CLIFTON PARK -- Candidates vying for three open seats on the Shenendehowa Central School District's Board of Education attended a candidate's forum on Monday night to answer questions on issues facing district residents and teachers.
The debate was hosted by the Shenendehowa Parent Teacher Association Council. Candidates present at the forum were Ram Lalukota, a resident of Clifton Park, Deanna Stephenson, a resident of Halfmoon, and Gary DiLallo of Clifton Park. Todd Gilbert, a resident of Mechanicville, is also running for one of the seats on the board, but was unable to attend the forum.
Stephenson, DiLallo and Gilbert all currently sit on the board.
The forum consisted of opening statements by the candidates, four questions addressed to the candidates, and closing statements.
Is there something that you feel you are qualified to improve within the school district and why?
Lalukota said he would like to see the board address voter accessibility.
"I think the Shenendehowa School District and the board members are working very hard. There are so many things they are doing wonderfully, but we should look into more polling stations, so that people can have a facility they can get to easily, according to their schedule," he said.
Currently, the only polling station accessible during district votes is in the Gowana Middle School Gymnasium.
For DiLallo, most of the issues the district has to face come from outside forces, including actions from the state and federal government.
"We don't actually have specific issues that are in crisis or that pop up that we have to part address," he said.
He added that the district is continually improving its procedures and processes.
"This ongoing process allows us to keep up to date. We've done that, through various cycles."
Stephenson noted that the board needs to continue to improve its community engagement practices to tackle issues such as Shen's projected growth rate.
"Shen continues to grow, and I don't know a lot of school districts that are doing that at the rate that we are," she said. As such, community engagement needs to be a focus.
"How are we as a board going to improve on that? How do we get everybody involved?" she asked.
What is your favorite event and why?
DiLallo said that he and his wife both enjoy the district's dramatic productions, from theater to musical performances.
"The talent is amazing," he said.
Stephenson most enjoys the district's home football games
"I love driving up to the stadium and seeing everyone lined up," she said.
Lalukota most enjoys Shen's annual multicultural event, Shensational.
"Everybody gets the chance to understand their culture. That brings the unity," he said.
As a board member, how would you work with colleagues to address issues, such as drug use in school, school safety and and mental health issues?
Engaging the community to keep residents in the loop and on the same page as board members is important, Stephenson said.
"This has been coming. There's always been mental health challenges. There's always been something, some sort of drug issue," she said. She lauded recent forums and coffee talks hosted by the district as a step in the right direction.
Lalukota agreed that community engagement would play a large role in addressing issues.
"We need to find the ways to get the communication back. Open forums, publicize, because a lot of people have very good ideas. They might not have the time, but they have good ideas," he said.
DiLallo added that the district needs to be proactive in reaching out before making big decisions.
"I think we've made real strides in that area, and have found ways to improve that," he said.
How do we get more community volunteers?
Lalukota circled back to making things more accessible, so that people will want to participate even if they think they might not have the time.
"They have kids, they have jobs, they have a lot of other things they need to take care of," he said.
DiLallo said that, for anything, groups have to make sure that volunteers are, at the very least, being utilized to their fullest extent.
"Otherwise, don't ask them to come in," he said.
"Let them have a role. It will build. All you have to do is ask, and tell them you need help," Stephenson said.
The public vote on the 2019-2020 budget and school board seats will be held in the Gowana Middle School gymnasium on May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Qualified voters must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and a resident of the Shenendehowa district for at least 30 days prior to the vote. Shen has estimated that there are 50,000 to 55,000 qualified voters in the district.