Schenectady

Foss: Schenectady school board race demands attention

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

There’s a first time for everything.

I’ve written about a lot of different topics in my time as a columnist, but here’s something I’ve never weighed in on: a Schenectady school board race. 

In a way, it’s curious. 

I’ve written plenty about schools, and the Schenectady school district in particular. I care about the well-being of children, and you can’t discuss the well-being of children without considering the outsized role school plays in their lives. 

Despite my interest in youth and education, I don’t usually pay much attention to our local school board races, perhaps because turnout tends to be extremely low. 

This year is different. 

I’m very interested in the upcoming Schenectady school board race, and I think you should be, too. 

The district is in turmoil, and has been for a long time. 

With two open school board seats and four candidates, voters have an excellent opportunity to begin reshaping a board in desperate need of new ideas and vision. 

Let’s recap the unpleasant and embarassing recent history: 

In March, former Superintendent Larry Spring resigned abruptly under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations, becoming the second superintendent in a row to leave the district in disgrace. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the search for Spring’s successor ended in disaster when the district could not reach a deal with the sole finalist. 

Shortly after, Interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak announced that he would be leaving for another job, putting the district in the unfortunate position of having to restart its superintendent search and tap a new interim to guide the district during that process. 

Meanwhile, board members have doubled down on defending their secretive approach to finding a new superintendent, warning top-tier candidates will be scared away by a more transparent process. 

If the board had a track record of success at finding good superintendents, this reasoning might be easier to accept. 

But it doesn’t. 

I haven’t heard anything that makes me think members fully grasp the extent of the damage caused by Spring, or understand how to make things right. 

In fact, I’m worried the board will embark on another superintendent search that fails to involve the public in a process that would benefit greatly from transparency and engagement with parents, students and teachers. 

Also, let’s not forget the incredible damage caused by the pandemic, which was compounded by the district’s ill-advised decision to shut down in-person education to thousands of students in grades 7-12 and lay off over 400 staff, citing cuts to state aid that never materialized. 

The school board has made one bad decision after another, and voters should head to the polls on May 18 with one goal in mind: change. 

The only incumbent running is Andy Chestnut; the other seat up for election is held by board president John Foley, who opted not to run again 

The four newcomers vying for a spot on the school board are appealing, fresh faces, and Schenectady residents should learn what they have to offer. 

In the mix are Erica Brockmyer, a former program director with the Schenectady Boys & Girls Club, Samuel Rose, a state Department of Education employee, community activist Jamaica Miles and filmmaker Prince Sprauve, who directed the 2018 film “Cradle,” about teen pregnancy. 

All of these candidates would bring passion, energy and new ideas to the school board. 

The two I’m most excited about are Miles and Sprauve, who have both done extensive work with youth in the community; Miles is a longtime education activist who rose to prominence advocating for increased funding for Schenectady schools.  

Too often, local school board races are notable not for their outcomes, but for how little interest and engagement they generate. 

That shouldn’t be the case this year when there’s so much at stake.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion, Sara Foss, Schenectady County

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