Rhinebeck school budget passes, but board seats closely contested

Like their neighbor to the north, the Rhinebeck school budget and board election on May 21 also featured careful hand-counting late into the night, but for a different reason: after tallying the machine counts, the school board election was too close to call.

The budget itself was easily passed by a wide margin. At issue was a four-way race for three three-year school board seats.

Unlike Red Hook, Rhinebeck contracts with the Dutchess County Board of Elections to use the optical scan machines that are used for regular elections. But even so, one of the two machines malfunctioned around 4:30pm, according to district clerk Meg Todisco. However, voting continued on the remaining scanner without incident.

After the polls closed at 9pm and the printed receipts from the two machines were disclosed, it was clear the budget had passed by a wide margin. The $30 million budget, which increased less than the tax cap, was uncontroversial and passed with 73 percent of the vote, a 521-195 margin.

Rhinebeck Superintendent of Schools Joseph Phelan was pleased that the budget was approved by a significant margin. Officials said they believed the low turnout was a result of the levy increase remaining under the tax cap.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had a long, long run of community support for our budgets for our schools and that’s at least one very important indicator of why our schools are as successful as they are,” Phelan said. “In addition to hard-working students and parents who are involved and board members who are in it for the right reasons, the community support is something that we should never take for granted…. We appreciate that and are glad to see the community support continue. ”

What remained on the ballot was the race for the board seats. Only one incumbent, Lisa Rosenthal, ran for re-election, up against newcomers Dierdre d’Albertis, Ali Hammoud and Laura Schulkind. Current board vice-president Paul Slayton and trustee Karen Hatter had chosen not to run again.

The machine counts showed d’Albertis and Schulkind with comfortable leads for two seats, but Hammoud and Rosenthal were neck-and-neck for the third spot. d’Albertis had 451 votes and Schulkind had 391, while Hammoud had received 377 votes and Rosenthal 366.

The superintendent, board members and candidates arrived about 15 minutes after the polls closed and waited another hour for 47 absentee ballots to be tallied by hand, first by one BOE inspector and again by another at a second table so the results could be confirmed.

In the end, Rosenthal edged ahead of Hammoud by three votes to retain her seat on the board. The final tally was d’Albertis 478, Schulkind 419, Rosenthal 400 and Hammoud 397.

The new board members said they were looking forward to their new roles.

“It’s a very important time to be serving, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” d’Albertis said. “It’s exciting, and there’s a lot of potential for change for the district and it’s a fantastic group of people to work with, so I’m looking forward to learning and we’re ready to get to work.”

“I second everything [d’Albertis] says,” Schulkind added. “The district is on the verge of big things, I think, and I’m happy we can be part of that.”

“I’m very honored that the voters saw fit to return me to office,” said Rosenthal after her narrow win, “and I’m also honored to have run in such an amazingly impressive field of candidates.”

D’Albertis, Schulkind and Rosenthal begin their new three-year terms on July 1.

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