Contested school board races across Capital Region offer voters choice

School ballot counting in Saratoga Springs last year
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School ballot counting in Saratoga Springs last year

Prospective voters can request absentee ballots for the May 18 school elections, including by citing concerns around the risks of COVID-19, while in-person voting will also be an option.

Voters must submit absentee ballot requests directly with their district clerks by May 11 at 4 p.m. to receive an absentee ballot in the mail, or they can pick one up directly from the district clerk through May 17. The absentee ballots must be returned by May 18, the day polls will also be open for in-person voting on school budgets and school board elections.

During an unprecedented school election last spring, which was delayed until June amid the pandemic, districts were required to send absentee ballots to all eligible voters. Polls were closed to in-person voting but the broad distribution of ballots drove turnout in the usually low turnout school elections to the highest levels on record.

Voters in a variety of districts around the region also will have a choice in their school boards as contested races will determine new schools boards in Schenectady, Niskayuna, Mohonasen, Schalmont, Duanesburg, Saratoga Springs, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and other districts around the region.

Dozens of new school board candidates appeared to emerge across the region, offering new dynamics in numerous school board races. Educators are seeking board positions in the districts they live in, some candidates are calling for more diverse perspectives in predominately-white districts, and in Burnt Hills-Ballston Spa a candidate railed against COVID-19 precautions and called for ditching school mask mandates.

Ben Riehlman, who is seeking his first term on the Burnt Hills school board, in a candidate statement effectively called for abolishing all health precautions in place in the school district and argued the measures have done more harm than good to students.

“Students look like infirmed hostages: daily temperature checks, segregated cubicles, masked faces and no physical contact. This is abhorrent and wrong,” he said in the statement. “Fear-mongering politicians, abetted by media propagandists, are perpetuating this lunacy. There are many things to be feared in life, but COVID is not one.”

Riehlman, who works as technology teacher to special education students at Madison-Oneida BOCES and is married with two children, argued that children should be taught to be resilient and to weigh risks, making the case that the restrictions in schools teach kids “to be afraid of a very survivable virus.” He said local communities – “not feckless state leaders” – should make decisions about what’s best for their local schools.

“Let’s return to the Old Normal,” he concluded in his candidate statement. “Re-open society and re-open schools fully. No preconditions, no social distancing, no masking and no more irrational fear.”

Most school board candidates in the area used the candidate statements posted to district websites to highlight their involvement in their district and offer general thoughts about serving the needs of students and families. Some of the candidates said they would bring new perspectives to their boards if elected, including a Shaker High School senior.

In the Mohonasen school board race, where six candidates are vying for three open seats, Elatisha Kirnon, who is Black, highlighted how she could help the district’s “endeavors for diversity and inclusion.”

Kirnon, who has lived in the district since 2009, works at the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations Antidiscrimination Investigation Division and also has the experience as both a mother and grandparent of Mohonasen students, she said.

“I have the skills to support our school district endeavors for diversity and inclusion,” she said in her candidate statement. “As a child, I was part of school desegregation in Boston and Yonkers. I know a great education can shape the life of a child and that is why I purposely moved my children to the Mohonasen district.”

Numerous working educators are also running for school board in districts where they live but do not work.

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School Bands Director Benjamin O’Shea is running for a seat on the Niskayuna school board. He is married and they have two children who attend Hillside Elementary School. O’Shea, who has worked as a teacher union representative and contract negotiator in Burnt Hills, also has worked in the Ballston Spa and Schenectady school districts.

Julie Power, a math teacher at Broadalbin-Perth High School, is running for school board in Mohonasen, where she attended school. She now lives in the district with her spouse and three children.

“I’ve lived and taught in the Bronx, Westchester, Duval County, Florida, Ireland and in the Capital Region,” she wrote of her education experience in her candidate statement. “I would love to use my experience to serve on the board here at Mohonasen.”

David Lawrence, who has taught global history and economics in the region for 15 years, is running for the Schalmont school board, arguing that his experience as an educator and parent would serve the district. He and his wife have two sons at Jefferson Elementary school.

“It takes a parent and educator in the classroom to know what students and educators need,” he wrote in his candidate statement.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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