Capital Region

School board elections feature varying degrees of competitiveness

Residents arrive to cast their vote for the Board of Education election and budget at Johnstown High School in Johnstown on Tuesday, May 21, 2019.
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Residents arrive to cast their vote for the Board of Education election and budget at Johnstown High School in Johnstown on Tuesday, May 21, 2019.

Voters across New York will head to the polls Tuesday to elect members to public school boards at a time when school boards have been the subject of increased attention during debates over masks and in-person learning amid the pandemic, as well as over school curriculum.

“School boards have been much more in the spotlight,” said David Albert, chief communications and marketing officer for the New York State School Boards Association. “For the most part, they usually just go about their business. School boards are often dealing with a lot of day-to-day operational types of things. But what we’ve seen in the last couple years is that the role of school boards has become much more prominent in the national spotlight.”

Across the state, school board races are drawing a typical number of candidates, with about 1.4 candidates running per open seat, according to Albert. But what’s different this year is the amount of new candidates seeking office.

“A trend that we’re seeing this year is that a number of incumbents are not running for re-election,” Albert said, adding that one-third of incumbents have opted not to run for another term.

“This is the first time that we’ve seen more first-time candidates running than incumbents,” said Albert, who noted the association was not able to collect data last year due to the pandemic. In the state’s school board races this year, 53% of candidates running are new or first-time candidates, while 47% are incumbents, according to Albert.

In the Capital Region, many races have grown contentious. And while some school board races have drawn uncommonly large fields, races in many districts–especially smaller and/or more rural districts–are being run uncontested.

Races in Schenectady County are largely competitive. For instance, four candidates are seeking two seats on the Schenectady City School District Board of Education in an election that has become fiercely political following the board’s recent 4-3 vote in favor of expanding a community engagement officer program that would place up to six police officers in city schools over the next three years at a cost of $300,000 to the district. The race features one incumbent.

Meanwhile, seven candidates – including three incumbents – are running for three open school board seats in the Schalmont Central School District and five candidates – including one incumbent – are vying for two open board seats in the Duanesburg Central School District. Races like those for Niskayuna Central School District’s board are less competitive, with four candidates–including one incumbent–vying for three available seats.

Saratoga County’s larger districts have drawn more crowded fields than in past years.

“A larger number than usual are seeking election,” said Francine Rodger, who co-chairs the Saratoga County’s League of Women Voters’s Vote 411 Voter Guide. “That could be that it’s been a very strange two years, and people are connected to their children’s learning in a way that they haven’t been in the past. In the last two years, parents have been intimately connected to their children’s learning, and this may have spurred more interest.”

The county’s races include eight candidates seeking two available seats on the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Board of Education and seven candidates running for three seats in the Shenendehowa Central School District. Meanwhile five candidates are running for two seats on the Ballston Spa Board of Education and six candidates are running for three seats on the Saratoga Springs Board of Education.

However, boards for some smaller districts in Saratoga County, like Galway and Schuylerville, are running uncontested races.

In Montgomery County, an incumbent candidate and two newcomers are each seeking election to the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education. Three candidates are vying for a pair of seats for full three-year terms and an unexpired one-year term during Tuesday’s election. The two highest vote-getters will fill the full terms.

Elsewhere in the county, two candidates are running to fill the remainder of a five-year term through June 30, 2024, while three people are running for an open seat for a five-year term through June 2027, in the Canajoharie Central School District. Meanwhile, in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, two incumbents are running unopposed.

A lack of candidates has been the issue in some Fulton County districts. No candidates submitted petitions to run for two open three-year seats for the Greater Johnstown School District, so Tuesday’s race will be entirely write-in. The school board election there is the first election affected by the contraction of the board from nine board members down to seven, a change that was approved by voters last year. The contraction had been suggested in past school years by some board members who argued too few people living in the school district were consistently interested in running for the board to fill out the nine board seats.

Gloversville Enlarged School District’s election features three incumbent board members seeking re-election. However, an additional seat to fill the remaining two years of a former board member’s term will likely be filled by the write-in candidate with the highest vote tally, since there are only three names on the ballot.

Meanwhile in the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, six newcomers are running to fill two seats.

Reporters Chad Arnold, Shenandoah Briere, Ashley Onyon, Andrew Pugliese and Jason Subik contributed to this report.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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