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Bedford Central School Budget Fails; Three Incumbents Ousted

Challenger Pam Harney, who won a seat on the Bedford Central school board. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Incumbent Bedford Central school board members Jennifer Gerken and Suzanne Grant, pictured at the board's election-night meeting. Gerken and Grant, along with fellow incumbent Michael Solomon, were unseated by the voters. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Michael Solomon, pictured at a prior event, was among three Bedford Central school board incumbents who were unseated. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Challenger (and outgoing athletic director) Beth Staropoli, who won a seat on the Bedford Central school board. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Challenger Michelle Brooks, who won a seat on the Bedford Central school board. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- Voters in the Bedford Central School District ousted all three incumbents up for re-election, while the proposed 2016-17 budget was narrowly defeated.

Results show that incumbent Jennifer Gerken lost her seat to challenger Michelle Brooks by a margin of 2,169 to 2,047. Incumbent Suzanne Grant lost her seat to challenger Pam Harney by a vote of 2,149 to 2,051. Incumbent Michael Solomon, meanwhile, lost his seat to challenger Beth Staropoli by 2,154 to 2,069.

Gerken, a Bedford Village resident who is currently the board's president, was first elected in 2010 and was vying for a fourth term. Michelle Brooks is also a Bedford Village resident.

Grant, a Mount Kisco resident, was first elected in 2010 and was running for a fourth term. Harney resides in Pound Ridge.

Solomon, a Pound Ridge resident, was first elected in 2013; he lost to Gerken in first bid in 2010. Staropoli, a Mount Kisco resident and Fox Lane High School alumnus, is the school district's outgoing athletic director and will retire effective June 30.

This year's elections were marked by heated dialogue and strife. The current board has split along two factions on key votes, including sending the budget to the voters, which was only adopted by a 4-3 vote. Solomon, along with colleagues Colette Dow and Brian Sheerin, made up a faction that was skeptical of the budget, make up one faction, while the other is comprised of Gerken, Grant, Ed Reder and Andrew Bracco.

Grant and Gerken ran on a ticket, while Solomon joined Brooks and Harney on another. In contrast, Staropoli ran a solo campaign, although letters to the editor in local publications suggest that she drew from some of the same supporters as Gerken and Grant.

Although the board will now have a majority of members who have been aligned with Solomon, it is not clear, given his ouster, whether they will follow through on his fiscal outlook, which would involve deeper cuts in non-classroom personnel than previously proposed as a way to minimize cuts in classroom jobs.

Grant and Gerken declined to comment about the board results, while Solomon and the challengers were not at the election-night meeting.

Terms of the seats, which are for three years, commence on July 1.

For the budget, results show that the measure, which included an override of the state-mandated property tax levy cap, received 2,597 (or 58.78 percent) in favor to 1,821 (or 41.22 percent) against. The budget failed because it did not receive a supermajority of at least 60 percent, which is required when a cap override is sought.

The override was included because board members sought to lessen the severity of cuts, of which more than $4 million had already been proposed. Board members previously reviewed, and rejected, deeper cuts that would have included abolishing all modified sports, eliminating several elementary level librarians and cutting a high-school academic period.

The rejected budget sought a tax levy increase of 3.82 percent; had the budget stayed within the cap, the maximum allowable level is by 1.32 percent. 

The tax levy is the aggregate amount of property tax revenue for the budget. Tax rates, which measure what people will owe per $1,000 of assessed value, would vary across the district's five towns due to differences in how properties are assessed.

Total spending in the budget would have been $129,654,885, an increase of 1.93 percent. Unlike in previous years, no fund-balance reserves would have been used, as the level currently held is considered to be too low. The draining of fund balance, along with large cost overruns in health insurance and special education, contributed to a large gap of roughly $8.8 million, which in turn led to the proposed budget.

At the school board's special meeting on Tuesday to accept the results, a sullen Gerken noted the looks on the faces of herself and her colleagues, summing up the reaction as, “we are all disappointed.”

Interim Superintendent John Chambers, who advised the board against making decisions on election night, outlined possible measures going forward. The board could either schedule another vote for June 21 - it is a state-mandated date for re-votes, one that falls on the high school's graduation day - or adopt a contingency budget. 

A contingency budget would require $4,345,411 in additional cuts, which would double total reductions from what were in the defeated budget.

A re-vote could include, according to chambers, either the same budget or a different one. The district could try for a budget that complies with the tax cap, which would require more cuts but not as many as a contingency budget. A cap-compliant budget would only require a simple majority of more than 50 percent.

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