It’s ironic that in dictatorships, where voters don’t really have a choice, turnout is often very high; and in this country, where they actually do have a choice, it is often very low. That’s especially true with school board elections.
But some school board elections are more meaningful than others. Voters in the city of Schenectady not only will neglect their civic duty if they don’t go to the polls today, they’ll miss an opportunity to be part of something special — a process that is part selection, part transition, part celebration.
They will definitely have choices — nine candidates for just four seats. Four are running together, with the endorsement of a new group called SCOPE (Schenectady Citizens for Openness in Education). Voters can go for all four SCOPE candidates, some of them or none of them.
And the election signifies a transition in every sense. Only one of the candidates is currently on the board, Maxine Brisport, its president. So at least three of the seven board members are guaranteed to be new.
More important, all are in agreement that changes are needed, including getting rid of Superintendent Eric Ely and being more open about how the board and district do business. For many years the district has been run like a machine, with excessive secrecy and control exercised by former board president Jeff Janiszewski. Over the last year Schenectady residents have watched with fascination, but also dismay and disgust, as the Steven Raucci affair revealed a machine gone amok.
Whoever winds up on this board will soon be tested. The first test, assuming he doesn’t quickly land the job elsewhere that he is so desperately seeking, will be getting rid of Ely, who was too chummy with and tolerant of Raucci. Budgeting, with the prospect of reduced state aid and residents in no mood for tax increases, is going to be extremely tough. And then there’s the continuing challenge of educating some very hard-to-educate kids in a poor urban district.
But these nine have answered the call, most of them apparently driven to run by what they have seen in the recent past, and eager to distance themselves from it. That’s reason to expect brighter days ahead, and a cause for celebration. Schenectady residents should get out and celebrate by voting.