Capital Region – Voters across the Capital Region on Tuesday approved scores of school budgets for next school year, and in Schenectady voters elected two new school board members.
Former Schenectady Boys and Girls Club leader Erica Brockmyer, who works as a school counselor at the private Emma Willard school, and community activist Jamaica Miles tallied the most votes in the city’s five-way school board race. Andy Chestnut, the lone incumbent running for another term, registered the fewest votes in Tuesday’s election as voters expressed their frustration with the current board’s handling of the district’s still-vacant superintendent position.
Voters approved Schenectady $218 million proposed budget 1,150-269. The budget includes nearly 40 new positions and no increase to the tax levy. The new positions include some elementary school teachers, the addition of a class period in middle schools and new equity-focused roles.
As of 11 p.m. on Tuesday no area district reported a rejected budget.
The school budgets across seven Capital Region counties –- Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga, Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie and Rensselaer –- amount to a combined nearly $3.1 billion in total education spending, about a 2.8 percent increase in combined school spending compared to this year. The voters were asked to approve a combined $1.54 billion in local tax levies to support those school budgets, a 1.2 percent increase in total levies compared to last year. The combined school budgets will fund the education of over 127,000 students next year, amounting to about $24,200 per student.
A record increase in state education spending, which was largely possible because of massive federal stimulus, also bolstered school budgets across the region this year.
The school budgets are designed to enable a return to in-person instruction for all students in the fall, but it’s still not clear what health protocols will be in place next school year or whether districts will still need to provide virtual learning options to families. Superintendents in the region recently asked state lawmakers and state health officials to update guidance regarding a handful of issues the superintendents said are standing in the way of a full return to in-person instruction.
The budgets also don’t fully account for the windfall in new funding districts received this spring. While federal aid that flowed directly to states helped bolster the state’s ability to expand its funding for schools, districts will receive more federal funding over the next three years that can be spent outside of the general funds budgets approved by voters. Districts will be required to outline plans in the coming for how they intend to spend that federal aid, which ranges from around $6 million to $60 million in Schenectady.
Tuesday’s election also marked a return to in-person voting after last year’s school elections were disrupted, delayed and ultimately switched to an all mail-in vote during the pandemic. After districts were required to send absentee ballots to all eligible voters in the district, voter turnout surged, more than doubling compared to the previous year. Turnout did not appear to match last year’s elevated levels.
On Tuesday night, the approvals came in fast and furious. Galway voters approved the district’s $23.4 million budget as well as a small capital project. Schalmont’s $52.4 million budget passed with 87 percent voter approval. Shenendehowa voters approved the district’s $187 million budget as well as a $26.5 million capital project. Sharon Springs voters approved their district budget 78-4.
Ballston Spa’s $95 million budget passed 1,072-220. Schoharie’s $25.5 million budget passed 296-84. Mohonasen voters approved the district’s $56 million budget with 76 percent approval, and elected incumbent Wade Abbot and new board members Ericka Montagino and Julie Power to the school board.
In Saratoga Springs, where voters approved the budget, Connie Woyotowich, incumbent John Ellis and Amanda Ellithorpe were the top three vote-getters in a five-way race for three board seats. Ellithorpe edged out Casey Putnam by less than 20 votes, according to the unofficial results posted Tuesday night.