School budgets & board seats on the line

School money
School money(MGN)
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 5:34 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - North country voters decide on their school budgets Tuesday.

Residents of 33 school districts in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties vote on school budgets for the coming year. In many cases, they’ll also be asked to decide on things like buying school buses and funding local libraries.

And voters will be asked to select school board members, although contested races — where there are more candidates than open seats — are the exception rather than the rule.

In half a dozen school districts, the tax levy, the total amount raised through property taxes, does not go up. In one case, Thousand Islands, it actually goes down, as does spending.

Many districts benefited from increased state aid this year.

In Ogdensburg, district officials say the tax rate, the amount property owners pay for every $1,000 their property is assessed, is likely to go down. That’s because Ogdensburg has been undergoing a citywide revaluation, which has caused property values to jump up.

In Copenhagen, careful budgeting and careful spending has produced an odd result: the tax cap for the district is actually a negative 4.7%. Every school district has a tax cap, a percentage it can increase spending by.

Copenhagen’s tax cap went negative because the district has paid off debt and bought one school bus instead of two.

As a result, it needs 60% of voters to vote “yes” on the budget, instead of just a simple majority.

Among the contested school board races, Watertown and Lowville have drawn the most candidates.

In Watertown, incumbent board member Jason Harrington is seeking re-election. Also seeking one of three seats on the board are Damita Smith, John Cain III, Milly Smith, Tina Fluno, and Kelly Bragger. The top two vote-getters will serve three-year terms, and the third-place finisher will serve until June of next year.

In Lowville, one of the few districts left where you run for a specific seat on the school board, there are three contested seats.

Stephanie Houser Fouse, who is currently finishing out the term of Rebecca Kelly, is seeking a full three-year term on the board, in what was Kelly’s seat. Charlotte Sullivan is also running for the seat.

Veteran school board member Mike Young is seeking reelection. He’s opposed by Cheyenne Steria.

Kerry Herbine is running for the seat vacated by Thomas Schneeberger. So is Steven Fuller.

Voting hours vary widely, although the most common is noon to 8 p.m. Results will be on this website and on 7 News Tonight at 10 and 11 p.m.