There are twice as many candidates as there are seats on the newly merged Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District Board of Education.
“This is great,” said Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES District Superintendent Patrick Michel. “We never have this many people running.”
In a referendum Jan. 29, voters established a board with only seven members. Fourteen submitted their petitions Monday, making for more than the usual measure of competition.
Michel said the large number of candidates is due mostly to the merger. The current St. Johnsville board has five members. O-E has seven with one vacancy. Ten of the 11 current board members are running for the new seats.
St. Johnsville resident Keith Handy is one of the four candidates not running from an incumbent position. The farmer served on the St. Johnsville Board of Education from 1990 to 2005, including stints as president and vice president.
“The merger is a dream come true for me,” he said, “I made overtures to Oppenheim-Ephratah back when I was on the board. Now that we finally merged, I figure I can help with the transition.”
He said there are still some hurt feelings at O-E, mentioning the narrow 19-vote margin by which the merger was approved in that district.
“I think I can communicate unity,” he said.
There might be a lot of people running for a few seats, but Handy at least doesn’t feel overly competitive.
“I don’t know if I’ll win,” he said, “but even if I don’t, there are a lot of really experienced folks. Whoever wins, it will be a good board.”
Michel said the sentiment extends to most of the candidates. They were all in one room Monday night drawing numbers from Michel’s own black fedora to establish placement on the March 19 ballot.
“They all seemed willing to work together,” he said, pointing out that’s about to become very important.
The new board will be voted in March 19, organized the next day and have to settle on a new school budget within the week.
“We don’t want to squander the extra million dollars the state’s giving us for the merger,” Handy said.
Given the deadline, Michel will present the candidates with a draft of the budget before the election, getting them to work before a single vote is cast.
Once the votes do come in, candidates will get staggered terms. Based on the number of votes received, three members will receive three-year terms, two members will receive two-year terms and two members will receive one-year terms. Winners in all subsequent elections will get full three-year terms.
In the interests of speeding along the campaigning process, the district has organized two meet-the-candidate events, scheduled on the evenings of March 5 and 12 at the H.C. Smith Benefit Club in St. Johnsville.
Candidates for the newly merged Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District Board of Education, in the order they will appear on the ballot:
Darren Bellen: current St. Johnsville Board of Education
Renee Swartz: current St. Johnsville Board
Bruce Carpenter: current Oppenheim-Ephratah Board
Cindy Breh: current Oppenheim-Ephratah Board
Ben Conte: current Oppenheim-Ephratah Board president
Susanne Sammons: current Oppenheim-Ephratah Board
Chad Eggleston: current St. Johnsville Board
Neil Clark: St. Johnsville resident
Glen Blanchard: current Oppenheim-Ephratah Board
Patricia Christensen: current St. Johnsville Board
Keith Handy: St. Johnsville resident
William Lints: Oppenheim resident
Lee Quackenbush: Oppenheim resident
Christopher Mosher: current St. Johnsville Board