Shen’s exit poll offers platform for community members to voice concerns

Carillon Bell Tower (Molly Congdon)Carillon Bell Tower (Molly Congdon)

By Cady Kuzmich
Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Shenendehowa’s Board of Education met in the Gowana Library on June 7 to congratulate the district’s athletes on their recent achievements and discuss the 2016-2017 school budget vote exit poll.

Through the exit poll, community members had the opportunity to voice their concerns on a wide range of issues including the need for full-day kindergarten, the debate over transgender students’ right to use the bathroom of their choice, drug use, and the lack of specificity in some of the district’s propositions.
The library was filled with student athletes and proud parents in the first half of the meeting, as the board recognized the various achievements of the many teams which that excelled in the past year, including the school’s lacrosse, track and unified basketball teams.

After each team was recognized, the student athletes filed out and the board began discussing the community’s response to the most recent budget.

Last month, community members approved a $166 million school budget for the upcoming year by a vote of 2,027 to 531. The 2016-2017 school budget is up 2.1 percent from the $162 million 2015-2016 budget. Shenendehowa will receive $45,960,827 in state aid next year, up from $42,783,912 this year.
The district has allocated $80,000 to expand counseling support for “growing mental health needs.” Kelly DeFeciani, the district’s public information officer, said there is increasing support for funding dedicated to social and emotional services.

Nineteen percent of voters took the exit poll. A quarter of those respondents did not think the district’s taxes were reasonable. According to the district, the number of voters who consider their school taxes “reasonable” has increased consistently from 58 percent in 2011 to 75 percent in 2016.
Of the voters who took the exit poll, 69 percent lived in Clifton Park and 53 percent had children in Shenendehowa schools.

Voters approved a $16.6 million capital improvement program for an assortment of projects including new signs, playground improvements and upgrades to the high school library last month by a vote of 2,046 to 542. Some residents voiced their concern about the district’s lack of specificity in the exit poll since it was still unclear how the $16.6 million would be allocated among the various projects at the time of the vote.

“Voted yes, but would have liked more details on capital improvements,” wrote one community member who took the exit poll. “The capital project spending was not presented in a detailed enough financial breakdown,” wrote another.

In a similar vein, another community member wrote, “If I was to spend $16 M in my work, you bet I better [have] a very specific list of projects with all the details, otherwise I would not get the funds. Shen can do better with the budget details.”

“Why do we need new signs? I can get behind a capital improvement program to provide long term maintenance of existing facilities and more classroom space as the student population grows, but signs? Please show the discipline and frugality that most of us show in our household budgets,” wrote another community member perplexed by the capital improvement program.

A handful of community members expressed their interest in full-day kindergarten at Shenendehowa — one of the most common issues discussed in the pages of comments from the exit poll. “I would really like to see full day Kindergarten be something that we seriously explore next year. We are missing the boat on early education … there is always a way if it is a priority,” wrote one community member.

Heroin and prescription drug abuse was a topic of concern for one community member, who wrote, “In my profession, I hear a great deal about the amount of Shen students with drug problems, including heroin and Rx drug addiction problems … There are much bigger problems in this district than new uniforms for our team. Stop sweeping them under the rug because it is bad for your image.”

Some who took the exit poll questioned whether transgender students have the right to use the bathroom of their choice. “The new BOE should take a look at our district’s transgender bathroom and locker policy. There is no reason to mix biology in our kids’ bathrooms and locker rooms.”

Others in the Shenendehowa community questioned whether it’s a good idea to provide young students with mobile devices as learning tools, asked the board to expand the World Languages program and applauded the district’s music program. “Extremely impressive music program. Don’t lose it,” wrote one community member in the exit poll.