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Candidates selected in bid to rearm Saratoga Springs school staff

Candidates selected in bid to rearm Saratoga Springs school staff

Three endorsed by Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools
Candidates selected in bid to rearm Saratoga Springs school staff
Saratoga High students deliver signed petitions in favor of arming resource officers on school grounds.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- A trio of Saratoga Springs school board candidates set on reversing a decision to disarm district grounds monitors has emerged.

The candidates, endorsed by the group Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools, are all parents of students in the district and sport a variety of career experience and backgrounds, ranging from a classroom teacher to a bank vice president and a former Coast Guard captain.

Connie Woytowich works as a high school science teacher in South Colonie Central School District and has earned recognition as a New York state master teacher. She has four kids in Saratoga schools.

Ed Cubanski, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain, works as chief operating officer of the Eastern New York American Red Cross, based in Albany. He has two kids in the district.

Dean Kolligian works as vice president for security and facilities at The Adirondack Trust Company. Kolligian, who was not available for an interview Monday, has four kids in the school district and volunteers on various community boards and foundations.

While the candidates promised they were focused on more than just safety issues, Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools has made rearming the district's grounds monitors – retired police officers who work for the district – its central issue. The group last month released a broad safety plan that called for a school resource officer in each of the district’s eight school buildings and rearming the grounds monitors.

The group has promised to raise money and campaign on behalf of its endorsed candidates. 

Some of the grounds monitors had carried concealed firearms for years, but that practice was stopped in the spring, after school officials determined it was illegal for them to do so without specific permission from the school board. Then, the school board rejected -- by one vote -- a resolution that would have authorized the monitors to legally carry firearms.

While Woytowich and Cubanski both said they support arming grounds monitors, they also sought to pre-empt criticism that they may be single-issue candidates backed by a single-issue advocacy group.

“Some people might want to run for one particular reason, and I am not,” Woytowich said. “I care about education: I live it, I breathe it. I’ve been doing it for 18 years.”

Cubanski pointed to his experience in the Coast Guard -- working across federal, state and local governments to develop and coordinate multi-agency programs -- as evidence that he can work on the school board as a consensus builder.

“I have three things I support: I want a quality education for the kids, I want a safe school environment and I want to provide a quality education to the top tier and bottom tier,” Cubanski said.

Woytowich highlighted the importance of STEM programming and said computer science will continue to be a critical field to focus on. She also said she was interested in focusing on the district’s teacher training efforts, curriculum plans and work to improve outcomes for all student groups.

“Students do need to feel a sense of love and belonging to feel vested in the community,” she said in an interview Monday.

Cubanski said he has been looking for a big volunteer opportunity that would further connect him to Saratoga, where he and his family moved in 2015 after time spent working in New Orleans and Connecticut. He said he wanted to do more to survey parents, students and teachers about what they want to see improved in the district and do more to enhance programs for both the district’s neediest students and its most advanced students.

“I’m thinking broader picture, so the school board is a natural outflow -- making sure kids have a great education, making sure administrators and teachers have the right resources and they feel supported by the community,” Cubanski said in an interview last week.

But even if candidates seek to highlight a range of issues, the election may still hinge on safety, security and whether the grounds monitors can carry guns. Three board seats are up for election in May, including a seat expected to be left open by Board President Brad Thomas, who cast the decisive vote against arming the monitors. He has said he does not plan to run for another term.

Two other sitting board members, Heather Reynolds, who voted against authorizing the monitors to carry firearms, and Jim Wendell, who voted in favor of allowing the monitors to carry guns, have indicated they plan to run for the board again.

Both Cubanski and Woytowich said rearming monitors should be part of a broader security approach that includes certification and training protocols, coordination with local law enforcement and ongoing monitoring of how the plans worked.

“Whoever is carrying a gun should absolutely be trained,” Woytowich said of the monitors. “As a board member, I would expect a professional development plan: How are they assessed? How are they evaluated? The training is key, the accountability is key and, again, these are people that are on the side of keeping schools safe.”

Cubanski highlighted the importance of strengthening plans to identify students at risk of posing a threat to schools. He also said more needs to be done to secure school campuses and open avenues for students and teachers to report suspicious behavior.

“School resource officers and grounds monitors are one part of that plan, but they are not the sole solution for that plan,” he said. “These people have identified risk their entire careers.”

Cubanski also said he supports hiring a resource officer for each district building – at an estimated cost of about $500,000 a year for six new resource officers.

“That’s a very cheap insurance policy,” he said. “If that insurance policy is never used, then we are as lucky as can be.”

He cited police response times of seven to nine minutes and said school shootings last about five minutes. Do the math, he said, when asked whether the district’s schools are less safe than before the monitors stopped carrying firearms.

“It’s a mathematical equation in my mind,” he said. “Are they less safe? I don’t know; all I know is that math.”

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