FORT COVINGTON –– Candidates backed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe swept the Salmon River school board elections Tuesday night, capturing all three seats on the ballot.
Incumbent board member Sheila Marshall was the nights top vote-getter, followed by Michael Conners Jr. and Jason McDonald. The other incumbent running Tuesday, Robert Durant, finished sixth in the seven-way race.
Ms. Marshall received 622 votes, Mr. Conners 614 and Mr. McDonald 559. Mr. McDonald barely squeaked by Darrell Lapage, who tallied 543 votes.
Tammy Francis received 524 votes, Durant got 267 votes and Jon Pontius garnered 335 votes.
The closeness of the race was reflected in the length of time it took for the results to be announced. Polls closed at 8 p.m. but a final tally wasnt available until midnight, as elections officials recounted the results.
The board race had been controversial, with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe backing Ms. Marshall, Mr. Conners and Mr. McDonald in an effort to increase the tribal presence on the board. Ms. Francis, Mr. Lapage and Mr. Pontius originally ran as a group, but Mr. Pontius was dropped from the effort after intemperate remarks about a Meet the Candidates forum sponsored by the tribe. Ms. Francis, Mr. Lapage and Mr. Pontius did not attend the forum, which was held at the school, saying they believed the use of the school for what they said was a partisan event violated state Education Law.
The victory by the tribe-backed candidates marks the last time winners will those who receive the largest number of votes. Voters approved a proposition to discontinue at-large elections for the school board 705-456.
Since the proposition passed, it repeals the current at-large system of selecting school board members, and vacancies on the board will now instead be considered separate and specific seats. When candidates file nominating positions to run for the board, they will need to cite a specific seat for which they are running.
Under the election system used Tuesday, the top vote-getters among all candidates were awarded seats. With the change, future candidates will have to declare their intention to seek a specific seat.
The change will take effect for the 2015 school board election.
SRC voters also voted to approve the 2014-2015 district budget, which totals $29,453,598 with a tax levy of $1,978,899. The spending plan passed 772-415.
The SRC tax levy increase is below the tax cap, making taxpayers eligible for a reimbursement from the state for the increase in taxes from 2013 to 2014. Taxpayers should receive the credit before the November elections.
The approved state budget gave SRC an increase in funding from last year. The budget will allocate some of that additional funding to two new positions needed for next year — a teaching assistant for the kindergarten classes and an art teacher.
Since the voters supported this budget, the district will be able to preserving class sizes advanced placement classes, the arts, foreign language classes, guidance, the STEM program in the middle school, agricultural programs, summer school, extracurricular activities and the sports programs.
Voters also passed a proposition to buy new buses for the school. The Board of Education had asked the public for the authorization to purchase no more than one 65-passenger bus, one 28-passenger bus and an eight-passenger bus. The sum of the purchase was not exceed $200,000.
The bus proposition was approved 877-297.