Warwick voters say no to $69.75 million school budget by 15 votes

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:48

    WARWICK-After the polls closed Tuesday night, the early results indicated that the Warwick Valley School District's $69.75 million budget passed by 14 votes. But by late Wednesday morning, after the vote count was certified, the outcome changed: Yes: 1,637. No: 1,652. The Warwick school budget was defeated by 15 votes. School district officials attributed the 29-vote turnaround to misread figures on one of the voting machines. Now, the school board has to decide whether to put the same budget up for another vote, make changes and resubmit a new spending plan to the voters, or go straight to a contingency budget. A contingency budget would require a state-mandated reduction of between $700,000 and $1.2 million. Some cost-cutting ideas mentioned by the district include half-day kindergarten, reducing bus stops, eliminating the Arts in Education program, increasing elementary class sizes and reducing high school electives. Dr. Joseph Natale, the district superintendent, said he was "very disappointed" in the vote, but is optimistic the district will continue to move forward. "This was a very tight budget," Natale said. "It has some of the lowest increases we have had in years. Most of the increases are instructional. I'd hate to see the district move backwards. We've had great success. Our students have had great successes." The district estimates that the yearly cost savings to a homeowner with a house worth $250,000 is $105 for the contingency budget. Residents shot down the $69.75 million spending plan, which is an increase of 7.79 percent over the current spending plan. This was one of about a dozen budgets in the area that was rejected by voters. Other districts that said no to their budgets are Monroe-Woodbury, Chester, Minisink and Tuxedo. Goshen, Florida, Greenwood Lake, and Washingtonville all passed their budgets. Five candidates ran for four seats on the school board, which included three full term seats of three years and one unexpired term of one year. Incumbents Coleen Johnson and Robert Howe were returned to the Board of Education for three year terms. Newcomer John Connolly won the third full-term seat that was up for grabs on the board. Bruce Ludovicy garnered enough votes to take the one-year unexpired term that was offered. "First, I want to say thank you to all the voters who supported me," said Johnson, the top vote-getter. "Our goal as a board has been to create a district that is good to great for our students and continue to move forward to excellence. Continuing to improve is key." She added that passing the budget is what allows the board to move forward. When Johnson made those comments, she, like everyone else, thought the budget was approved. This school board will be instrumental in shaping the district for years to come. Natale announced last year that he would be retiring in February 2006 and a nationwide search is on for a new superintendent. The budget includes an additional $2.4 million for contractual salary and benefit increases. Add to that BOCES costs, increases in utilities, supplies and expenses and the base budget rises 6.82 percent or $4.4 million. The growth part of the budget includes staffing. Additions include a full-time orchestra teacher and a part-time band instructor in the middle school; a full-time science teacher and part-time band instructor at the high school, and a district-wide director of fine arts. In sports, an assistant softball coach and a lacrosse program are included. A full-time special education aide and part-time special education teacher are included. A high school security guard, assistant director of operations and management, typist, and three monitors are included in support staffing needs. This part of the budget increases $629,469 or .97 percent. Voters did approve the proposal to buy five new buses at a maximum cost of $450,000. With an estimated state aid of $225,000 and $30,000 on resale of the old buses, the district estimates a cost of $195,000 to taxpayers. Traffic at the polls throughout the day was steady, although not particularly heavy. Natale said it was a lower than average turnout compared to recent years. Various PTA groups made calls the night before to residents, reminding them to go out and vote. Something — either a new budget or a contingency budget — must be in place by July 1. No plans have been made yet to hold a special meeting to discuss an alternate plan. The board's next regular meeting is June 13. "The board will sit down and examine our options," said Natale. "We will work hard and do the right thing."