a privilege and a gift to receive the 275 votes from those who came out to support the obvious needed changes at our school district and to explore alternative solutions to tax funding mechanisms and education law reform. I thank you from the bottom of my heart... I promise to do even more for proactive educational solvency off of the School Board."
In Rondout Valley, where the district has been racked by controversial decisions to close an elementary school and reconfigure what remains over the past year, with accompanying behavior problems occurring on district buses, voters approved the proposed $56.94 million school budget overwhelmingly, with over 68% of voters saying yes to the spending plan. District clerk Deb Barbiani announced that 1,297 votes were cast in favor of the budget, with just 599 against.
Newcomers Wayne Beckerman and Rebecca Versace got the highest number of votes in the school board race, with 1,221 and 1,190 respectively. Together with incumbent Breanna Costello, who received 1,182 votes, they will each serve full three-year terms starting in July. David O'Halloran, with 1,089 votes, and Michael Redmond, with 1,051, will be immediately sworn in, but their terms will only last until July, 2013.
Earlier this spring, the district briefly considered trying to pass a budget over the state's mandated property tax cap, which ranges between a 2 and 3 percent tax hike, depending on a district's state aid. To do so would have taken a minimum 60 percent approval vote.
In the overall Hudson Valley, only one district tried to override the tax cap, in the Columbia County community of Germantown, and lost resoundingly. They now need to put forth a new budget or face austerity for the coming year.