Valley Central taxpayers will have a number of big decisions to make when they cast their ballots in the annual budget vote and Board of Education election on May 21. The fate of the district’s 2019-2020 proposed $106,822,000 spending plan will be decided in next Tuesday’s balloting, and the budget proposal includes a 1.05 percent tax levy increase, which is within the state-mandated tax cap. The proposed budget represents a 2.69 percent increase over last year’s approved spending plan, which passed last June after voters rejected the district’s first proposal.
A proposition will also be on the ballot for the potential creation of a Capital Reserve Fund that could not exceed $10 million over the course of a decade. If the fund were to be approved, voters would then have to give the green light to every capital expenditure to fund the district’s future construction projects.
Three school board seats are also up for grabs in next week’s election, with a crowded field of six candidates vying for the trio of slots, with Acting Board President Sarah Messing as the only incumbent in the race. Each seat comes with a three-year term that begins on July 1. In addition, the board candidate who earns the most votes will also fill the unexpired term from May 22 through June 30 that was created when former Trustee Joseph Byrne resigned from his seat last winter. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. on May 21 at the Valley Central High School gymnasium, with the following candidates all seeking to secure a spot on the board.
Sarah Messing is seeking a second term after assuming the role of Acting Board of Education President in March when Trustee Melvin Wesenberg stepped down as head of the board.
“I have very much enjoyed the time I’ve spent on the board the past three years,” she said. “I still have two kids in elementary school and two kids in middle school, and I’m interested in staying involved and giving back to the community.”
Messing, who also serves as the secretary of the Montgomery Elementary School PTA and has lived in the district for more than 35 years, says the board must restore a measure a faith with residents after last year’s first proposed budget was voted down.
“I think we have a lot of work to do in gaining some trust in the community after our budget defeat last year,” she said. “I think that we have to work towards rebuilding the trust and the transparency in the community, and really keeping all of the programs we have now continuing. There has been some issue about balancing our budget with the use of fund balance, and I think we really have to take a look at that and look to have a sustainable budget in the future that doesn’t rely on fund balance.”
In her current role on the board, Messing is the liaison to the Health, Safety and Wellness Committee and is a delegate for the Orange County School Board Association.
Retired police officer Arthur Fitzgerald is hoping to earn his first term on the school board, and the contender first explored the possibility of filling a slot on the council after Byrne’s resignation in January.
“Initially I got into the race because there was an opening and I had written to the school district asking how I could get involved and fill that spot if I could,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald, 52, has lived in the district his entire life, attending Montgomery Elementary up through Valley Central High School. He now has two sons in Walden Elementary and currently works as an Administrative Officer for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. “I’d like to tell the voters that if they elect me I will bring good, solid rational thinking to the board,” he said. “I’m more interested in making good financial decisions. I think if I’m elected, my main motto would be to support all the needs of the district, and not so much the wants. I think that’s a good way to handle any budget situation.”
Fitzgerald serves as a Committee Chairman for the Most Precious Blood Cub Scouts Pack 32 in Walden, and also is the Chairman of the Board for the Emerald Society of the Hudson Valley.
Deborah Hansen has lived in the district for over three decades, and believes that she has the tools necessary to make a quality school board member. “I’ve been asked to run in the past, but I did decide to run this year because I was asked by some district members and I believe my skill set will complement the board and I can do a good job,” she said.
Hansen, 59, has grandchildren in the district and has worked as an administrator with the Girl Scouts for over 15 years. “So I’ve worked in youth development and programming, and I’m very supportive of our children and I want them all to achieve their best potential,” she noted.
The legal assistant graduated from Marist College with a master’s degree in public administration, and is now looking to serve the community in another capacity. “I think the voters should look at their options, look at the candidates and their beliefs and values,” she said. “I have a very strong ethical background. I believe that as a school district we need to listen to our students, our families, as well as look at the operations of the district itself. We need to keep a good balance, which I believe we’re doing, but there’s always room for improvement in everything you do.”
Katie McKnight has deep roots in the local community and experience heading the Orange County Rural Development Advisory Corporation, and the candidate hopes to bring that knowledge and a fresh viewpoint to the school board.
“The main reason I decided to run is that I have children in the district and I’m a taxpayer, so I’m interested in everything going on in the district from both angles,” she said. “I think what really motivated me though was reading some of the stories in the Wallkill Valley Times about some of the things that have gone on in the board meetings. It just seems like something’s not working with the board. I’m the chair of another board and I know how they’re supposed to work. It just kind of motivated me to want to make a change and have things better for our school district.”
McKnight, 38, has lived in the district for 31 years and works as the Accounting Manager at Hudson Heritage Federal Credit Union. She also holds a position as an adjunct professor in accounting at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. Through Hudson Heritage, McKnight mentors local high school students and she volunteers as a coach with the Orange County Soccer Club, which both her children play for.
“I feel like things need to get back to being about the kids,” she said of the board. “I feel like things have gotten a little out of hand. I’ll give the current board members the benefit of the doubt, and I’m sure they’re doing the best that they can, but it seems like something is not quite working and the focus is not on the kids.”
Patrick Murphy wants to raise the bar high for Valley Central, and the candidate aims to earn his first term on the board to facilitate just that. “I think we can do better as a school district,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of work the past couple of years in filling the gaps and making sure that the kids aren’t falling through the cracks, and I think there’s a strong enough foundation right now where we can make the transition and start raising expectations and creating new opportunities for student achievements. I’m essentially trying to get Valley Central out of the beige middle.”
Murphy, 42, has five children, with three currently in district schools, one alumnus and one future VC student. Murphy’s daughter actually graduated from Valley Central High School at 15 by taking on an extra class load. “She kind of figured out early on that she wasn’t going to get what she needed out of the district,” he said. “She was able to figure out on her own that by taking a few extra classes here and there starting in the seventh grade, she took remedial summer school classes just so she could escape.”
The candidate has resided in the district for 19 years and works in Construction Management for the Gilbane Building Company. Murphy believes his experience in engineering could be invaluable in assisting the district with its upcoming capital projects. “I’d like to make this district something where if you’re having a conversation with someone and they say ‘Oh, you go to Valley Central? Wow, that’s a really good school,’” he said of his goals. “You don’t have those kinds of conversations anymore. ”
Diana Revoir was a fifth-grade teacher at Walden Elementary for 32 years before retiring last year, so she has a unique perspective that could be vital to the board. “I have a lot of experience in education, it’s something I’m very knowledgeable about as far as education and curriculum goes,” she said. “I really just want to see what’s best for Valley Central students.”
Revoir, 56, was recently appointed Walden Village Historian and is closely connected to the district. “I care very much about the students at Valley Central,” she says “Any decisions that have to do with them and curriculum and programs in particular, I’m interested as a taxpayer in doing that in a responsible manner.”
The candidate recently experienced a personal tragedy with the death of her husband, but she is ready to continue serving the local community.
“I am a retired teacher who retired from Valley Central last year and I’ve lived in Valley Central my entire life,” she said. “Last year was a rough year for me. I lost my husband last January, and it was a rough end to the school year. After this last year, I’m back on my feet again and feeling a lot better and I’d still like to have my hands in it. I still care very much about the district and I love it.”