Preview: New Paltz School Board trustee and budget vote

Voters residing in the New Paltz Central School District will have three candidates to choose from during the June 9 school board elections.

Local school districts are sending paper ballots through the mail, with any vote returned by Tuesday, June 9 at 5 p.m. counting. As in the past, budgets falling within the state-mandated tax cap will pass with a simple majority; spending plans seeking a higher local tax increase than the state cap would need a supermajority of 60 percent or higher.

As for when results in budget votes and school board elections will be revealed, no one is certain. Though ballots will be received sporadically over the next two weeks, they cannot be opened until after the June 9 deadline.

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Budget

The New Paltz Central School District’s (NPCSD) 2020-21 $64,940,103 budget proposal would represent an increase of $1,300,103, or 2.04 percent, over the 2019-20 spending plan. The proposed budget includes a tax levy increase of 2.20 percent, or $979,370, which is below the state tax cap of 2.84 percent for the district, thereby meaning the spending plan would pass if approved by a simple majority of voters.

The district’s state aid is anticipated to rise by $677,234 to $16,702,533, though aid reductions during the school year are possible depending upon the severity of the lasting financial impact of COVID-19.

School Board Candidates (four candidates running for two open seats)

Teresa Thompson (Gardiner)

Teresa Thompson is the owner/operator of Main Street Bistro in New Paltz. She has been a trustee on the NPCSD  Board of Education for the past three years.

What motivates you to want to serve on the New Paltz School Board?

Since I moved to the New Paltz area, I have been a community servant. I have always wanted to make New Paltz a better place for the residents and children who live here. I have served on many varied boards over the years and have always enjoyed being a part of what makes New Paltz a unique and inviting place to live and work. The New Paltz School Board has done many wonderful things in the past three years that I’ve been a trustee. We’ve created a magnificent Wellness Center at New Paltz High School that is thriving, we’ve created a Racial Equity Initiative Committee that reports to the board and deals with issues in regards to defeating racism, promoting equity and ensuring that all students are supported in our schools, and this year, we are adopting a UNIFY athletics program, which will enable our special education students the opportunity to participate in a varsity athletics program. These are all amazing accomplishments and I hope to be part of more projects that support our students in the next three years.

What skills do you bring to the work?

I bring a sense of community, a strong work ethic and an inherent drive that anything can be accomplished. I have worked with many groups of people in the New Paltz community over the years, and we have all done wonderful things when people work collaboratively with one another. I consider myself an expert fundraiser, a skill that I believe will become very necessary over the next few years. I’ve successfully helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local organizations over the years and it inspires me to keep moving forward when I see the benefits of that money assist the students and residents of New Paltz and the Hudson Valley.

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

There are so many challenges that have been brought upon us by the global pandemic we are facing. The district will have to weather this storm like every other school district, business, community and family will have to do. The next few years will be difficult. The New Paltz Central School District will have to be able to pay its bills and provide for our staff and students while simultaneously keeping our expenses low so as not to overburden our taxpayers. With rising costs and fluctuating or diminished aid from New York State, this is a real challenge. Navigating distance learning will also be a challenge, should that continue. Many of our students and families are in crisis and may need mental health initiatives and support when school reopens. As a district, we need to be prepared for these types of situations, and any other situations that will befall us.

What would you like to see the board accomplish over the next few years?

I would like to see New Paltz come through our present situation and thrive. Hopefully, we will all come out on the other end of this pandemic as stronger, wiser, more empathetic people. I see evidence of that happening already, as neighbors help neighbors, younger people help the elderly and our business community assisting those in need. I think the next few years will be a collaboration of the school district, village and town leadership, along with other community entities, working together to provide a more vibrant and enhanced environment for its students, families and citizens. With a new school superintendent entering the district on July 1, I see a wide range of possibilities over the next few years. We will certainly be working on our equity initiatives more fully, and, should funding permit, I would like to see enhancements to our athletic fields and facilities and new advantages for our arts, music and drama students across the K-12 spectrum. For these types of endeavors, I believe it will be important to seek grants and private funding because we cannot further burden our taxpayers. For the immediate future, I am longing for the day when we can reopen our schools and welcome back our staff and students, safely and comfortably. I hope that will be soon!

 

Brian Cournoyer (Esopus)

Brian Cournoyer lives in Esopus with his wife and two children. He has been a sales representative at Dutchess Beer Distributors for 17 years. He served six years on the school board previously, including two years as board resident. He also served on the legislative action committee, the audit committee and chaired the policy committee for five years and helped create the Racial Equity Initiative Advisory Committee. During his two previous terms, the board developed, passed and completed a $52 million capital improvement project, opposed high stakes testing as a waste of both money and student/teacher classroom time, spoke out in defense of student privacy and stopped a plan to place a sewage treatment facility next to New Paltz High School.

What motivates you to want to serve on the New Paltz School Board?

I’ve been involved with public education in one way or another for over ten years. It’s the most important public service we offer, and we have to protect it and constantly try to improve it. I try to stay involved in my community and this is work I find very rewarding.

What skills do you bring to the work?

During my time on the board previously, I was known to my colleagues as an active listener and as someone who can find common ground and help people with differing viewpoints work together. I think my experience on the board, as a collaborator with BOE members and administrators, will be a valuable asset as the district will face many challenges in the next few years.

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

The number-one challenge the district faces in the immediate future is the COVID-19 pandemic that has closed our buildings for months. There is a lot of uncertainty around this. We don’t know for sure if we’ll be able to resume face-to-face learning in September or not, so we have to have plans in place. We should follow the best scientific and medical advice for a safe reopening when the time comes, but be prepared to continue and improve distance learning in the meantime. We also need to be ready to provide academic and emotional support for students affected by the crisis in all ways. Let me double down on the social/emotional recovery for our school community — I see this as critical. The pandemic is affecting students, teachers and families in ways we cannot fully anticipate, and we will need to ensure everyone has access to the support they will need, and that whatever the “new normal” is includes enough flexibility to regroup when necessary. We should be leading with empathy, and as board members, modeling that. In addition to this, the district may face a financial crisis on several fronts. As we create school budgets, we have to be especially mindful that the current crisis has resulted in a loss of income for many families in our community. We may also face significant reductions in State aid, which may increase our reliance on the local tax levy. We may need to make difficult decisions to avoid straining the resources of our community. Balancing these decisions while maintaining the core of a great learning experience for students should be a top priority.

What would you like to see the board accomplish over the next few years?

In the short term, I’d like to see us come through the current crisis strong and healthy and safe, with our academic, cultural and athletic programming intact. School should be a safe haven for our students, a place they can rely on during uncertain times. In the longer view, there are many important things to consider. The Racial Equity Initiative, conceived to acknowledge and address systemic racism in our district, is an ongoing process that must continue to be supported and nourished. I would like to see a plan developed for long-term maintenance of all school facilities, from classrooms, to parking lots, to athletic fields, in an effort to reduce surprise expenses and maximize longevity. I also believe we could do more to improve the way the district communicates to parents and caregivers. Most of all, we should always be trying to increase opportunities for students to learn and grow as human beings, mentally, physically and academically. With a new superintendent taking over the reins this year, I’m hopeful for the future of our schools.

A questionnaire forwarded to the New Paltz Central School District’s Board of Education for Edgar Rodriguez was not returned.

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