Four months ahead of filing deadlines, the Saratoga Springs school board election is already coming to life and promises to hinge on the issue of arming district grounds monitors.
The field that is forming includes incumbent board members Heather Reynolds and Jim Wendell, who have said they plan to run for re-election. After a recent board meeting, Board President Brad Thomas emphatically asserted he does not plan to run for re-election.
Meanwhile, a parent group formed in response to the board’s decision to not authorize district grounds monitors -- most of whom are former police officers -- to carry firearms as part of their jobs, has promised a slate of three candidates who will work to reverse that decision.
Some of the grounds monitors, a district staff position, had for years carried concealed weapons on school grounds, but that practice was stopped in the spring, after district administrators determined it was a violation of state law.
After the school board, in October, narrowly voted against authorizing the monitors to again carry guns, parents and community members filled subsequent board meetings to debate whether armed monitors make schools safer. At times, the meetings turned deeply emotional and divisive.
A group that supports rearming the monitors – calling itself Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools on Facebook – plans to continue its fight during the school board race in the spring.
Kara Rosettie, who formed the group, said last week that the group plans to endorse and campaign for a slate of three board candidates. She said they have interviewed five potential candidates and plan to announce an endorsed slate as early as mid-January. Rosettie said she does not plan to run.
“We want them to have a strong opinion when it comes to security -- the same strong opinion we do -- but we don’t want that to be their one issue,” Rosettie said.
Given the narrow 5-4 vote against authorizing monitors to carry guns, just one new board member could change how the board votes on the issue. Thomas, a Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake social studies teacher who cast the decisive vote to not rearm the monitors, has said he doesn’t intend to run again.
Reynolds, who also voted against arming the monitors, said that, while it’s possible things will change between now and the spring, she plans to run again for a board seat, citing the importance of an experienced board and her years working in the education field.
“It has a huge learning curve," she said. "It has so many moving parts. We have to keep a district running. If we can’t function, our district can’t function.”
Reynolds works as an associate professor of teacher education at SUNY Empire State College and has one child at Saratoga Springs High School.
She said she hopes to avoid heated debate over guns but defended her vote to not authorize gun-carrying grounds monitors. She said she hasn’t seen data that suggests schools are safer with armed school personnel.
“My vote was based on recommendations from experts who have been doing this for years and my own experience in multiple, multiple schools in this area and around the country, in terms of what works,” she said. “I base things on data. I ask for data. If there is no data to support a program, I will not vote for it.”
Reynolds said the best safety measures are those that improve how schools meet the mental health and social needs of students. She said the district should focus its resources on things like social workers and counselors who help improve the overall school community and mental health of students.
“There are so many problems that exist in our schools now that we are not fully addressing,” Reynolds said.
She also welcomed challengers in the school board race and said she hopes all candidates run on their plans for improving all aspects of the district.
“We all want what’s best for our kids, and people should run on that,” Reynolds said. “Share your ideas for how we can provide the best education for our kids, because that’s what the board is there for.”
Wendell, a health communications consultant with two children, voted to authorize monitors to carry firearms. He said by email last week that he plans to run for another term on the school board.
Rosettie said she expects to unveil the slate of candidates in January and host a “meet the candidates” fundraiser in February. Another fundraiser is likely in the spring, she said.
Before earning the group’s endorsement, potential candidates will be asked to sign a contract committing to support rearming grounds monitors; she also said their views on other education issues are also important.
“We plan on raising a lot of money,” Rosettie said of the group’s organizing plans. “We plan on making sure everyone in Saratoga Springs knows the three slate candidates we want them to vote on.”
Rosettie said she and her group don’t plan to voice their concerns at board meetings, as they have in recent months. Instead, she said they have turned their attention and focus to the school board election.
“It’s evident the board does not want to do anything this school year to make our students safer,” she said. “Our focus now will be on the election.”