Update (8:27 p.m.): The latest information on the wild ICSD election Tuesday is available here, including results of candidate elections and ballot propositions when they are made available.

Update (1:00 p.m.): Though voting started around an hour ago, several people have expressed confusion about where they are actually supposed to go to vote on the Ithaca City School District budget, the various propositions and the district’s budget.

The culprit appears to be the layout style of the district’s voter page. Voters, according to BoE clerk Tricia Beresford, are supposed to look at the numbered locations on the page, which are the correct locations where voters can go to vote. Those are as follows:

  • 1. Lehman Alternative Community School
  • 2. Beverly J. Martin School
  • 3. Belle Sherman Annex
  • 4. Fall Creek Elementary
  • 5. South Hill Elementary
  • 6. Franziska Racker Center
  • 7. Enfield Elementary
  • 8. Danby Fire Station
  • 9. Cayuga Heights Elementary
  • 10. Caroline Elementary
  • 11. Northeast Elementary
  • 12. Varna Community Center

Unfortunately, it appears that at least some voters have been misled by the layout of the page, though Beresford said the district has used the same layout in previous years. Below you can see how a few of the polling places are identified on the district’s voting page. The bold, numbered locations are where people should be voting today, while the places listed under “general election polling places” are where they would normally vote in something like a Presidential election.

And in another strange Election Day storyline, BoE candidate Benjamin Mumford-Zisk has publicly stated that he has not dropped out of the race, in response to pictures of a hand-written sign outside of at least one polling place stating that he had indeed withdrawn from the race.

Original Story:

ITHACA, N.Y.—While reaction to the proposed Ithaca City School District budget was at least somewhat negative, a public hearing on the budget held last week went off mostly without a hitch.

Mailers detailing the budget proposal and three other ballot measures have been sent out, so those who live within ICSD should keep an eye out for any mail they may have tossed aside over the last few days before Tuesday’s election. Voters can go here to find their polling place, which are open Tuesday, May 17, from 12 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Now, for Monday night and Tuesday morning reading, here is a primer on the matters at hand during Tuesday’s election.

The budget

As had been reported before, the budget proposal represents a 2.59% increase, exceeding the statewide tax cap and triggering a need for a 60 percent majority public approval. There are no automatic ramifications for surpassing the tax cap, as had been the case in years past, but remember: the district does not win the ballot vote with just a simple majority—a failure to pass would cause a contingency plan (more detailed here) to come into play, though it could further mean cuts to programs introduced with COVID-19 relief money.

The budget is for $148,944,098, with a tax levy (the total amount of money the district needs to acquire through property taxes) rising by 7.2% and a flat tax rate, meaning property tax bills will also increase for those who live in the school district due to the levy’s rise and increasing property values.

Even teachers have challenged the size of the budget, with a few showing up at different Board of Education meetings over the last month or two to urge the district to back up its words about providing mental health supports for teachers and students (additionally, a portion of the rise in the budget can be attributed to a small salary increase for teachers that kicks in this summer, but also is often blamed on administrator salaries). Teachers, and Board of Education members, have all acknowledged the need for mental health infrastructure in place throughout the district, a need that has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts that has had on students in schools.

“We know that 73-75 percent of our revenue is coming from our taxpayers,” said district CFO Amanda Verba during last week’s budget hearing. “We recognize that our budget represents our community values.”

She continued, prompted by questions from the board, that state aid is not increasing enough to “move the needle” on the district’s budget ask, which is part of the reason for the increased request.

Watch the budget hearing below.

The budget propositions

There are four propositions up for referendum, though one has particularly roiled public backlash.

First, the three that have been presented rather quietly. Proposition 1 is the budget, explained above. Proposition 2 is about the expense of capital reserve funds, specifically about $1.171 million, which would go towards renovations at Northeast Elementary School and six full-size gasoline buses with wheelchair accessibility. Proposition 3 introduces a new capital reserve fund, a regularly scheduled vote for the district, which would be funded by any excess money left over at the end of the school year. That money would be pooled to, in one example Verba mentioned, buy more replacement buses after a few years.

Proposition 4, on the other hand, has picked up significant opposition on social media during the last few days, especially from parents in the Beverly J. Martin (BJM) School community. It asks whether or not the district should sell a parcel of land next to BJM containing a gymnasium for $5,000, which would then enable “the City of Ithaca to construct an expansion of an existing public gymnasium to be operated by the Greater Ithaca Activity Center (GIAC) for the benefit of citizens of the City of Ithaca?”

BJM parents have mounted a campaign against the proposition, arguing that the outdoor learning space that takes place on that parcel of land is too valuable to lose in a deal with the city — and arguing that most of the land’s relevance to the deal is that it is necessary to meet zoning limitations.

A letter submitted to The Ithaca Voice by four BJM parents included signatures from Amy Tai, Aubryn Sidle, Meryl Phipps and an ICSD Board of Education member, Nicole LaFave, all calling the public to vote against Proposition 4. Overall, though, it is vocal in its support for the GIAC gymnasium project.

“All these spaces are essential for all of our children, and we call on the City of Ithaca and ICSD to develop creative solutions that allow our community to keep ALL the learning and recreational spaces that are important to our learners and their healthy development,” reads the letter. “Voting no to Proposition 4 will allow the City, ICSD, and the community to have more informed discussions to ensure that all of our learners’ needs are met. Voting no to Proposition 4 does NOT mean that GIAC will not expand its gym. It means that GIAC will still build its gym, and BJM will continue to have its swings, outdoor learning space, and community garden.”

The letter goes on to say that GIAC does “incredible” work with community children, but that the letter’s writers fear that losing the BJM community garden and valuable outdoor learning classroom space would negatively impact students there.

“This space is precious to our school and neighborhood community and to our learners – many of whom attend GIAC’s programming afterschool, or visit the playground during out-of-school hours,” the letter states. “There is nothing ‘vacant’ and ‘unimproved’ about this vibrant community space, and we should not be taking more from a school community that does not have space to give.”

Perhaps having been made aware of the backlash, the district updated its budget FAQ page to address Prop 4 concerns on May 16.

Additionally, GIAC posted its own rebuttal to the backlash, asking the public on Facebook to vote in favor of the proposition.

The Board of Education members

A very crowded field could yield some more interesting results than the past few years on the ICSD Board of Education. There is already one open spot available, as Kelly Evans announced her resignation from the board late last month for personal reasons. She had provided some excitement last year after an outsider campaign landed her a spot on the board, replacing Ann Reichlin.

But with Evans gone, there are now seven candidates for four possible spots. The three candidates who receive the most votes will have three-year terms, from July 1, 2022 through 2025. The fourth-place candidate will take Evans’ place and serve the rest of her term, which expires on June 30, 2024.

Incumbents Rob Ainslie, the board’s chair, Eldred Harris, a four-term member of the board, and Erin Croyle, who won a write-in campaign in 2019, are all up for re-election.

There are four challengers who have filed for the election: Jill Tripp, Benjamin Mumford-Zisk, David Shapiro and Karen Yearwood.

The Ithaca Teachers Association has endorsed Croyle, Yearwood, Mumford-Zisk and Tripp. Separately, former ICSD Board member Bradley Grainger has endorsed Harris and Ainslie to retain their board seats.

All submitted candidate bios can be found here.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com