A “thank you” note is displayed in front of Guilderland’s Farnsworth Middle School last week. Photo by Michael Hallisey/Spotlight
ALBANY COUNTY — Voters across the county passed local school budgets with sweeping majorities.
Largely due to increased state funds returned to districts after nearly six years without, school districts in Guilderland, Bethlehem, Voorheesville and Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, all passed budgets that include large additions with little effect on local taxes.
The budgets replace many cuts to programs and staff made in difficult financial years, during which state aid was less favorable.
The $96.5 million Bethlehem Central School District Budget for 2016-17 passed by a margin of 2,119 to 483, or approximately 81.4 percent in favor to 18.6 percent opposed.
After Special Education and Student Services (SESS) Director Kathleen Johnston made a heartfelt plea for increased resources to her department, several full-time and part-time teacher and aide positions have been added across the district, alongside increased BOCES funds for special education programs to account for increased student needs.
Highlights of budgetary additions also include the creation of four modified running teams: girls cross-country (fall), boys cross-country (fall), girls track and field (fall) and boys track and field (spring).
Two candidates were elected to serve on the Bethlehem Central Board of Education in an uncontested election: Michael Cooper, who will serve his third term on the board, and Jonathan S. Fishbein, who has been elected to his first term. They will each serve full, three-year terms beginning July 1, 2016.
In addition, a proposition to replace ten large buses and five small buses at a cost of $1,413,000 passed by a vote of 1,858 to 727, or 71.9 percent to 28.1 percent.
Bethlehem Public Library
Voters passed the library’s 2016-17 budget by a vote of 2,127 to 457. Newcomer Paula Rice was elected to the open seat on the board of trustees.
The library’s 2016-17 budget proposal comes in at just over $4 million. The levy portion of that is about $3.75 million, an increase of 0.75 percent over last year and within the state-mandated spending cap. It includes funds for HVAC replacement and repair, replacing worn-out furniture, library van maintenance and webinars and conferences.
Guilderland Central School District residents approved a $96,590,045 budget for the 2016-17 school year by a vote of 1489 to 582. This budget represents a 3.10 percent increase in spending over the current year’s budget and will result in a 1.35 percent tax levy increase. Tax rates are estimated to increase by less than that amount at 0.74 percent for residents of the Town of Guilderland.
Budgetary additions include five teaching assistants at the elementary level, a special education teacher at Altamont Elementary School and two at the high school, added clerical support across the district and two counselors.
Voters also approved a $1,156,000 bus and equipment proposition to purchase seven large buses, three smaller buses, two wheelchair-accessible buses, and a tractor by a vote of 1438 and 621 and elected three members to the Board of Education in an uncontested election: Barbara Fraterrigo, Teresa Gitto and Gloria Towle-Hilt.
Guilderland Public Library
GPL’s proposed $3,66,832 budget passed with 1,429 votes in favor to 639 votes opposed. The budget includes increased funds for capital improvements, specifically repair of an unsafe loading dock and roof replacement, funds for both of which will be offset by a state grant. Incumbent Library Board of Trustees member Bryan Best was reelected, while a second open seat on the board remains to be filled. Decision on the appointment will be made by write-in vote.
Residents of Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk voted 655 in favor and 317 opposed, to approve the $44,500,531 budget for the 2016-17 school year. The budget calls for an increase in total spending of 2.92 percent, or $1,263,801, from the 2015-16 school year and a tax levy increase of 1.63 percent, which equals the district’s limit based on the state’s tax levy cap calculation. The budget maintains all current student programs at RCS.
The approval of the bus proposition allows the district to purchase seven new buses and two new passenger vans as part of the district maintenance and replacement plan. The state will reimburse the district for 61 percent of the purchase cost.
Residents also voted to fill three Board of Education seats, re-electing school board candidates Jason Hyslop with 731 votes, James Latter, II with 737 votes, and electing new board member Kristen Rexford with 729 votes.
RCS Community Library
The RCS Community Library vote passed with 750 in favor and 221 opposed. The library also had a proposition on the ballot, which was approved by voters, allowing the library to purchase the existing library facility located at 95 Main Street in the Village of Ravena. Residents also re-elected four candidates to the library board of trustees: Megan Aurelia with 716 votes, Joseph Boehlke with 745 votes, Antonio Booth with 719 votes and Marie Sturges with 748 votes.
Voorheesville Central School District
Voters approved the district’s proposed $23.8 million budget with 775 votes in favor and 199 votes opposed. Tax rate will remain unchanged for the third year in a row at $1.26 per $1,000 assessed valuation. The budget includes an addition of two teaching positions, increases teacher salaries by 2.5 percent, along with several other part-time staff additions. Funds were also increased for curriculum supplies and facility repairs.
As well, the proposed bus purchase, pool improvements and bridge/window work were approved.
Elected to school board are incumbent Diana Straut with 573 votes and newcomer Jeannie McDonnell with 449 votes. Four candidates ran for the two School Board positions.
Voorheesville Public Library
Voters approved the $74,000 2016-17 Voorheesville Public Library budget, which represents a decrease in expenditures over last year’s budget by $500. Tax rates will remain the same at $1.29 per $1,000 assessed home value for New Scotland residents and $1.46 per $1,000 assessed home value for Guilderland residents. The budget includes fund additions for expanded library hours, with the library now open earlier on weekdays and summer weekend hours now extended. Also included are increased teen and adult programs, increased Internet access and lease of a new printer.