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Finance gap emerges in Saratoga Springs school board race

Finance gap emerges in Saratoga Springs school board race

Group in favor of armed guards raises the most
Finance gap emerges in Saratoga Springs school board race
Lawn signs for the school board slate of Shaun Wiggins, Dean Kolligan and Ed Cubanski are popping up in Saratoga Springs.
Photographer: Miles Reed/ Gazette Editor

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- A month out from a competitive Saratoga Springs school board election deep differences in financial strength and fundraising approaches have emerged among the candidates.

A trio of candidates running a joint campaign, with the backing of a parent group formed to press for expanded armed security in district schools, on Thursday announced they have raised over $33,000.

John Brueggemann, a longtime Skidmore College professor running in part against the arming of district staff, raised over $4,700 and has spent nearly $1,500 in his campaign bid, according to reports he filed with the district.

But none of the other candidates has raised or spent enough money to reach the $500 threshold that triggers a mandatory report of contributions and expenditures due 30 days prior to the May 21 election – or an effective deadline of Tuesday after district offices reopen after a long weekend – according to responses from the candidates.

Natalya Lakthakia, a speech pathologist, in an email response said she had received just two contributions: $18 from someone who bought her website domain and a $50 in-kind contribution of design services from a friend. She said she filed a report with the district office Thursday.

Heather Reynolds, the only sitting board member running for another term, said by email her campaign expenses, some cards and signs, are “way below” the $500 reporting threshold, and that she was relying on her experience and social network in her election efforts.

“I started out my re-election determined to run like I did three years ago, which was not taking money from any individuals or groups,” said Reynolds, an education researcher and professor at SUNY Empire State College.

Connie Woytowich, a science teacher at Colonie Central High School, started the campaign as a member of the slate but renounced the parent group’s endorsement over Facebook messages targeting Reynolds. Woytowich sought out advice from the state Education Department and the New York State School Boards Association since money was initially raised for the slate on her behalf but she dropped the financial support when she dropped out of the slate. Ultimately, she reported the contributions raised on her behalf before she left the slate, she said. She said campaign materials produced with her name as part of the slate were destroyed.

Since running on her own, Woytowich said she has not spent over $500 -- “not even close to $100.”

The slate’s fundraising totals will go to support the candidacies of Ed Cubanski, an executive with the regional American Red Cross; Dean Kolligian, vice president of facilities and security at the Adirondack Trust Company; and Shaun Wiggins, who owns a Saratgoa-based risk management and data analytics firm.

“I am grateful for the outpouring of support that we have received from the community,” Kolligian said in a press release announcing the group’s fundraising tally.

The joint campaign has spent over $17,000 so far, according to Rob Arrigo, who is working on the campaign effort. Yard signs supporting the trio of candidates have started to pop up around the school district, and the campaign has paid for automated calls to reach thousands of district residents.

The fundraising numbers of the slate appear to be more than school board candidates have ever raised or spent in a Saratoga Springs school board race. District officials have said they couldn’t find a time when candidates had ever filed finance reports. The race has drawn intense interest since the school board in October voted against authorizing district grounds monitors to carry firearms, as some of the monitors had done for years without formal board approval. A group of parents formed under the banner Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools opposed to the board’s decision. In the winter, that parent group endorsed a slate of candidates and has run a joint campaign effort since.

In a contrast to the big fundraising totals of the slate, Lakhtakia said she planned to make a personal donation to the school district in lieu of purchasing yard signs. She said she expected the donation to come in around $350 and that she would encourage others in the community to donate to the district as well.

“I appreciate that [yard signs] are a typical expenditure during a campaign, but I do not feel they are a great use of money for me, given that we have many, many struggling students in our district,” Lakhtakia said Friday.

Candidates that have reached the $500 fundraising threshold are required to file another contribution and expenditure report five days prior to the election and within 20 days after the vote.

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