AMSTERDAM — Greater Amsterdam School District voters overwhelmingly approved the 2022-23 school budget and ballot propositions while confirming the elections of the three candidates to the Board of Education on Tuesday.
District polling places were quiet during the school board election and budget vote with propositions carrying little to no tax impact and three candidates running unopposed for election to three open seats.
Retired superintendent and district resident Thomas Perillo said he votes every year after casting his ballot at Amsterdam High School.
“It’s my duty to vote,” Perillo said. “I always vote in support of the school district.”
Gina DeRossi, a former school board member from 2006-09, acknowledged there wasn’t anything surprising or controversial about the ballot measures. Still, a sense of duty from her prior experience compelled her to visit the polls to support the district.
“I know how important it is to get out and vote for the budget,” DeRossi said.
Superintendent Richard Ruberti said the 478 district residents who cast ballots on Tuesday actually outpaced turnout last year by about 100 voters after the ballots were tallied.
“I want to thank our residents for approving the 2022-23 budget,” Ruberti said. “The zero percent tax levy that voters have had the last couple of years does make it an easier decision and we’re pleased to see the support with the capital [project] proposition.”
The $86.04 million 2022-23 school budget was approved by voters 341-132, according to unofficial results. The plan increases spending by $6.72 million or 8.48% over this academic year. The spending increase is offset by a massive $5.83 million or 10.65% boost in state aid to $59.05 million next year. The budget is balanced with $2.25 million in appropriated fund balance and a flat tax levy of $21.5 million.
The infusion of state aid will be used to add a variety of positions focused on addressing learning gaps and social emotional needs that have increased amidst the pandemic.
The spending plan also expands services provided to district students through Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES, fully funds all extracurricular activities for students, provides for technology upgrades and supports the extension of CDTA bus services to district students and families in the fall.
One-time spending includes the purchase of two 30-passenger school buses, a dump truck and plow, new classroom furniture and various facilities maintenance projects across district buildings.
Amanda Boice, a teacher and resident in the district, said she supported the budget proposition to ensure schools are able to meet the needs of the community and students like her daughter will one day be.
“It is important to have funding available as much as possible,” Boice said.
Voters also approved a $9.5 million capital project proposition 331-138 to make major improvements at McNulty Elementary School as part of the third and final phase of a $19.5 million total capital project making upgrades at each of the district’s five buildings.
Overall project costs will be covered with approximately $8 million in leftover funds from the district’s past $48.9 million capital project that was approved by voters in March 2016 and about $9.5 million from federal coronavirus aid the district received through the American Rescue Plan Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
The district is only expected to borrow about $2 million total. About 97.5% of that sum will be eligible for reimbursement through building aid from the state Education Department leading to little to no impact to district taxpayers from the project.
The project’s main purpose is to improve air filtration and ventilation through the installation of high level Merv-13 air filters in existing air handlers that are compatible and the replacement of any incompatible units at every school to meet state and federal health and safety recommendations amidst the pandemic.
Additional work will include the replacement of the roof-top HVAC system at Tecler Elementary School, boilers at Lynch Middle School and the roof at McNulty. The project will also involve the installation of a teller window at the high school in the vestibule at the main entrance to screen visitors, improvements to the distance learning lab and creation of a new visitor parking lot at McNulty to address safety issues during pickup and drop off.
Perillo was supportive of the project that incorporates improvements while addressing needed maintenance.
“The schools really need to be in tip top shape for our children. A clean building and a safe building just attracts better education and better instruction,” Perillo said.
Elected to the GASD Board of Education were incumbent JoMarie DiTata with 344 votes and newcomers Lara Kulpa with 300 and Wendy Swezey with 263. DiTata and Kulpa as the highest vote-getters will fill the pair of full three-years terms that were up for election. Swezey will fill an unexpired one-year term.
DiTata is an Amsterdam native who retired from a 38 year career in education at GASD in 2018. Kulpa, whose daughter attends Tecler, is a marketing consultant with a history of volunteerism in the community. Swezey, whose grandson attends Lynch, retired from the U.S. Navy in 2000 and has served on several volunteer school district groups for a number of years.
Each of the new school board members have described supporting district students as their priority while ensuring the district is able to meet the social-emotional and academic needs of children struggling since the pandemic.
Voters at the polls agreed they would have liked to see a choice among candidates, but were unsurprised.
“I give people a lot of credit, it’s a thankless job, it’s unpaid, it’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of work,” DeRossi said.
Quality is more important than quantity, Boice added.
“Hopefully, it will be people who will do what is in the best interest of students, staff, the community and not have their own agenda,” Boice said of the three newly elected school board members.
Additionally, a proposition setting a $265,000 total tax levy for the Amsterdam Free Library was approved by voters 327-140.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.