ROTTERDAM — Three candidates are vying for two spots on the Mohonasen Central School District Board of Education this year.
Board vice president Chad McFarland is seeking a third three-year term, while Jason Bustelos and Melissa Laundano are new comers seeking to provide students and candidates a greater voice. Deborah Escobar is not seeking reelection.
Bustelos, a father with four children in the district, said he has had little involvement with the school in recent years, but has grown increasingly worried about what students are being taught, pointing to fierce debates that have encapsulated school boards across the country on issues surrounding critical race theory and gender identity.
Similar concerns have become talking points in districts throughout the region, despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in New York schools, according to the state’s Department of Education.
The district hosted a candidate forum on Monday ahead of the May 17 election, where voters will also decide the fate of proposed $60.2 million proposed budget that increases spending by $3.7 million and includes a 2.74%.
A ballot proposition that would allow the district to purchase six school buses at a cost of $645,000 will also be decided by voters.
Here is what the three candidates had to say about their respected platforms in the order they will appear on the ballot.
Bustelos is running to increase transparency within the district and to ensure parents have a voice at the table.
The real-estate broker and father of four said he is most concerned about a number of issues that have garnered attention on the national level in recent months being taught in the distinct, including critical race theory — which is not taught in New York schools — and gender identity, “where boys can be girls or girls can be boys.”
“All these teachings are wrong and have no place in schools,” he said. “Parents have been criticized in recent years for expressing their concerns. Some think that a parent’s voice has no place in the classroom. This is wrong.”
Bustelos said he has only been to one board meeting last summer, but is hoping to learn more about the district’s inner workings and what is being taught in classrooms should he be elected.
He believes parents should play a more prominent role in their child’s education.
The district has done a good job at handling the pandemic, according to Bustelos, but he believes improvements can be made when it comes to creating dialogue between parents and around the budget process.
“I keep going back to transparency work and to make sure there are no agendas being set elsewhere that are going to impact our district,” he said.
An attorney with the state’s Department of Labor and a major in the U.S. McFarland is seeking a third term of the Mohonasen Board of Education.
A father of three, McFarland said he is committed to putting students and parents first, and is not afraid to challenge other board members and school administration when it comes to benefit students.
“I am passionate to see that all our children receive the best quality education that our teachers can give them,” he said. “And it’s just as important that parents play a vital role in their children’s education.”
McFarland said he didn’t agree with some of the state mandates imposed on children in recent years to combat the spread of the coronavirus, but believes the district handled things well. He also credited the district for maintaining a “lean” budget that provides a wide range of services for students, including extracurricular activities.
Still, he said the district would do a better job about teaching students to be “caring and contributing, productive and responsible citizens,” and criticized students for not standing for the pledge of allegiance and national anthem during athletic events.
“If you think this is merely a petty view of etiquette, go ahead and share your view with any current service member or veteran who has served in Afghanistan or Iraq and kept everybody in our district safe under the colors of our flag and pride reflected in our anthem,” he said.
A business system analyst for the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, Laudano said she isn’t running on a particular issue, but wants to ensure students in the district have a voice.
“While I don’t have any particular issue, I do believe that any issue that is brought to the board, significant or minor, should be given its due attention, and to approach with an open mind and to learn as much as I possibly can in doing that,” she said.
A mother of three, Laudano said the district has done a good job in addressing learning loss associated with the pandemic and providing resources for special education, but noted she would like to see smaller class sizes and the district tackle issues surrounding transportation.
Laudano added that she would also like to see increased transparency around the budget and would explore cost-saving measures like consolidating administrative services and keeping a close eye on contractual obligations related to employee health-care costs.
Laudano said it’s not possible to meet the needs of everyone in the district, but but it’s the role of board members to ensure they are listening and take everything into account when making a decision.
“I was taught from a very young age that you stick up for those who cannot fight for themselves, and our children need a voice,” she said. “We as their parents are that voice and as educators we’re that voice and as a school board we become the avenue that facilitates lasting affecting change for those voices.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.