Baker, Filler win Saranac Lake school board seats (update)

SARANAC LAKE – An incumbent and a newcomer were the top two vote getters among a field of four candidates in Tuesday’s Saranac Lake school board election.

Meanwhile, voters overwhelmingly approved the district’s 2013-14 budget, 602 to 139.

Clyde Baker won his second term on the board, collecting 452 votes. Shir Filler, an English professor at North Country Community College, received 413 votes in her first run for the board. Each position carries a three-year term.

Incumbent Esther Arlan, who served on the board from 1994 to 2003 and again from 2008 until present, came up short in her re-election bid, collecting 331 votes. Tracey Schrader, who was trying to get back on the board after being unseated last year, received 228 votes.

Baker said he was very happy with the results.

“The best thing about it was we had four willing people that wanted to do this and all had the best interests of the school in mind,” he said.

Asked the reason for his strong showing, Baker attributed it largely to his family’s longevity in the community.

“I’m local. I’ve been born and raised here. I went to school here,” Baker said. “My grandmother was one of the first music teachers in the school district. Seven generations on my wife’s side, six generations on my side – yeah, we’ve been here a while. I think that had a little to do with it.”

Filler said she was surprised by the results. She didn’t think she’d do as well as she did, “especially after the (candidates) forum. I just felt like Clyde and Esther and Tracey had so much experience that they were able to put out there, and I’m the new gal.”

Filler said she hopes to bring a different perspective to the board.

“Coming from college, I get to see what the effect of the public school education is,” she said, “and I have some thoughts about what is working and what isn’t working. I’m hoping to really involve the community more in a dialogue about what can we do differently, what can we do better and not have it cost an arm and a leg.”

Baker said budget concerns will continue to be a big focus of the board.

“Where are we going to come up with other ways of gaining revenue and keeping taxes down?” he said. “That’s going to be the biggest challenge, and getting our new superintendent (Diane Fox) up and running.”

The $28 million budget will increase spending 2.91 percent over this year and will increase the tax levy 3.67 percent, just below the state property tax cap for the district.

Superintendent Gerald Goldman said he was pleased with the results, calling it a vote of confidence from the community.

“I think people feel pretty good about what’s going on, and that we did a responsible job and kept our levy under the cap. We got a little bit more state aid this year, and that made it easier for sure. People have endured three or four years of tough times. This was a little easier.”

The voters also approved a proposition to collect $137,467 from the taxpayers for the Saranac Lake Free Library, by a vote of 581 to 150. A separate proposition to purchase three new school buses at a maximum cost of $330,000 was approved 555 to 165.

Poll workers described turnout as low. A total of 6,999 people were eligible to vote Tuesday, but only 770 showed up at the polls. Last year, 929 people voted.

Goldman said he was a little surprised by the low turnout. He said it may have been due to the fact that the district’s budget carried a tax levy that was below the state cap, and also to a lack of much controversy in the school board election.