Schenectady County

Group makes Schenectady school board picks

The grassroots group that organized to fight Schenectady’s school board last year is continuing the

The grassroots group that organized to fight Schenectady’s school board last year is continuing the fight.

It announced endorsements Monday for all three seats up in this year’s election — and pointedly chose not to endorse Gary Farkas, who has been on the school board for many years and faces a re-election campaign this year.

Farkas said he asked the Schenectady Citizens for Openness in Public Education (SCOPE) for its endorsement.

He wasn’t chosen.

SCOPE organizer Marjorie Karowe declined to explain why, but said, “Nobody needs to know why someone did not pick him. There are a number of reasons, but in fairness to him, he just deserves to run on his own record.”

SCOPE swept all four seats in last year’s election on a platform that included changing the board’s “prevailing culture” by installing new board members.

The grassroots group did endorse one school board member: Ron Lindsay, who won with the rest of the SCOPE candidates last year. He got the fewest votes in the 2010 election and thus earned the shortest term on the school board, requiring him to run again this year.

“He’s been an open guy,” Karowe said. “I think he’s been a very good school board member.”

Also endorsed were two newcomers: Shatiki Beatty, who said she wants to discourage wrongly labeling strong-willed children as having behavioral problems; and Cheryl Nechamen, who wants to push the board to cut costs by sharing services with the city.

Beatty, 37, is a secretary for the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. She graduated from Albany High School, moved to the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, and is raising four daughters. The eldest is in college; the others attend King Magnet School.

Beatty said she wants the district to mediate problems between students and teachers.

“Sometimes they are quickly labeled with a need and they don’t have a need, they’re just clashing with their teacher,” she said, referring to diagnoses like Attention Deficit Disorder. “Children are unique. Some children are simply born strong-willed.”

She also wants to encourage the public to get involved with the schools, saying that people can help the district overcome its financial problems.

“Yes, we are currently in a fiscal crisis. What’s missing is the community coming together,” she said. “I want to find other solutions. I’d like to start off with a survey. I’d really like to find out what our community needs.”

Nechamen, 53, is a retired molecular biologist who worked at the state Health Department research lab.

She grew up near Buffalo but has spent most of her adult life in Schenectady.

She has two daughters: a graduate of Schenectady High School’s International Baccalaureate program who is now in college, and a Schenectady High School senior who is earning an IB diploma.

Nechamen helped start the popular Greenmarket downtown and volunteers with Literacy New York to tutor adults who are learning English as a second language.

She said she decided to run when she heard that SCOPE was having difficulty finding candidates.

“I thought there’d be lots of people to run,” she said, adding that she thought SCOPE’s candidates have “turned things around.”

“But there’s still things to do,” she said. “I think we’re going to have real fiscal challenges. It’s going to be really hard to keep maintaining programs.”

That creates an opportunity to persuade governmental agencies to share, she said.

“I think the school board and the city are ready to share services. Up until now, everybody’s been running their own fiefdom, and we could afford that,” she said.

She also wants to focus on students who are not heading to college, saying that they have been “overlooked” in the push to get every child to college.

She wants district officials to talk to businesses and find out what training is needed for jobs that don’t require a college degree so that students who aren’t going to college can prepare for a career.

Lindsay, 69, is a retired school administrator. He spent his career at Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth, which works with troubled children. He retired as regional director.

He was on the school board from 1984 to 1991, and returned last year partly to push for a more open school district in which information would be offered readily and board members would be approachable.

He said he’s pleased with the progress so far, which includes a meeting format that encourages discussion with residents and budget documents that have been released to the public, unlike last year.

“We’ve worked hard to be very visible and respond to folks’ questions and concerns,” he said, explaining that his goal is to re-establish trust by listening to residents at PTO meetings, school activities and neighborhood events, and then acting on those concerns.

It’s also given him a way to highlight the district’s unique programs.

“To me, this district has a lot of neat things and the kids do fantastic stuff. We need to get it more visible,” he said.

He’s running for re-election so that he can work on the district’s long-term financial problems and have a voice in the selection of the next superintendent, which will likely be decided in the next year.

“I would be looking for a person to come in and be part of the community, not just the district,” he said. “Because I think it’s all connected. We need to work together.”

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