ITHACA, N.Y. – Voters will head to the polls Tuesday, May 21 for the 2019 Ithaca City School District school board election and budget vote. Residents will also weigh in on propositions to appropriate capital reserve funds for elementary school facility and bus improvements and to authorize a bond for building and facility construction and reconstruction costs.

All registered voters who have been residents of the Ithaca City School District for at least 30 days preceding the election are eligible to vote. District boundaries can be found here. Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday, and polling locations can be found here.

Learn about the school board candidates

The school board race features three incumbents and one write-in candidate competing for three seats: board president Robert Ainslie, board members Bradley Grainger and Eldred Harris, and newcomer Erin Croyle.

Robert Ainslie

Robert Ainslie. (ICSD)

Ainslie was first elected to the board in 2007 and has served as president since 2008. A lifelong Ithacan and graduate of Ithaca High School and Cornell University, Ainslie currently works as a first vice president and financial advisor at Morgan Stanley. In a statement to The Ithaca Voice, Ainslie touted the commitment of his colleagues who are up for reelection and said he hopes to continue serving alongside them.

“The Ithaca City School District and the greater Ithaca community are fortunate that Brad Grainger and Eldred Harris are willing to volunteer and serve again on the Board of Education. Both have been key players over the last decade in transforming the ICSD into one of the best districts in the country. Hundreds of meetings and thousands of hours have been invested by these outstanding Board of Education members to ensure that the ICSD serves the needs of all children while also delivering value to the tax payers who have consistently supported the mission of this public school district,” he said.

Ainslie also stated his support for the budget and capital project propositions put forth by the board. “The 2019-20 annual budget up for approval along with the 2019 Capital Project referendum are examples of the best efforts of the Board and the Administrative team to continue to deliver on our duty to the community.”

Bradley Grainger

Bradley Grainger joined the school board in 2007 and has chaired the Finance Committee and Facilities Committee since, while also sitting on the Audit Committee and acting as liaison to Boynton Middle School and the PTA Council.

Bradley Grainger. (ICSD)

In a statement, Grainger said he has helped the district navigate a reduction in state aid and a tax levy cap imposed by Albany during his tenure, while reducing the district tax rate over the past four years.

Grainger said he is proud of focusing the district on ensuring “the success of all students, regardless of background” by pushing for a goal of a 100% graduation rate. He said his current priorities include working toward inclusion for all students, as well as “maintenance of excellence in academic programs and expanding the opportunity to participate in the most rigorous classes possible for each student.”

He said he supports the three propositions on Tuesday’s ballot. “The first proposition is the annual operating budget of the District which is within the tax cap and provides for all programs to continue. The second proposition is for the use of Capital Reserve funds for the purchase of buses and maintenance work in the District. The final proposition is a bond proposition for $120 million for ten years of capital projects throughout the District focused on Safety & Security, Infrastructure and Teaching & Learning spaces.”

Grainger earned his bachelor’s degree at Cornell and a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse and has 30 years of experience in the mortgage banking industry.

Eldred Harris

Harris, who is seeking a fourth term, said what has motivated him to run for reelection is community concerns regarding safety in school, math in the middle school and the governor election to make the 2% tax cap permanent.

Eldred Harris. (ICSD)

He said he brings a unique perspective to the board, with an urban background, study of law, and experience in finance, entrepreneurship, corporate business development, fundraising, and politics, though he says his most relevant qualification is his “capacity and desire to genuinely listen for understanding.”

In response to what change in ICSD he would push for, Harris said, “As a systems thinker, I appreciate how this board has been able to get outside of our own egos and limited perspectives and to step back and explore our challenges as systems thinkers. At the moment ensuring all kids have a safe space in which to grow and learn in our classrooms, as well as ensuring the necessary emotional and mental health supports exist to support our learners, staff and families, is essential. I look forward to continuing to create the necessary relationships and structure to manifest this evolution. And lastly, I look forward to supporting our teachers to better meet the financial realities of our community.”

Erin Croyle

Erin Croyle announced her campaign as a write-in candidate in response to district parents’ concerns about the safety and inclusivity of their kids’ learning environment.

Erin Croyle. (Facebook)

“Concerned parents are the spark for my write-in campaign. They are deeply worried about their children’s safety and learning because of what they describe as rampant bullying, racism, a lack of support staff, and more. I want to be a sounding board for families, teachers and students and examine what policies can create meaningful change,” she said in a statement to The Ithaca Voice.

While Croyle is fairly new to Ithaca, she has experience serving on the Special Education Advisory Board and the Community Services Board in Alexandria City, Virginia. She said she has extensive knowledge of special education and best practices to foster inclusion, and personally understands challenges families face as the mother of three children, one with a disability.

“I’ve seen diagnoses swept under the rug and the concerns of parents treated with indifference; I’ve also seen first-hand how open communication between parents, teachers and the administration can lead to everyone in the classroom getting what they need to succeed,” she said.

Croyle has proposed gathering input from students, parents and faculty to identify areas where the district would benefit from greater community input, and creating advisory boards to open direct lines of communication. For example, she suggests budgeting, bullying, special education, infrastructure, and curriculum are topics the Board of Education and community could collaborate on to improve ICSD.

The Ithaca Teachers Association endorsed Croyle, stating, “The ITA endorses write-in candidate, Erin Croyle, for Board of Education because students, parents, teachers, and staff need to have their concerns taken seriously. Erin is actively communicating with members of the ITA to better understand teachers’ experiences, concerns and needs.”

Ballot questions

In addition to voting on school board candidates, voters will see three questions on Tuesday’s ballot.

The ballot first asks voters to approve or reject the $131 million budget proposed by the Board of Education. The second is to appropriate funds for construction costs to replace and improve corridors, classrooms, restrooms, an entry area at Cayuga Heights Elementary School, interior renovations at Northeast Elementary School and a parking lot expansion at Northeast Elementary School. The capital reserve funds would also be used to purchase eight buses. The third proposition asks if a bond resolution authorizing the construction of improvements to various buildings and facilities in the Ithaca City School District should be approved at a maximum cost of $120 million and authorize the issuance of that much in bonds.

For more information about the budget and capital project, visit the district’s page here.

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at dmagliozzi@ithacavoice.com or 607-391-0328.