By Christine Sampson
Voters in the Sag Harbor School District on Tuesday passed the district’s $39.9 million 2017-18 budget plan and in a hotly contested race, incumbent school board president Diana Kolhoff was returned to that board, along with the election of newcomers January Kerr and Alex Kriegsman.
Mr. Kriegsman was the top vote-getter with 910 votes, followed by Ms. Kolhoff with 884 and Ms. Kerr with 866. Incumbent board members Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot earned 452 votes and 366 votes, respectively. Thirteen write-in votes were also cast for seven different community members.
The school board race itself seemed to take a contentious tone in recent weeks. Although the candidates’ public appearances were cordial, social media posts often turned personal and union endorsements were fiercely debated. Fliers circulated touting supposed political party affiliations, though the candidates they targeted publicly said they did not authorize the fliers.
“I think that’s just indicative of the times we live in,” Ms. Kerr said. “I think all the candidates did a good job of rising above that and focusing on the issues and not the negativity.”
Ms. Kolhoff said Tuesday she is “feeling relieved that it’s behind us.” She thanked Ms. Kruel and Ms. Samot for their longtime commitment to the board, saying she has learned much from their service, and said she is looking forward to what lies ahead.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “This summer we’ll set goals to build on this year.”
Mr. Kriegsman also said he is grateful to Ms. Samot and Ms. Kruel, and thanked the voters for their support. “I look forward to working with January, Diana and the other board members to do what’s best for the school and the community,” he said.
Ms. Kerr said she is “absolutely honored” to be elected.
“I also thank Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot for their long commitment and hard work on the board,” she said. “I’m excited. Thanks to the legal background Alex and I have, I think we can just jump in there and roll up our sleeves.”
In a Facebook message, Ms. Kruel said she plans to stay involved in the school district. “I thank the Sag Harbor community for allowing me to serve the children of our town,” she said. “I will be able to leave knowing I left it in a wonderful place for our children. I am so proud to have run a campaign honest, fair, staying high and set the example for kids! I will stay active and promise to do what’s right, honest and open … It’s who I am.”
The $39.9 million budget, which school officials have said preserves all current programs and services and even expands some offerings, such as the district’s self-contained special education program and participation in the high school International Baccalaureate program, was approved with a final tally of 973 to 269. The associated tax levy, 3.49 percent, was lower than the maximum tax levy increase the district could have set, 3.86 percent. Those figures are higher than the “2 percent” language that most people are familiar with because of busy real estate development within Sag Harbor.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to the Sag Harbor community,” superintendent Katy Graves said Tuesday.
She pointed to “historic percentages” of voter support for the budget, which passed with about 76.5 percent approval, and for the separate propositions. A proposition creating a new transportation fleet reserve fund passed with 78.5 percent approval, 962 to 263, and a proposition authorizing funding for energy-efficient window installation passed with about 84.6 percent approval, 1,042 to 190.
“It shows that our community not only believes in our children and the academic programming, but also in supporting the safety and upkeep of our facilities,” Ms. Graves said. “It’s an overwhelming statement of the support of our community that we see over and over again in the last few years.”
Voter turnout was down slightly from last year, when 1,325 ballots were cast for the budget. This year, 1,242 ballots were cast.