Onteora school budget vote tomorrow

Tomorrow, voters across New York State turn out to decide the fate of school budgets and school boards. In the Onteora school district (which spans Shandaken, Olive, Woodstock, Hurley, and a sliver of Lexington), polls will be open at all four elementary schools from 2pm to 9pm.

This year, in response to cuts in state aid and falling enrollments, the School Board is proposing a $50,541,121 budget that cuts the equivalent of 12.5 full-time positions from the district. (One position that was cut from this year's budget, a guidance counselor, would be re-hired under a state grant.)

Every year, school budget season means it's time to wade through some confusing math, and this year is no exception. The proposed budget cuts jobs and promises lower energy use by the district, but increases overall spending by 1.04 percent. (That's because the costs of consumer goods are rising across the board.) And that modest 1.04 percent increase in spending is translating into a 3.73 percent increase in the local tax levy. (That's because the district's taxpayers will also have to absorb the cost of an $854,611 decrease in state aid.)

If the budget is defeated at the polls, the school will adopt a contingency budget, which will only be $121,785 less than the proposed budget. (Onteora's hardly alone in having a contingency budget that's nearly identical to the budget put to the voters. Here's an interesting article from today's Syracuse Post-Standard, explaining why contingency budgets are often scarcely lower than the 'regular' budgets initially proposed by school boards.)

School Board members Ann McGillicuddy and Michael McKeon, and the district's new superintendent, Phyllis McGill, visited the Shandaken Town Board's regular meeting on May 2 to present the proposed budget.

McGill said that the district, which is currently educating about 1,500 students, is making plans for a steep drop in enrollment that isn't expected to turn around anytime soon.

"We're following the trend of rural schools with decreased enrollment. This year, we have a class of 142 high school students graduating, and we only have 80 kindergarteners coming in. And first grade, 77 or 78 students," she said. "I'd predict we're going to be around 1,100 or 1,200 students by the time we're done. We're going to stabilize somewhere around 80 students per grade level."

Three School Board members are running for reelection: McGillicuddy, McKeon and Dan Spencer. They have no opponents on the ballot.

Also on the ballot is a somewhat confusingly-worded question that, if passed, would allow the district to take money that will be saved, thanks to energy-conserving lighting upgrades soon be performed by Central Hudson, and use it to fund future repair projects.

McGill told the Shandaken Town Board that passing Proposition 2 will reduce the likelihood of the district having to go to the community for bonds to fund routine maintenance projects.

"We can save without this proposition, but we want it as a separate account for repairs and replacements," she said. "Some things you'd think of as maintenance actually fall under capital reserve because of definitions."

More information from around the web:

Coverage in the Daily Freeman.

A PDF newsletter with several pages of information on the proposed budget and Proposition 2, from the Onteora School District.

From WGXC, Onteora tenth grader Audrey Malloy gives a student's-eye view of the budget.

Update, 6pm: This article initially stated that if the budget was rejected at the polls, voters would get another chance to vote on a contingency budget. Not so: Under New York State law, if voters reject a school budget, the board can either hold another vote on a revised budget, or immediately move to adopt a contingency budget. Apologies for the error.