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Niskayuna passes budget, elects Backus, Jansson, Tully to board

Niskayuna passes budget, elects Backus, Jansson, Tully to board

By a 3-1 margin, $87.5 million spending plan is adopted
Niskayuna passes budget, elects Backus, Jansson, Tully to board
Vivian Persons watches her father Nicholas Persons of Niskayuna cast his vote at Niskauna High School on Tuesday.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

Residents of the Niskayuna Central School District on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the school budget for the 2019-2020 school year.

District officials said Tuesday night that 2,037 people voted in favor of the $87.5 million spending plan. A total of 683 opposed the budget, which calls for a 2.35 percent tax levy increase.

Seventy-five percent of the 2,720 voters supported the budget.

Voters also passed a proposition that will allow the district to purchase 11 vehicles for the Niskayuna bus fleet - at a cost of $991,066. The vote was 2,078 in favor, 642 against. Four full-size buses and two smaller buses will be among the vehicles purchased.

In the race for Board of Education, Brian Backus was re-elected to his second term on the board. Greta Jansson and Kimberly Tully were elected to first terms, with Jansson receiving the most votes of the five candidates who ran for the three seats.

The results were: Jansson, 1,844 votes; Tully 1,616 votes; Backus, 1,448 votes; Patricia Lanotte, 1,251 votes; and Jonathan Vaillancourt, 698 votes.

Backus said he appreciated that five people ran for office "and tried to do what they thought was best for the Niskayuna school district community.

"I'm obviously happy with the results," Backus added, "and proud of the community for the turnout and the support ... I'm looking forward to continuing my service with the board after the first of July with the new members coming on board."

More results from Capital Region school board elections and budget votes:

Backus, the current board vice president, said the recent morale issue in the district has his attention. Earlier this month, district teachers, teaching assistants and support staff warned the school board about low staff morale, unresponsive administrators and unaddressed safety issues.

"We're taking the morale question seriously," Backus added, "so the board and the superintendent and representatives from the bargaining units that brought that question forward are hoping to meet in the next couple weeks to start a dialogue."

Jansson said she felt thankful to her supporters.

"I was actually really surprised to come out with the most votes," she said. "I was just hoping I'd win. So I feel really honored and thankful to the people who really believe in me."

Jansson said she has much to learn. "For me right now, between now and when I start, I'm just going to try and focus on learning as much as I can and, just learning the do's and don't about being a board member," she said.

Tully said she was excited to see the strong voter turnout, which she said doesn't always happen.

"I'm just excited to get to work," she said. "I'm pleased that the process is over to be honest with you, but I'm looking very forward to starting the process of going to the training for the board and getting to work."

Both Jansson and Tully said the morale issue was something they were anxious to work on.

"I think it's something we can fix," Jansson said. "There are a lot of other issues, but for me, because we can fix it, I feel like we should get started on that."

Lanotte was seeking her third term on the board. She previously served on the board from 2013 to 2017.

"There's always next year," she said.

"This is democracy, this is what the community wanted, the people who exercise the right to vote chose the people that they want to govern this district," Lanotte added. "I respect that."

Lanotte also said there is something to be said for advocating from the other side of the podium.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said, adding she will continue her attendance at board meetings.

Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr., in a statement on the district web site, thanked voters.

“We are focused on moving the district forward in partnership with all stakeholders and appreciate today’s show of support," he said. "Guided by our strategic plan, we will keep working to deliver a high-quality academic program and strong student support in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The three-year terms won by Backus, Jansson and Tully will begin on July 1 and run through June 30, 2022.

A steady stream of people voted during the early evening hours.

The school's front parking lot was packed with vehicles, although some spots were taken by parents and students attending an awards ceremony sponsored by the school's foreign language department.

"We're about 50 percent above what our participation was last year," said Cindy Gagnon, the school district clerk. "I think it helps we have five people running for three board seats. I think that's bringing a lot of people to the election."

Niskayuna residents gave reasons for signing in and filling out ballots.

* "It's always important to vote every year," said Deanna Bouton. "I don't think this year is any more special than previous years."

* "I paid a little more attention this year to people who were supporting the athletics," added Carolyn Ausfeld. "Our rec fields and things like that, I think they need a lot of help. And if you don't vote, you can't complain."

* Alex Hallenstein said he believed the budget -- and its 2.35 percent levy increase -- was fair.

"It's not astronomical," he said. "A 2 percent increase is not onerous."

* "It's our right as public citizens to come out and vote and support our beliefs, our schools, our kids and our teachers," said Hannah Ingleston.

* "I wanted to make sure the right choices were made," said Kim Cohen, who would not elaborate. "That's between me and the voting machine. Somebody's going to be happy, somebody's not."

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

More results from Capital Region school board elections and budget votes:

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