Two suburban school districts in New York’s Capital Region held votes Tuesday on proposed buildings and grounds improvements. One passed, the other did not.
Voters in the Ballston Spa School District OKed a bond referendum to fund $24 million in facility improvements. The tally was 894 to 244. Superintendent Ken Slentz expressed his appreciation to voters. "We are thrilled with the turnout, obvioulsy, with 79 percent of our community members who are voting saying 'yes.' Obviously we are grateful to the community for coming out, and certainly for their support of the project. This is much needed work within the district and is a continuation of prior plans, so we are certainly agian grateful that the community saw that and we're looking forward to getting to work on this."
- The proposed improvements include renovations in the Grove Street section of the Malta Avenue Elementary School as well as the outdated classrooms, bathrooms and locker rooms at the Ballston Spa Middle School. High School renovations include the replacement of the original cogeneration equipment and related control systems, upgrades to the auditorium and technology classroom access. The proposed athletic improvements include rehabilitation of fields in front of and behind the Middle School, the construction of a new multipurpose field on the south end of the campus and a new athletic storage building.
- The bond referendum totaled $23,980,000 for the Phase III facilities improvements. As a result of utilizing $6,325,000 from the district’s Capital Reserve Fund, the projected net tax impact on the average home assessed at $235,000 is estimated to be an average of $11.60 per year starting in 2021. Additional information about the plan, site and building drawings, video tour, as well as photos of current facilities are located on the Facilities Improvement Project pages of the Ballston Spa School District website at www.bscsd.org.
A $42.7 million construction project in the Guilderland Central School District was defeated by 59 votes.
The money would have enabled upgrades to aging infrastructure in the district's seven school buildings, as well as purchasing new security cameras and making system-wide technological improvements.
While officials pointed out that turnout of nearly 2,700 eclipsed the 1,972 voters who showed up last May for the district's budget election, Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners says the counts are deceiving. "If you compare the turnout for the special date in October to what the turnout in that area is in November, it pales in comparison. You'll see 7,000, 8,000 voters turn out."
Conners has been leading a call for these types of elections to be held the same day as the general election, this year on November 6th. Not coordinating the dates, he says, constitutes a willful attempt by districts to manipulate election results. "It's held on these dates that no one knows about. And the election is not held in the normal voting place, it's held in five elementary schools. So if you don't know what elementary school you go to or you don't know where you're supposed to go, you're gonna miss the election. So, yes it was nice to have a big turnout of 2,700 people roughly speaking, but it should have been 7,000. And when you look at the impact that school taxes have on your overall tax bill, in Guilderland it's over 70 percent and in some cases 75 percent of your tax bill. So why wouldn't you want the whole population that votes to have the opportunity to vote on that budget?"
Dr. Marie Wiles, Guilderland superintendent of schools, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On the district website, she wrote, “We are disappointed in the outcome, especially because it was so close. We will use the feedback from our exit poll to re-evaluate and plan our next steps. There is still critically important work to be done to keep our students in a safe, secure, healthy learning environment.”
Conners says local representatives in the state Assembly and Senate have been looking at legislation that would mandate school districts to hold referendums and project votes in established polling places on Election Day. "This is a process issue with me, that if the process is fair and everybody who pays taxes gets a chance to vote on it, then that's great. But when you have these quiet little elections that are really conducted for the benefit of you know, the PTA and the group involved in it, it's not fair to the average taxpayer, particularly given how expensive school taxes are in this area."