Two recent high school grads challenge Mohonasen incumbents

Public to all vote on $54.3 million budget proposal that cuts 19 positions, leaving many unhappy

Categories: News, Schenectady County

ROTTERDAM — Two recent graduates of Mohonasen High School are challenging two incumbent members of the Mohonasen Board of Education in Tuesday’s district voting, in which the public will also consider a $54.3 million district budget for next year that includes cuts that left many unhappy.

Challengers Tia Tocco, 19, and Jenna Coutant-Walker, 18, are both students at SUNY Schenectady County Community College who graduated from the Mohonasen Central School District last year. They are taking on incumbents Deborah Escobar and Chad M. McFarland, each of whom is seeking a second three-year term on the board.

Tocco was active in the music department before her 2018 graduation, and acknowledged the music program cuts proposed this year were a motivation for her to run.

Some of the cuts were scaled back before the final budget was adopted by the school board, but the final budget proposal still cuts about a dozen teacher positions and 19 positions overall, with many students feeling the quality of education is threatened.

Positions eliminated under the budget proposal include two administrators, six elementary school teachers, three secondary teachers, one librarian, a part-time music teacher, a part-time art teacher, two cleaners, two school monitors, one IT technician, a bus mechanic, a central office account clerk and another clerical position. While positions will be cut through voluntary departures, at least some layoffs are expected.

Tocco and Coutant-Walker are both aspiring to careers in education, and Tocco acknowledged that the proposed cuts to the school music program during 2019-2020 budget deliberations earlier this spring was one of the things that prompted her to run.

“I understand that Mohonasen is fighting a budget deficit at the moment due to lack of foundation aid, and I am committed to being an advocate for our students, teachers and community as we take strides toward obtaining the fund we deserve,” Tocco said at a candidate forum last Monday. “I want all current and future students of Mohonasen to be able to experience the diverse learning community that they deserve, so they too can be Mohon proud.”

“The students in the community deserve to have a voice in their education,” said Coutant-Walker. “By educating these students, we are essentially building our future. I advocate for student-centered practices so that students are able to grow in an academically rich, safe and nurturing environment.”

Escobar and McFarland, who supported each other for re-election at the candidate forum last Monday, are both outspoken opponents of the state’s standardized testing system, which they say unnecessarily stresses students while lacking educational benefits. They also said state school aid formulas deny the district needed funding — one of the challenges behind the budget cuts.

“I have been an education activist since I retired from teaching in 2014. My experience on the BOE the last three years has convinced me that my experience lobbying against the forces that weaken our schools serves me well as a member of the board,” Escobar, a 42-year district resident who has grandchildren attending district schools, wrote in a candidate statement.

McFarland, a lawyer for the state Department of Labor and judge advocate in the Army Reserve, has three daughters in the district.

“As a licensed attorney and Army officer for over 15 years, I believe I have the analytical skills and demonstrated leadership to tackle the challenges facing our school district with purpose for the educational success and excellence of our students,” McFarland said.

In addition to voting on school board candidates, the public will be voting on the $54.3 million budget, which as proposed would increase the property tax levy about 3.8 percent. There is also a proposition to spend $610,000 to buy four 72-seat and two 33-seat school buses.

Voting will be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Mohonasen High School gym.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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