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Salmon River board winners pledge to work for entire district

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FORT COVINGTON–– The newly elected members of the Salmon River Central School District Board of Education on Wednesday praised the large voter turnout that helped put them into office and pledged to work on behalf of all residents in the district.

“I first thank all candidates who ran for seats. We all have the best interests of the school district at heart. It is great to see such a large turnout of voters,” Michael Conners Jr. said in a statement issued by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. “I hope that the entire district keeps that turnout growing annually. Please rest assured I will work in the best interests of the entire school district.”

Mr. Conners, incumbent board member Sheila Marshall and Jason McDonald were the top vote-getters in a seven-way scramble for three seats on the school board. The trio were backed by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which mounted a concerted effort to elect them.

Ms. Marshall, who received the largest number of votes, echoed Mr. Conners’s comments.

“I would like to thank everyone that came out to vote. We can be proud that as a school district we doubled the voter turn-out. I will continue to keep all our students as my focus,” she said in the statement.

Mr. McDonald, who narrowly defeated Darrell Lapage for the final seat on the board, said, “I am honored to have the confidence of the people to serve on the board. I thank all of the voters who came out and let their voices be heard. I look forward to working on the board and making the best decisions possible to assist the students and staff in succeeding.”

The narrow vote difference between Mr. McDonald and Mr. Lapage forced district elections inspectors to recount the roughly 1,200 paper ballots cast in Tuesday’s election. As a result, the final outcome of the voting wasn’t known until midnight, four hours after the polls closed.

Mr. McDonald polled 559 votes to Mr. Lapage’s 543. Ms. Marshall led all candidates with 622 votes, followed by Mr. Conners with 614.

Tammy Francis received 524 votes, Jon Pontius tallied 335 votes and incumbent Robert Durant garnered 267 votes.

Stephanie Cook, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s executive director of education, issued a statement voicing sentiments similar to those of the tribe-backed candidates.

“On behalf of the Education Division of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, we are extremely pleased with the effort that was put forth by the voters for the Salmon River Central School Budget/Election. The community participation demonstrated the importance of education. I am personally pleased that so many community members took the time and made their voice heard. Each and every person is tasked with the duty to ensure that all students and staff will be treated equitably and with dignity. We asked for your support and you responded. Niawen:kówa for your votes and we must continue the momentum every year. Our most valuable resource, the children, depend on us to help lead them to a bright future.”

Mr. Lapage, Ms. Francis and Mr. Pontius did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Durant, who has missed several recent board meetings for unspecified personal issues, could not be reached for comment.

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 Native American presence on the board.

Salmon River Central School Superintendent Jane Collins praised the district’s voters, citing the higher than usual turnout and the positive vote on the 2014-15 budget.

“I was very pleased with the voter turn out and the interest the Salmon River community has shown in the school, in the election and budget process. It is important that the community showed such an interest and I value the response from the community on the budget and election.”

SRCS 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 - a teaching assistant for the kindergarten classes and an art teacher.

Ms. Collins said being able to hire an art teacher will allow SRCS to expand their course offerings for art classes and it will strengthen the middle school art. Having another art teacher will also allow for more class offerings in the high school.

Since the voters supported this budget, the district will be able to preserve 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 sports programs.

Voters also passed a proposition to buy new buses for the school. TThe sum of the purchase was not exceed $200,000.

The bus proposition was approved 877-297.

Ms. Collins said the passing of the bus proposal keeps the district on course with its long-range plan for replacing the existing fleet. Ms. Collins said she was pleased with the support.

“I look forward to working with the board to have the best programs to Salmon River and the St. Regis Mohawk school.

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