JOHNSTOWN -- For the first time in several years voters in the Greater Johnstown School District have more candidates to choose from than open seats available on the school board.
Next Tuesday, May 21, voters will pick three school board members from among four candidates: Jennifer Sponnoble, Joseph LoDestro, Christopher Tallon, and Patrick Oare. Winners will serve three-year terms.
All four graduated from Johnstown High School and all four are parents of students currently enrolled in the district.
Voters will also decide whether to support the district's proposed $38.5 million 2019-20 budget, which would increase the district's total property tax levy by 35 percent. The district will need 60-percent voter approval to pass the budget due to the New York state property tax cap.
None of the four candidates have come out against the proposed school budget.
Lodestro, who has a senior management position at Adirondack Beverages, said he thinks Johnstown needs to focus more on "right-sizing" the district by closing another elementary school and looking for ways to more efficiently use the space available at Johnstown High School and Knox Junior School. He said he thinks the school board in the past should have proposed more incremental tax increases, which could have prevented the dramatic property tax levy increase needed for the 2019-20 budget.
"I feel very strongly that we need to pass the 35-percent [tax levy increase]," he said. "The whole budget has come down to income and expenses. The current school board and administration are really concentrating on the revenue side, but I think the expense side really needs to be evaluated more significantly."
"Where we're at right now, if the district doesn't get the 35 percent increase, the schools will lose their extracurriculars, or their athletics, and I think that would be very detrimental to the morale of the students and the district as a whole," Lodestro said.
Oare, a U.S. Army veteran and the co-owner of DAIM Logistics, issued a social media statement where he said "I am not part of this budget cycle," and said it will likely take several years for Johnstown to solve its fiscal crisis. He said he strongly opposes any effort for Johnstown to merge with the neighboring school district in Gloversville. He expressed a desire for the district to "remain strong."
"The community needs a strong school to stabilize real estate values, population decline or retention," he said.
Tallon, a 19-year employee at National Grid/Niagara Mohawk, has been a vocal critic of the Johnstown school board's failure to increase taxes enough in prior years.
"The tax increases that have been passed over the last 20 years, some of them have not been substantial enough to keep up with the cost of expenses," Tallon said. "I wasn't in favor of the capital project. I didn't think all of the parts of the project were necessary."
Sponnoble, a school counselor with the HFM BOCES PTECH program, is the only incumbent in the school board race. She is vying for a fourth consecutive term.
Two of the open seats are currently held by school board president Kathy Dougherty and vice president Greg Truckenmiller, both of whom have chosen not to run for re-election.
The number of candidates available to choose from is a departure from recent years for Johnstown's school board elections, which have resulted in write-in candidates taking school board seats because there were fewer candidates on the ballot than open seats on the board.
Sponnoble in the past has been a proponent of reducing the number of seats on the school board due to the apparent lack of interest in running for the board.
"Our population is shrinking, our student population is decreasing, so I thought we could take a look at that. We want committed board members to be on the board of education, not just people who are appointed via the write-in," she said. "As long as there are people who are committed, we can keep it as a nine-member board, but if there aren't people interested, then we definitely need to look at a smaller board."
Sponnoble said she feels the school board over the past decade made a mistake by not passing more incremental tax increases. She said she believes the district has made efforts to reduce costs, first by closing the Jansen Avenue Elementary School in 2009, and then with staff reductions since then.
"We shouldn't leave money on the table anymore. We have to really look at where our tax cap is and be reasonable with people," she said.