By LIZ BUTTON
Voters in the Rye City School District have elected incumbent Karen Belanger and newcomer Blake Jines-Storey to the Board of Education in a contested race and overwhelmingly approved next year’s $79.3 million tax cap-compliant budget.
A total of 1,841 voters turned out for the May 20 vote to pass the 2014-2015 school year budget by a margin of 1,265 votes in favor to 535 against.
Next year’s budget reflects an estimated 1.64 percent increase in the property tax levy, which falls under the state-mandated 2 percent cap on property tax levy. The budget reflects a 3.4 percent spending increase over last year’s budget and a 1.08 percent tax rate increase, which equates to an estimated property tax increase of $172 for the average Rye homeowner.
Belanger received 1,311 votes, Jines-Storey got 1,129 votes. The third candidate in the race, Jason Mehler, received only 593 votes.
Mehler, 48, did not attend the night’s board meeting to watch the election results, which school board insiders believe to be unprecedented for a candidate.
Over the last month, Mehler took shots at the current school board—both in online campaign missives and at the May 8 League of Women Voters forum—regarding what he perceived to be its poor treatment of teachers and financial wastefulness.
Mehler said it was, in part, the situation involving his wife, Osborn School fourth grade teacher Carin Mehler, that opened his eyes to the district’s treatment of teachers and inspired him to enter the race. A year ago, Carin Mehler was reassigned to home along with three other teachers after allegations of “improper coaching” on state tests came to light.
Belanger, 48, and Jines-Storey, 39, said they felt honored to win the two open seats belonging to board member Edward Fox—who declined to run again after nine years of service—and Belanger, whose first three-year term was up.
“First and foremost, I want to get up to speed on what the board is working on,” Jines-Storey, chief technology officer at Zachys Wines in Scarsdale, said. “I will work for all people in Rye and I truly believe everyone needs to have their voice heard.”
“We’ll have a stack of reading for him,” Belanger said, adding she is happy and relieved the school community voted her in for a second term. “There was, sadly, a lot of misinformation out there, but the voters in Rye figured it out and I am glad they chose me.”
Belanger referred to blog posts principally authored by P. Stephen Lamont, a Rye resident and local activist, that appeared before the election attacking her character and record on the board.
Belanger has served as president of the board’s curriculum committee, on which she was Jines-Storey’s colleague. They have also worked together on the board’s instructional technology committee.
Board of Education president Laura Slack congratulated the two winning candidates and thanked district voters for supporting the budget.
“This budget will enable us to maintain the quality of the educational program that our community has come to value and expect,” she said. “We appreciate the community’s involvement in our district and their dedication to the education of our students.”
The budget, which the board adopted at its April 22 meeting, uses $2.7 million in reserves to make up for next year’s $3.6 million budget shortfall and carries the option of imposing a utility tax. This proposal will be addressed at a May 28 public hearing.
A utility tax, as calculated by Assistant Superintendent for Business Gabby O’Connor and prorated for the 2014-2015 school year, would generate around $913,250. The tax could apply to gas and electric services, refrigeration, water, heat and communications like telephone land lines and impact all residents of the district.
Mehler declined comment.