Tagged with " school board"
May 21, 2019 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Saratoga school board vote today: Lakhtakia, Woytowich plus 1

I thought the choices would be easy. I was mistaken.  

School board candidates touched on numerous topics during informative and civil forum hosted by League of Women Voters, whose online voter guide is a great resource.

The budget vote and school board elections are today, and I’m still torn about the candidates. If you live in the Saratoga Springs school district, you’re going to have to decide for yourself which of the seven candidates competing for three seats best match what you’re looking for.

I listened to all seven address myriad questions at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County at the high school May 8, reviewed their responses to the questions on the league’s website (an excellent public service), read the individual writeups in The Saratogian, noticed lawn signs, reviewed mailings, noted the Saratoga Springs Teachers Association endorsements, and chatted with one, Natalya Lakhtakia, who knocked on my door when I happened to be home.

Based on all of the above, the two candidates I feel most strongly about voting for are Natalya Lakhtakia and Connie Woytowich. I came away from the forum impressed by their smart, direct, thoughtful answers, their approach to education issues, and their highly relevant professional and personal experience. They seem passionate and reasonable. By the way, they have opposite views about whether the district should bring back armed monitors (Woytowich says yes, with training and evaluations; Lakhtakia wants only active duty officers armed). I’d like them to win, though I pity the headline writer.

I’m wavering about my third choice.

Longtime resident John Kaufmann expressed my thoughts precisely in a May 19 post on his Saratoga Springs Politics blog, where he wrote: “Any of the candidates running for the three seats open on the Saratoga Springs Board of Education would serve the district well. … All of them care deeply about our schools, and it is to their credit that they are willing to take on the very demanding job of being a school board member.”

Not one of the seven is a single-issue candidate. However, three – Ed Cubanski, Dean Kolligian and Shaun Wiggins — are running as a team in multiple mailings paid for by “Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools,” formed to reverse the current school board’s decision to disarm school monitors. Woytowich shares that goal but decided not to be associated with the group after it attacked candidate Heather Reynolds as an “anti-school safety politician.”

I respect Woytowich for this demonstration of civility for a fellow candidate. It’s inane to claim that anyone on or running for the school board does not care about the safety of the students and staff at our schools. To their credit, Cubanski, Kolligian and Wiggins have not, as far as I could tell, spouted such nonsense.

Meanwhile, Lakhtakia, John Bruggermann, and Reynolds (the only candidate with board experience, seeking her second three-year term) are more quietly being touted by those who don’t want the monitors re-armed. It takes a while to learn the ropes on a school board, and Reynolds’ investment and willingness to stick with it shouldn’t be ignored.

Without any explanation that I could find, the teachers union endorsed Kolligian, Lakhtakia and Bruggermann. Apparently neither the arming monitors issue nor being an educator and union member were deciding factors.

Four of the candidates are educators – Reynolds, Lakhtakia, Woytowich and Bruggermann. Most of the candidates have long track records in a variety of community service roles, many involving children. There are candidates of color. Three of the seven are women. All are invested in this community, personally and professionally. I regret that I’m giving candidates short shrift in this writeup.  

My best advice is to make use of the League of Women Voters first-rate voters’ guide that lets you see, read about and compare the candidates. I also recommend you read over the school board-related posts on John Kaufmann’s blog for some insight that could affect your decisions. Then get over to whichever elementary school is your polling place between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and make your voice count.

I’m grateful so many are willing to serve. And since a third of the nine-member board is up for re-election every year, those who don’t make it this time can still be active and perhaps run again.

May 7, 2019 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Come armed – with questions – for Saratoga school board candidates

City Council elections generally draw more attention than Saratoga Springs School Board elections, even though our school tax bill is bigger than the city bill. This year is different, but the issue isn’t taxes: It’s guns and student safety.

Who wants to do what, and why?

I hope to find out Wednesday at a candidate event scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. in the high school teaching auditorium. The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County is hosting the event. The league also promises to have info about the candidates on its website ahead of the May 21 school budget and board member vote.

The other day the president of the school board resigned immediately the other day without public explanation. His three-year term would have ended in June; he did not seek re-election. He was one of members who voted last fall to disarm the monitors who patrol the schools. It passed 5-4 and sparked the current election challenges.

I’m torn about the gun issue. I think arming teachers is an invitation for disaster, but trained officers could perhaps save lives. I want to hear more. I want to learn who’s running and why – and what the candidates are bringing to the table on matters other than guns.

Here’s a link to the League of Women Voters website and one to a rather disturbing post about the campaign by the even-handed John Kaufmann on his Saratoga Springs Politics blog.

Mar 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Pensions: Why school taxes don’t go toward teaching kids

A large and growing percentage of school budgets support retired teachers and administrators, doing nothing for current and future students.

A significant amount of the money you pay in school taxes goes not to educate children but to pay people who don’t teach anymore.

Overly generous pensions are eating up school (and, to a lesser degree, municipal) budgets.

For instance, the average Capital Region teacher who retired last year with at least 30 years of service will be receiving a pension of more than $60,000 a year for the rest of their life. Not to mention health coverage.

The pensions were reported recently by the Times Union with numbers provided by independent think tank and fiscal watchdog Empire Center, which won a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the state Teachers Retirement System. The retirement system didn’t want the public to see what it’s paying for. (Go ahead and peek at the Empire Center’s database at seethroughny.net.)

Good teachers are worth their weight in gold. But that’s not the point.

Even someone as math-challenged as I can see that saddling citizens with the cost of these pensions doesn’t add up.

An increasing portion of school budgets goes to support pensions and health benefits. Over the years, some changes have sought to reduce this growth, such as extending the required years of service and bumping up teachers’ contributions to their health coverage. But the benefits are still out of whack.

In May, citizens across the state will be presented with their school districts’ annual budgets. Administrations and their school boards will keep spending increases under the 2 percent state tax cap, and thus under the public radar. They will shrug off the disproportionate benefits as “contractual obligations” out of their control.

Yet they’re the ones who approve the contracts.

Board of Education members all around the state – fortified by taxpayers – must find the gumption to say to the unions, “Enough!”