By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — Voters will head to the polls May 17 to determine the fate of the proposed $51,256,929 school district budget and to elect three members to the board of education.
The budget proposed by the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District represents an increase of $2,619,628, or 5.39%, over last year’s spending plan. The tax levy borne by taxpayers would increase by 2%, or $521,886.
“The expenditure portion of the budget is up 5.39%, or just over $2.69 million, over this year’s spending,” School Business Manager Joanne Moran said at a board meeting May 4. “Part of the revenue that will support that spending is a 2% tax levy increase over the current year. This is the first time we have had a tax levy increase in two years. We kept it at 0% [the past two years], and this year is a minimal tax rate increase and it is well below our budget cap, which is 4.94%.”
The precise dollar amount of the increase will not be known until the state releases property assessments this summer.
“But the average increase on a homeowner with a $150,000 home is just under $60 for the annual increase, based on a 2% tax levy increase,” Moran said.
Depending on assessments, homeowners in Coeymans, Bethlehem and New Scotland with a property assessed at $150,000 could expect an annual increase in their tax bill of just under $60, and New Baltimore homeowners would see an increase of about $82 per year, District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey said.
Voters will also determine the fate of a proposition to purchase one 14-passenger bus and one 30-passenger vehicle.
The ballot will also include a proposition to increase the amount of money kept in the district’s repair reserve, which was first established four years ago. The proposition would increase the repair reserve to $500,000, and if the district doesn’t have the money at the end of the school year, it wouldn’t be funded to the full amount, Moran said.
A small capital project will also be on the ballot to make improvements that weren’t included in the recently completed capital project, Moran said.
“The $2.3 million targets some of the low-hanging fruit as part of our building condition survey — things we can do right off the bat that we know we have to do,” she said. “In order to do this, we are recommending that we spend $750,000 out of our capital reserve that will offset the cost to the taxpayers to about $32,000 annually.”
The capital project would include improvements to the electrical service at the middle and high schools, asbestos remediation in both elementary schools, removing the existing concession stand at the athletic field by the high school, adding dugouts to the baseball field at Pieter B. Coeymans Elementary School, and replacing equipment at the swimming pool, among others, Bailey said.
If the capital project is approved, it would go to the State Education Department for approval and work would likely begin in the summer of 2023, Moran said.
Voters will also elect three members to the board of education. Incumbents Tracy Klein and Yvonne Shackelton are seeking re-election. Board member Jason Hyslop’s term expires in June and he opted not to run for re-election.
Also on the ballot will be four newcomers — Michael Deyo, Jackie Kalney, Edward Bedinotti and Jennifer Molino.
All six candidates participated in a Meet the Candidates session during the board’s May 4 meeting. They are presented in the order in which they will appear on the ballot.
Incumbent candidate Tracy Klein is running for a second term on the board of education. She lives in Coeymans Hollow with her husband, her son, a sophomore at RCS High School, and her stepson, who graduated from the district in 2020. She works for the state.
“I am a proud graduate of RCS who moved out of the district but stayed in the Capital District and came back to the district when I met my husband,” Klein said. “I was so glad to know that my son would be attending the same schools that I had attended and that so many of the people that I went to school with were still part of the district.”
Klein said she first ran for the board in 2019 because she wanted to counter some of the negativity she saw in the district.
“I am fairly outspoken and wanted to use that to be a voice for the change that so many seemed to be looking for,” Klein said. “There was a learning curve for sure, but it seemed like we as a board had identified areas of improvement and were engaging in difficult but necessary conversations.”
Michael Deyo is seeking his first term on the board of education. He lives in Selkirk with his wife and three daughters who attend the middle school and A.W. Becker Elementary School. He is an attorney and has coached in the RCS Soccer Club for many years.
“One of the reasons that my wife and I moved to this district 15 years ago and have remained here since is that I truly believe that RCS has many advantages over both smaller and larger school districts and that there is a ton of potential here,” he said.
But he also sees a need for “significant improvements” to move the district forward. Deyo and fellow candidate Edward Bedinotti are campaigning together with the platform “Students First, Staff Always, Taxpayer Trust,” he said.
“Every decision we make as board members will be driven by a focus on students first and staff always, while maintaining taxpayer trust through transparency and fiscal responsibility,” Deyo said.
Jackie Kalney has lived in the district for about 11 years and has two sons attending Pieter B. Coeymans Elementary School.
“I am here tonight and for the next 11 years because I love our district,” Kalney said. “I am always bragging to others about the great programs and amazing teachers my family has experienced thus far. But as one of my favorite musicians said, love is about all the changes you make, not just three small words, and I see a lot of room for improvement and change in our district.”
Kalney said she sees several areas of improvement that are needed.
“We need to improve communication, both internally and with the community, to create a more open dialogue where the community and teachers feel heard and respected,” she said. “We need to increase resources focused on the social and emotional health of our students and our district employees. We need to create an environment where teachers want to come here and, more importantly, want to stay here. And we need to set our students up for success when they leave these hallways regardless of what the next chapter is in their lives.”
Edward Bedinotti lives in Selkirk with his wife and two kids, wo attend the middle school and A.W. Becker Elementary School. He is a real estate appraiser and a long-time coach for the RCS Soccer Club.
He is campaigning with fellow candidate Michael Deyo and believes “the possibilities for our district are endless. A lot has been done, but a lot more, I think, needs to be done and I would like to be part of that solution.”
He reiterated his campaign platform of “Students First, Teachers Always and Taxpayer Trust.”
“Every decision that I make will be viewed and based on those three principles,” Bedinotti said. “Anyone can pass a policy, but you have to think about how will the real-world application of that policy affect our students academically, socially and safety-wise. As far as the teachers go, what will the real-world application be for our teachers who have to implement the new policies — what will they be, how will we support our teachers? And for fiscal responsibility, when we are spending taxpayers’ money, we need to know how it will be funded and what will the benefit be. And we need to be transparent with our taxpayers.”
Yvonne Shackelton is completing her first term on the board. She and her husband have lived in Ravena for nearly 30 years and their two sons graduated from RCS High School.
During her first term, Shackelton said she learned that keeping families and taxpayers informed is critical in building trust, and that there is an impression among some that the board does not support district employees. That is untrue, she said.
“The teachers actually have a loud, strong voice in the district,” Shackelton said. “The RCS Teachers Association, which is a union that is run by teachers that represents much of the teaching staff, is known as one of the strongest teachers’ unions in our area. It advocates fiercely for our teachers.”
Shackelton and another board member volunteered to sit in on recent negotiations with the teachers’ union in order to hammer out a new contract.
“Here’s what the teacher’s union, the board and the administration accomplished together — the teachers requested a salary increase. We finalized an average salary increase of 9.8% over two years,” she said. “For perspective, our neighboring school district in Coxsackie-Athens just settled a 1.75% increase across the board for five years. That means that in two years, our teachers at RCS will realize more in salary increases than the C-A teachers will realize in five.”
Candidate Jennifer Molino lives in Selkirk and has a daughter in the middle school and a son at A.W. Becker Elementary School. She is a special education pre-school teacher.
“I am running for the board of education because I want to be a part of moving RCS forward and in a positive direction,” Molino said. “I want to see that all academic and all social-emotional needs are being addressed and met. I want to see the teachers fairly compensated for their hard work and dedication to the field of education. I want to ensure open and honest communication about the decisions made by the board on behalf of the community.”
Molino said she wants to represent parents who feel they don’t have a voice in the district.
“I want to be a voice for parents who don’t feel heard,” she said. “I try very hard in all aspects of my life to foster open and honest communication and build positive relationships.”