Tupper Lake school budget passes by eight votes
Korey Kenniston elected to school board
TUPPER LAKE — The Tupper Lake Central School District’s budget passed by only eight votes on Tuesday in an election with an unusually high in-person voter turnout. Voters also chose a newcomer, Korey Kenniston, to fill a seat on the school board over incumbent David Dewyea.
TLCSD Superintendent Russ Bartlett was glad that the $22.69 million budget passed, but said there’s a lot of work to do to “repair the divide in the community.”
He felt, based on things he’s heard over the past couple days, that a lot of people were voting against approving the school budget because of misinformation he saw on social media or “through the grapevine.” He said he heard several people say taxes were going up 10%. The tax levy, or the amount the district collects from taxpayers to fund its budget, is going up 3.06% in the new fiscal year, which falls just below the state tax cap.
Bartlett felt people may have been confused because spending is going up around 10%, but Bartlett said that’s because there’s more revenue to spend — the district got a lot of extra money from the state and federal governments this year, nearly 14% more aid than the district received last year. Earlier in the day Tuesday, Bartlett also felt some people might vote against the budget because they’re upset the school has a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which is mandated by the state.
The district kept costs below the tax cap by using around $500,000 from its fund balance and supplementing the budget with around $1 million in federal stimulus funding.
The amount of money the district will levy from taxpayers is $9,551,162, which is 3.064%, or $275,229, more than last year.
Election and propositions
Kenniston won election to the board with 370 votes. He campaigned on keeping students happy at school through programming, safety and building “Tupper pride.”
Dewyea got 301 votes. He was running for a third term on the board.
Kenniston will serve for three years on the school board.
Bartlett said he’s known Kenniston since he was a student at TLCSD.
“He seems to have a deep interest in serving, so that will be a plus,” Bartlett said. “It’s always good to have new eyes on things and new ideas at the table.”
“I appreciate Dave Dewyea’s service and I’m sorry to see him go,” he added.
Voters also approved a proposition for purchasing two new buses. The proposition allows the district to borrow money for the vehicles and pay off its debt over five years. The debt for these bonds is included in the budget.
Bartlett said voter turnout on Tuesday was nearly double what it’s been on average over the past five or six years, save for the 2020 vote, which was entirely mail-in and brought in over 1,000 ballots.
“I’m happy that almost double the normal number of people came out to express themselves,” he wrote in a text. “I want people to be involved and learn how the school operates on a financial level.”
But he was also frustrated because he said the negative response to the budget happened just recently and was surprising to him. He said he hadn’t heard much about it before, when the budget was being created and discussed.
Bartlett said it’s unfortunate that the school budget process is so transparent, but so few people participate in it.
“There’s nothing hidden, and I’ve heard so many rumors and suggestions of things in the past few days that have all been discussed and presented publicly three or four times in the budget building process,” he wrote in a text.
Bartlett said the Tupper Lake public hasn’t spoken at a budget presentation in a long time.
Asked what the district can do to prevent misinformation about the budget in the future, Bartlett said, “I guess the answer’s always communication.”
“If people are truly invested and interested in it then we have to make sure that they know,” he said. “I think people are frustrated by a lot of everything, and school budget votes are one of the few places they get to voice their frustration.”
He said he understands that people are hurting financially. Village taxes and water and sewer rates in Tupper Lake are going up, too. But he said as the costs of diesel fuel for buses, building materials and food rise, the district’s costs go up, too.
He felt the district presented a “fair budget,” but it was scary to see votes come in and not be sure the budget would pass.
If this budget didn’t pass, the district would have had two options. Either cut around $200,000 and bring the tax increase down to 0%, or revise the budget and put it up for a second pass-fail vote.
“I don’t know what we would cut to make the $200,000,” Bartlett said. “I’m super glad we don’t have to find out.”