BURNT HILLS – The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District Board of Education is trying to decide how to fill a vacancy after one longtime member submitted his resignation last month.
The vacancy has drawn a lot of feedback from residents, in particular because a parents’ rights school board candidate, who finished third in this year’s election, is pushing for the seat. The vacancy came after 17-year school board member John Blowers announced his plans to move out of the district. Whoever takes the seat will fill out the final year of Blowers’ three-year term.
The board can fill the seat either by appointing a qualified person or holding a special election, per New York state Education Law. The school board could also ask the district superintendent of the Capital Region BOCES to make an appointment, but the board is committed to making the decision on its own, according to a notice about the issue on the school district’s website.
The board is in the process of collecting information, and it will discuss the vacancy at its July 13 meeting.
“Board President David Versocki has received many emails asking that the board consider appointing the candidate on the May 17 ballot who received the third highest number of votes [Emily Walsh] to fill the vacancy,” reads the posting on the district’s site. “Conversely, Versocki has also received a large number of communications from residents who expressed they feel the vote results would have been much different had there been three board vacancies at the time of election and are urging the board to consider a special election.”
Walsh, a leader of the group BHBL United For Choice, campaigned heavily on the notion that parents – she herself is the mother of three elementary school students – need to be more involved in discussions of what goes on inside schools.
“I think we should all have our voices heard,” Walsh said during a May 12 school board candidate forum.
Among other issues addressed at the forum, Walsh said she was concerned about how schools teach sexual education and said she believes parents should have the right to opt into having their students learn such curriculum rather than opt out. She also said her son has developed a lazy eye from wearing masks during the pandemic.
Walsh finished third in the May 17 school board election, which saw eight candidates vying for two seats. She earned 565 votes, with the winners Jennifer Longtin and David Mitchell receiving 1,569 votes and 1,528 votes, respectively. Longtin was elected to her fourth term and Mitchell was elected to his first term.
“I firmly believe that the most appropriate course of action is to appoint the candidate who finished third in the most recent school board election,” Walsh wrote in a June 21 Facebook post. “With the many concerns that parents have regarding the health and safety protocols which may be imposed by New York State in the upcoming school year, it is imperative that our school district has a full board both present and engaged as soon as possible. I have made my position clear to the community and to the current board members as I am ready, able and willing to serve to ensure that our teachers, staff and most importantly, our children, are given every opportunity to succeed in the least restrictive environment possible this fall.”
Past practice in filling vacancies has been for the board to collect letters of interest from qualified residents, according to the district’s notice. Given Walsh’s interest in the seat and residents’ feedback, the board wants to talk this one out.
“We recognize there are differing opinions throughout the community as to how to best fill the board vacancy,” Versocki said in the statement. “We also know that the community deserves to hear the board’s open and honest discussion and see the transparency in our decision. It’s likely that not everyone will agree with whatever decision the board makes, but it’s important for the community to see how the board approaches the discussion, weighs the options, and makes an informed decision.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.