Members discuss special election vs. appointment
By Jeff Simms
Although the Beacon school board did not decide at its meeting on July 18 how to fill its vacant seat, its discussion provided some insight into the board’s options.
Board member Jose Munoz resigned by email prior to the board’s June 20 meeting. An on-the-spot push to cede his spot to Tracy Antalek Everett, who had lost her seat in the May election, failed that night.
On July 18, the board seemed to volley between appointing someone or holding a special election, which interim Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi said would cost the district about $13,000.
Board member Michael Rutkoske suggested district residents could apply for the position and appear at a board meeting for an “open interview” during which audience and board members could ask questions. Rutkoske later amended his motion, saying the interviews could be conducted in private but would include questions submitted by the public.
With board member Frank Garnot unable to attend and the Munoz seat empty, neither motion had the five votes to pass.
Whether the candidates would appear before the public appeared to be a sticking point.
Board member Bill Zopf said that unless residents are being asked to decide who fills the seat in a vote, it wouldn’t make sense to interview candidates in public.
“What is the point of involving the public if you’re not going to ask their opinion?” he asked. “I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t get the public’s opinion … [but] this is not a regular election; this is really our selection to make. Unless we’re going to ask the public, ‘Tell us which candidate you like,’ what’s the point of having things out in the open?”
Others also argued that an open interview process might intimidate candidates.
Antony Tseng countered that discussing issues before the public is inherent in the position: “That’s sort of what you’re signing up for by being a board member.”
Al Marlin, the communications manager for the New York State School Boards Association, told The Current there’s no standard procedure when filling vacancies.
“The law does not provide any details, so each school board has to decide what works best for them,” he said. “We don’t have recommended ‘best practices’ or a standard procedure. Some boards appoint the person who received the next-highest number of votes at the previous election, or seek candidates from among previous board members, or solicit applications from qualified residents.
“What one board does could be different from the last time there was a vacancy, depending on the circumstances,” he continued. “While [the Beacon] appointment is only until the next election, boards should try to find someone who can best fill the position. Seeking community input can be another consideration, but ultimately the board must decide on the matter.”
Beacon board member Georgia Patchen, who was appointed to fill a vacancy and is now in her third term, noted at the meeting that her application process was similar to the one proposed by Rutkoske, although she did not appear before the public to answer questions.
Other ideas discussed Monday included a Meet the Candidates event, like the one held at Beacon High School on May 11, and a public hearing to gather input from the community.
Ultimately the board elected to table discussion until its next meeting on Aug. 8.