Garrison Board of Education Election Becomes a Contest

Hoch steps up as write-in candidate

By Pamela Doan

As of the filing date for the Garrison Union Free School trustee election, two candidates filed for two open seats on the board. Then, James Hoch, an educator and parent of a child who is currently attending school in the district, announced this week that he would run as a write-in candidate. Incumbent Board of Education Trustees Diana Swinburne and James Cannon are both running for re-election to serve their fourth terms each. Both have been on the board for nine years, or three terms.

Diana Swinburne

Diana Swinburne

Swinburne cites her commitment to working on the budget, which she expects will continue to be an issue in the years to come, and state mandates on the Common Core curriculum as the main challenges ahead.

“When it comes to the budget,” Swinburne said, “you and I have a savings account, but schools aren’t allowed to do that. Schools can set aside only 4 percent and it doesn’t cover major, unexpected issues. That can really impact us.”

She is most proud of the fiscal responsibility of the board since she’s been on it. “We watch out for funding and have been able to maintain all of our programs,” Swinburne said. She credited the excellent support from the administration as a guiding force for the board to keep the standards high. “We have excellent students and the faculty works to the benefit of the community.”

In addition to her nine years on the Garrison Board of Education, Swinburne volunteers with the Lion’s Club, is a past president of the Friends of the Desmond-Fish Library, a member of the Philipstown Garden Club, and was in the ambulance corps for 22 years. About her motivation for being involved in the school, Swinburne said, “It’s important because the kids are our future. They’re going to be making decisions for us in our older age someday.”

Cannon wants to continue with another term to use his experience to create, “a sense of continuity and stability as we transition to new leadership for the district.” With Laura Mitchell, the new superintendent, fresh on the job in April, Cannon believes that the support of experienced board members can help her and the district continue to succeed.

Jim Cannon

Jim Cannon

Like Swinburne, Cannon is most proud of the board’s ability to maintain high academic standards while keeping a close rein on the budget. “We continue to provide a Blue Ribbon School district model,” Cannon said, “while maintaining the lowest effective school tax rate in the Hudson Valley.” In a state where school tax levy rates have raised alarms for years, that is not a small achievement.

The pressures of balancing educational standards with fiscal realities will be a challenge for the district going forward. “The continuing fiscal and educational pressures put on school districts, by increased state mandates, diminishing state aid and the Property Tax Cap impacts school districts across New York State,” Cannon said. He wants to continue to serve the community with his experience as a trustee and secure a solid and bright future for GUFS.

Hoch, who will not be on the ballot but is asking voters to write in his name, cites his 20 years of experience as a teacher for middle, secondary and college students as the reason voters should choose him as a trustee.

“I believe my experience affords me a good amount of insight regarding the kinds of curricula and teaching methods that inspire teachers,” Hoch said. “I feel that GUFS has taken a significant step toward such thinking, but further curricular development is necessary to meet the stated goals.”

James Hoch

James Hoch

Another of Hoch’s goals for getting involved in the board is to increase community involvement in the school. As an example of a model that he thinks should be used more widely, he talked about the Environmental Education Committee’s collaborative partnerships with Glynwood and Long Haul Farms as a way that community resources are connected to the school. “However,” he said, “there are other art, historical and cultural institutions that could be utilized in similar strategic manners.”

Not sounding too critical of the district, Hoch said, “In my mind, the question isn’t: What is wrong with the school? The question is: How far can we go?” He also acknowledged that the district’s fiscal health was a positive sign and expressed his excitement about working with the new superintendent.

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