Mohonasen school board candidates vying for a pair of two open seats offer voters a choice of candidates with board experience or newcomers with education experience.
The four candidates — Heather C. Quinn, Gary Spadaro, Deborah Escobar and Robert Piccirillo — shared their views during a candidate forum Monday night, discussing testing and standards, the role of board members and the value of the district’s new technology center.
Quinn and Escobar are both first time candidates, while Piccirillo is the sitting board president and Spadaro served nine years on the board but lost his re-election bid last year when a wave of anti-testing insurgents defeated a trio of incumbents.
Quinn, the mother of three young boys, works as an associate director at Wildwood School in Rotterdam. As a one-time special education teacher, she oversees curriculum, instruction and assessment for the elementary level at the special education school.
Escobar worked as a gifted and talented teacher in Guilderland schools for over 20 years before retiring and taking up a role as an education advocate that pushes against what she argues is an effort by corporate and wealthy interests to influence education policy around standards and testing.
The candidates shared common ground on the importance of engaging community members and soliciting input from a wide array of stakeholders but started to diverge slightly on the controversial topic of standards and assessments.
Mohonasen schools has had one the highest opt-out rates on state tests over the last few years in the Capital Region, topping half of eligible students last year before coming down slightly this year. The board has sought to balance parents’ strongly-guarded right to refuse the tests for their kids and the district’s legal requirement to administer the tests.
Escobar, who has advocated against the state tests and the Common Core standards they are used to measure, didn’t shy away from communicating her dissatisfaction with what she argues are developmentally inappropriate and overemphasized assessments.
“These tests are hurting our children, and I will not stand idly by and let that happen,” Escobar said. “I will fight with everything I have.”
While Escobar staked out the most stridently anti-Common Core position of all the candidates, the other three candidates sought to positions that balanced the need for testing and standards with a the strong sentiment for families to make their own decision about participating in tests.
“There is a need for student assessment to make sure students are learning and growing, but it needs to be done in a much more collaborative manner,” Quinn said.
Spadaro said he thought it was nice that the government gave parents a right to refuse the tests but that he was OK with his kids participating in the tests. Piccirillo cited his “fiduciary responsibility” as a board member to comply with state and federal laws, while stressing the importance of providing parents with information and allowing them to make their own decisions.
Spadaro and Piccirillo both trumpeted their board experience, lifelong residency in the district and success as board members, especially the ongoing construction of the district’s new Center for Advanced Technology.
All of the candidates agreed the center — which will specialize in nanotechnology, health professions, gaming, welding and more — was a valuable asset for the district that should play a key role in the coming years.
Vote on $48m budget
District voters will be asked next week to approve Mohonasen’s $48.3 million budget proposal, which increases the district tax levy 2.2 percent and boosts spending 0.76 percent.
The proposal adds teachers for three new kindergarten sections at Bradt Primary School, necessary to accommodate projected increases at that level, and three new position at Pinewood Intermediate School. The budget adds just over 20 new positions across the district, including eight positions that will be focused at the new Center for Advanced Technology. The staffing additions build on over a dozen positions added last year after five years of staff reductions.
“We are very excited this year that it is a positive budget situation, which it really hasn’t been for the past six years,” Superintendent Kathleen Spring said. “We are adding back positions and starting to rebuild our programs.”
The budget pushes all the way up to its maximum tax levy — the total amount of money collected from local taxpayers — without busting through its tax cap and is estimated to increase school taxes for district residents $57 per $150,000 of assessed home value.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.