Three incumbents and three challengers are vying for three seats on the Niskayuna Board of Education in Tuesday’s vote.
The candidates are running on multiple issues, including how to see the district into the future and solving its budgetary woes while keeping in mind what gave the district its good reputation in the first place.
Seeking re-election to the school board are Debbie Gordon, David Hudson and Jeanne Sosnow. Gordon is looking for her third term, Hudson his fifth and Sosnow her fourth.
Challenging them for their seats are Patricia Lanotte, Kevin Laurilliard and Matt Petrangelo. Lanotte is a 17-year resident of the district, Laurilliard a 16-year resident and Petrangelo a two-year resident.
All the candidates either have children currently in the district or children who have graduated from it.
District voters will go to the polls Tuesday. Voting begins at 7 a.m. at Niskayuna High School and closes at 9 p.m.
Voters also will be casting their ballots on the 2013-2014 school budget. The proposed budget includes $76.3 million in spending, with a 5.76 percent increase in the tax levy. Under the proposal, a Niskayuna home assessed at $250,000 would see a tax bill increase of $276.
The tax levy increase exceeds the district’s 4.66 percent cap, meaning approval by a 60 percent of voters will be needed to enact the spending plan. The budget, district officials have said, faces pressure from loss of state aid and increasing pension costs.
Gordon first won election to the board after serving as PTO Council co-president for the district.
She graduated from SUNY Binghamton and has a master’s degree from Syracuse University. She is a certified social worker. She and her husband, Brian, have two children, both Niskayuna High School students.
Gordon said her hope for another term is to maintain the district’s stellar reputation. As a trained social worker, Gordon said, she brings listening skills to the board and hopes to continue to do so.
“I’m cognizant of the fiscal concern that people have and yet I’m also aware of the concern people have about maintaining the quality of education that Niskayuna has to offer,” Gordon said.
Gordon said she wants to continue the district’s advocacy efforts, making sure the state Legislature knows the district’s needs.
Hudson was previously president of the board. He works at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a senior network system programmer.
He is a SUNY graduate. He and his wife, Trudy, have two children, both graduates of Niskayuna schools.
Hudson said he wants another term to continue the job of trying to navigate the district through its financial troubles. He said his knowledge gained through his four previous terms will be helpful in doing that.
“I feel like if I didn’t run, I’d be walking away from a job partly done,” Hudson said. “I don’t like to do that.”
Hudson said he wants to continue finding alternative revenue streams, including a new educational enrichment fund. The fund takes donations from individuals or groups targeted at specific programs.
Hudson said he also wants to look at strategic planning to head off problems before they present themselves.
Lanotte, looking for her first term, is an assistant controller and finance simplification leader at GE Global Research. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Siena College.
Lanotte and her husband, Mike, have two children, both students in the district.
Lanotte said she has seen the changes in the district over time and wants to make a difference herself. She said she wants to see a strategic plan three to five years out and use her background in numbers to help do that.
She also said she wants to ensure the right programs are being offered at the high school so the students remain competitive.
“I think we need a budget based on the curriculum, built from the bottom up,” Lanotte said.
Laurilliard, also looking for his first term, is an attorney and shareholder with McNamee, Lochner, Titus & Williams P.C., whose law practice focuses primarily on commercial litigation and construction law. He ran for the board in 2012, coming less than 60 votes short of a seat.
He has a bachelor’s degree from the University at Albany and a juris doctor from Albany Law School. Laurilliard and his wife, Susan Quine Laurilliard, have three children, one a Niskayuna graduate, the other two currently students.
Laurilliard said he suggested last year to look into reaching out to Niskayuna alumni like colleges do, looking for funds that way. He noted the creation earlier this year of the educational endowment fund. Now the task, he said, is to let people know it’s there and why they should support the district’s efforts.
On the planning side, Laurilliard said the district needs to look further ahead.
“My goal is to have a long-range plan and look forward several years, rather than looking at it on an annual basis,” he said.
Petrangelo, looking for his first term, is a project manager with BCI Construction Inc.
He has a bachelor’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology. He and his wife, Ellen, have two children, one a kindergartner, the other age 4.
Petrangelo said he wants to bring a fresh perspective to the board. The district, he said, needs to find another source of revenue as the state and federal governments cut back.
He also wants to make sure the district’s buildings are energy efficient, something he said can result in big savings.
He also wants to focus on the school district’s mission to educate children and make sure programs are developed to keep them ahead.
“Right now we’re not on the path to accomplish that,” Petrangelo said. “Instead, they want to nickel and dime every educational program. Yeah, nickel and dimes add up, but the bigger picture is being missed.”
Sosnow, seeking a fourth term on the board, graduated from Bucknell University and is president of the Capital District School Boards Association. She has previously worked as a teaching assistant at Iroquois. She also previously served as board president.
Sosnow and her husband, Peter, have three daughters, all Niskayuna graduates.
Sosnow said she wants to remain with the board to continue finding the solution for the district’s challenges. Her years of experience can help with that, she said.
Sosnow said she has worked to balance the needs of the children and the expectations of the community, both in terms of educational programs and cost.
“Everybody’s unhappy about something, but I think it’s important, as we go forward, that we monitor the impact of the changes we made and make sure we make the necessary adjustments,” Sosnow said.