ICSD Budget loses by 2.4 to 1

$125 Million Bond Request and Bus Purchases also lose; Newcomers Workman and Fox oust Board Incumbents Lang and Harris; Krantweiss wins full term

by Robert Lynch; May 22, 2024; updated at 2:15 AM

To many, the outcome may not have been a surprise.  But certainly to some, the margin indeed was.

In an atypically high turnout election Tuesday, the priciest and most controversial Ithaca City School District (ICSD) Budget in many years went down to a resounding defeat. The nearly $169 Million spending plan was rejected by more than 70 per cent of Ithaca District voters. Those voters also rejected by a margin of 13 percentage points the District’s proposed $125 Million capital bonding initiative. Similarly losing was a proposal to purchase electric and propane-powered school buses.

And in the race for the Ithaca Board of Education, newcomers Emily Workman and Todd Fox ousted longtime Board incumbents Moira Lang and Eldred Harris. Adam Krantweiss, coming off a shortened term to fill a prior Board vacancy, secured the third seat decided in the election.

Preliminary tallies bore witness to the budget’s landslide loss.  Only 2,059 (29.5%) of the nearly seven thousand participating voters approved the biggest-ever spending plan, 4,916 (70.5%) voters opposed it.

In many respects, the election’s returns stand as a repudiation of the current Board and School Administration’s budgeting policies of recent months.  They may also serve to question the leadership of Ithaca’s highly-paid School Superintendent, Dr. Luvelle Brown.

Top vote-getter; Board newcomer Emily Workman.

Two of Tuesday’s losers, Board Vice-President Moira Lang and Eldred Harris—Harris the only African-American in the race—were strong supporters of the budget rejected at the polls.  Winner Todd Fox, an executive with the Visum Development Group, was openly critical of the budget and had pledged to join those who voted against it. 

Fox also said in media interviews that he would not vote to extend Dr. Brown’s Superintendent’s contract beyond its current termination in 2028.  Winner Krantweiss was the only member to oppose an extension granted the Superintendent last year.  Emily Workman, while noncommittal on lengthening Dr. Brown’s contract, has questioned certain of Brown’s administrative policies.

Of those running, Emily Workman’s margin of victory may have proven the most surprising.  A relative unknown outside of the Ithaca District’s innermost education circles, Workman, President of the Northeast Elementary PTA and Vice President of the ICSD PTA Council, secured the largest number of votes, 4,393, or some 63 per cent of those voting in the seven-way race for the three Board seats.  Workman secured 440 votes more than the next-closest finisher, Krantweiss.

He may shake things up; developer Todd Fox.

Among the other winners, Krantweiss, obtained 3,953 votes, according to preliminary results released by Ithaca District offices shortly before Midnight Tuesday.  Fox secured the third of the seats up for election, garnering support from 2,805 voters.

Adam Krantweiss has served just one year on the Ithaca Board of Education.  He was elected last year to serve out the term of a prior Board member who resigned before her term was finished.  It’s said he’s attended most every committee meeting of the Board, even committees on which he was not an appointed member.

Those who won Tuesday’s election will in some instances replace those with significant tenure and name recognition.

Moira Lang, a fixture on the Board since 2015, fell 419 votes short of Fox, and will depart the Board at the end of June.  Falling still further behind were former Newfield High School Principal and local BOCES assistant superintendent Barry Derfel (1,879 votes), Steve Cullen (1,608 votes), and incumbent Eldred Harris (1,448 votes). 

Soon to depart; Board Vice-President Moira Lang.

Harris was first elected to the Board 15 years ago.  In Tuesday’s election, he may have suffered the most humiliating loss.

Winners Workman and Krantweiss, along with losing incumbent Moira Lang, had entered the election carrying the Ithaca Teachers Association endorsement.

Ithaca District voters Tuesday not only rejected the proposed budget by a resounding margin; they also rejected the largest capital bonding initiative in the District’s history. 

Cast aside was a $125 Million capital initiative that would have funded construction of a new Transportation Facility on Bostwick Road, the upgrading of electrical infrastructure at that facility to handle the state-mandated conversion to electric buses, and some $85 Million in largely-unspecified other capital improvements, projects  to be undertaken over the next decade.

Though it fared slightly better than the budget, the capital initiative still lost poorly.  Voters rejected the capital spending, 3,014 (43.5%) in favor; 3,919 (56.5%) opposed.

What now, Bus Garage? The bonding to rebuild it went down to defeat.

The third rejected measure would have tapped $3.2 Million in capital reserve funds to purchase four electric-powered buses and four low-emission propane-power buses, plus additional vehicles. The bus-purchase measure lost 2.980 votes (43.8%) to 3,830 (56.2%).

Where things go from here will likely be charted beginning with a post-election School Board meeting Wednesday evening (May 22) at District headquarters.  Newcomers Workman and Fox will not take their seats until July.  The “old board,” so to speak, will still be in charge until then and will decide what next course the budget will take.

State law gives the Board one additional opportunity to revise the proposed budget and hold another vote.  Should voters also reject the newly-revised package, a more-austere “Contingent Budget” would become mandated under state law.

A principal formality of the Wednesday night meeting will be to certify the election results.  Moving beyond that requirement stands at the School Board’s discretion.  District officials stressed late Tuesday that the preliminary election results they’d released “are subject to verification.”