Schenectady County

Three vying for two seats on Schenectady school board

Schenectady City School District voters next month will have a chance to stick with experience, opt
Schenectady school board candidates Ann Reilly, left, William Rivas, center, and Cathy Lewis.
Schenectady school board candidates Ann Reilly, left, William Rivas, center, and Cathy Lewis.

Schenectady City School District voters next month will have a chance to stick with experience, opt for a newcomer or split the difference.

With two open school board seats set for the May 17 ballot, William Rivas is challenging Schenectady school board’s two longest-serving members — Board President Cathy Lewis and Ann Reilly. Voters will be able to pick two of the three candidates.

“I saw a need — not just with our school board — for more community representation and reflection in our leadership,” the 35-year-old Rivas said. “It’s important for parents and children to see a reflection of themselves in their leadership and elected officials.”

But Lewis and Reilly argue the district has come a long way since they joined the board in 2010 and that experience and “institutional memory” provide stability to maintain progress.

“We had a difficult situation. . . . Trust had been eroded, and I think we have worked hard to rebuild that trust and be open and transparent,” Lewis said, referring to the case of Steven Raucci, former district maintenance supervisor convicted of 18 criminal counts of arson and criminal mischief in 2010.

During the board tenures of Lewis and Reilly, the district has hired Superintendent Larry Spring, advocated for increased state funding, worked through millions of dollars of budget cuts, earned voter approval for a $70 million capital project and put in place a massive redistricting plan set to take effect in the fall.

Reilly also pointed to the systematic approach taken by the board’s policy committee to review each of the district’s hundreds of policies, making updates where necessary. She highlighted the value of being a parent of a current Schenectady student — she is one of two on the board — and she graduated Schenectady High School in 1980.

“I’m also concerned about high turnover,” Reilly said of changes that have brought in all new board members over the last six years. “It’s good to have board members who are a little more experienced and versed in the role of the board.”

Lewis, who has also served on the City Council, said the learning curve for board members is steep as they dive into education law, construction and budgetary issues. She said her experience on nearly 10 nonprofit boards helps her understand the challenges that affect Schenectady students and the city as a whole.

Rivas, a 1999 Schenectady High School graduate, works as program director at Fathers Inc. and the Altamont Program, where he leads a homeless shelter, transition home for people leaving prison and coordinates a handful of initiatives to work with fathers. He grew up on Stanley Street.

He said his work, community service and childhood background help him understand the real-life issues that Schenectady students face: single parents, violent neighborhoods, food insecurity and much more.

“I’ve lived in Schenectady my entire life; Schenectady is in my blood, it’s what I do,” Rivas said. “I understand not only the dynamics of a child going to school, but I understand the problems and challenges of coming from an under-resourced community and what it takes to be successful.”

He talked about increasing the number of aides in classrooms, creating a more diverse district workforce and establishing more afterschool and mentorship programs.

For his Fathers Inc. work, Rivas organizes a group of around 15 Schenectady high school students, all young men, and teaches them the importance of focusing on school, staying out of trouble and making healthy decisions.

Rivas wasn’t shy to admit he has broader ambitions in elected office and said “it won’t stop” at the school board level, but he rejected the notion that his run for school board was a step toward higher office.

“Nothing is a steppingstone to me; I just want to do the work,” he said. “I don’t have a political goal; I just want to be involved in the solution and wherever that takes me I’m fine with.”

Candidate forum

The League of Women Voters of Schenectady County will host a school board candidate forum on May 12 at 7 p.m. at the Black Box Theatre at Schenectady High School.

The candidates will appear in the following ballot order: William Rivas, Ann M. Reilly and Catherine A. Lewis, according to district spokeswoman Karen Corona.

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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