On May 21, voters in the Haldane, Garrison and Beacon school districts will go the polls to consider the 2019-20 budgets and candidates for seats on the respective boards of education. Only Haldane will have a contested election, with three candidates for two seats. (In Garrison, there are two candidates for two seats, and in Beacon, three incumbents are not being challenged.) We asked the three Haldane candidates by email to answer four questions.
Why are you running?
Jen Daly: I believe I am a positive and effective contributor to our governance team. I have been a board member for two terms, serving as president or vice president for four of those six years. I have helped to deliver smart budgets and fair union contracts, advocated in Albany for more education funding and less unfunded mandates, and collaborated with our leadership team to support a strategic plan that keeps our district moving forward. We have done much good work and there is much more to be done.
Sean McNall: I am running because it is important for all of us to give where we can from our skills and experience. I have strong educational and managerial experience to offer. I have a son at Haldane Elementary and I want to help make his educational experience — and that of all Haldane students — the best it can be. As trustee, I will prioritize effective community engagement, strategic planning and student achievement. We have seen great improvements in communication under Superintendent Philip Benante and the current board, but we can do more to engage with and learn from the public. Our five-year strategic plan expires in 2020. We have an opportunity to reimagine our long-range vision and build a framework that inspires curricular and administrative innovation.
Laura O’Connell: My son will be attending Haldane in the years to come. My husband and I are excited that he will be part of a school system that not only nurtures students’ education but their social and emotional welfare. I am prepared to commit to the mission of a school that not only focuses on skills that are concentrated on a core curriculum but provides preparation and educational insight that addresses ever-changing challenges. The mission of a board member is to advocate for the school and to guide the community toward responsible decisions.
What qualifications and experience would you bring to the board?
Daly: As an arts educator, I have written and implemented curriculum, advocated for the arts as meaningful and integral aspects of a child’s education, and celebrated multiple learning styles and teaching techniques. As a small-business owner, I have managed budgets, led brand development and marketing strategies, worked with a board of directors, and managed a staff of 30 employees. As a mind-body professional, I work with adults to help them to find their best selves through movement and meditation. My diverse professional life allows me to understand the public school teacher’s perspective, the business side of education, and the value of mental-health education.
McNall: As director of education for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, I live and breathe public education. When I’m not working with students in a classroom as a visiting teacher, I am developing and supporting curriculum that makes Shakespeare exciting and accessible for primary classroom teachers. I design and execute a robust K-12 arts curriculum, train and manage a 20-person teaching artist staff, and am responsible for the fiscal health of HVSF’s arts education and professional training programs. When elected to the board, I will put my extensive experience to work for Haldane and its families.
O’Connell: As director of capital projects for The Public Theater in New York City, I am responsible for assessing the organization’s long-term needs while balancing the risks and financial implications for all expansions and additions and upgrades to the organization’s physical space. I pride myself on the ability to implement, delegate and coordinate with a view to achieve a common goal. A candidate for the board is not only a parent, but someone who is an advocate for the district in the community.
What issues need to be addressed in the budget?
Daly: Our costs continue to rise and our revenue is not increasing at the same rate. State funding stays flat at best and sometimes decreases. The tax cap ties a district’s hands with both unpredictable tax levy increases and challenging measures to override it. The district needs to continue to find efficiencies whenever possible and to constantly look for new revenue sources. We need to work with local and state legislators to make common-sense changes to how education is funded and prioritized.
McNall: I understand the importance of building strong, efficient, balanced budgets that fund strategic priorities without burdening the taxpayer. I know we need to have the flexibility to shift resources as student needs shift. In New York, the tax cap limits how much the levy can grow. We can either see that as a limitation for program expansion, or we can see it as a challenge to think creatively and allocate funds responsibly and carefully. Board trustees have to take honest looks at existing programs, measure their effectiveness with the administration, and make hard choices about change. The key to the budget process is clear communication with the public, early and often.
O’Connell: The district has challenges every year to keep the budget within the tax cap. The increasing cost of health care and benefits, operations and utility costs and mandated curriculum changes are poignant issues that require attention from the district and the board to work diligently to balance the budget and still be able to meet the needs of every student.
What would you hope to accomplish on the board?
Daly: I would like to continue to bring a balanced and transparent approach to the board’s work. We have begun a policy manual audit that will be an essential step toward open and effective communication with the public and staff. We have a new superintendent who is transitioning into the district beautifully, and the board needs to continue to support and guide that leadership shift. We have proposed a bond referendum that makes some important steps toward updating and repairing our aging facilities, but there will be more to discuss and develop. Perhaps most importantly, we need to continue to celebrate and engage the Haldane family to make sure our children are receiving the best education possible.
McNall: Meaningful engagement provides community members with a voice. It provides a safe and convenient way to share and learn from the diverse experiences and ideas of others. It provides boards and superintendents with a sense of direction and a sense of accomplishment. It translates into district-wide policy and ensures that schools operate in a manner that reflects local values. And with that comes the increased public trust and confidence needed to build a budget to support the highest levels of academic and social achievement.
O’Connell: My goal is to provide guidance and be a committed steward to the mission of the district and to public education. My motivation is not solely about my interests as a parent or the resources that I can provide; it is about all the students and what we can provide for them.