Haldane and Garrison will hold their annual budget votes and trustee elections on Tuesday (May 16). The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the schools.

At Haldane, there is one open seat on the five-member school board, and one candidate, Peggy Clements, who is seeking her fourth 3-year term.

At Garrison, there are three open seats on the seven-member school board, and three candidates: Jocelyn Apicello, who is seeking her second 3-year term, and newcomers Jennifer Harriton-Wilson and Dan Jasnow.

Harriton-Wilson, who holds a doctorate in education, is the education technology coordinator for Putnam-Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). After working on Capitol Hill, Jasnow earned a law degree from Georgetown University and is a partner at a large national firm. He and his husband have a daughter who attends Garrison.

We asked each candidate by email to answer two questions, below.


Other than inflation, what is the most pressing issue facing the district, and why?

clementPeggy Clements: School districts are complex places with many important things happening all the time. Right now, I don’t see a single issue that rises above all others. However, two issues have evolved relatively recently that merit attention.

The first is the recent rise in mental health issues among children and adolescents, something that communities throughout the country are facing. Our teachers and staff care deeply about students and recognize that problems like anxiety and depression interfere with students’ ability to learn and be engaged in school.

The roots of this crisis are complex and go beyond what Haldane can address on its own, but the district is doing what it can. Student wellness, including social and emotional wellness, is one of the district’s priorities. In addition, Haldane has a skilled team of counselors and social workers, and district leaders are collaborating with partners like the county and the Philipstown Behavioral Health Hub to coordinate efforts.

The second issue is the lack of space and an aging infrastructure. These aren’t new challenges per se, but deciding how to address them is a task for the district and community to work on together in the coming years. Thanks to the efforts of district leadership and the Campus Master Planning committee, the board expects to adopt a Campus Master Plan later this year. At that point, the district and the board will look for meaningful ways to engage with the community about how best to move forward.

What can the district do to cut costs and otherwise weather inflation that’s higher than the tax cap? 

Clements: The district’s most significant costs — salaries, retirement benefits, and health insurance — have risen faster than the tax cap since the state implemented the cap in 2012. This has been an ongoing challenge.

Since I joined the board in 2015, the district has found ways to develop budgets that keep tax increases within the state property tax cap. These have included reducing or combining positions, entering into cost-sharing agreements with neighboring districts, and looking for ways to be more efficient. It will be challenging, but not impossible, to find new ways to control costs while maintaining high-quality educational programs.

The superintendent and the district’s business manager are in the process of developing financial projections for the next several years. Along with information from the demographic survey the district conducted a few years ago, these financial projections will help us better plan for the challenges we are likely to face a few years from now.


Other than inflation, what is the most pressing issue facing the district, and why?

apicelloJocelyn Apicello: Garrison faces challenges unique to this district, while at the same time balances larger issues that are hitting nearly all public school districts across the country, like inflation. The Garrison-unique challenge is being able to raise enough revenue to cover our expenses, which has been a historic challenge since New York State instituted the tax cap in 2012. Real property taxes are the only sustainable source for sufficient revenue in Garrison, and district property owners pay roughly half the tax rate of neighboring districts.

Meanwhile, the district, like so many others, is grappling with youth mental health and well-being, learning loss and disparities exposed by the pandemic. How we poise ourselves to prevent isolation and harmful acts through social emotional learning, having difficult conversations and welcoming a diversity of perspectives, all the while maintaining excellence and striving for equity in education, is something I am eager to continue to work on.

The district has assembled a strong team of administrators and faculty who are addressing these issues head-on, and while we sometimes carry on as though we are insulated from many issues as a result of the smallness and relative homogeneity of our district, we also have a responsibility to prepare our students for their entry into the wider world, and this, too, is something I plan to continue to work on through our district’s Planning, Policy and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Committees.

harriton-wilsonJennifer Harriton-Wilson: The most pressing issue for the district is being able to continue to provide high-quality education for all students. This is made particularly difficult as a result of inflation, unfunded mandates, and the amount of attention (and cost) of maintaining a secure computer network.

JasnowDan Jasnow: Garrison faces significant long-term budgetary challenges. In addition to inflation, rising enrollment is likely to place pressure on the district for the next several years and as a relatively wealthy district with low tax rates, we cannot count on state aid to make up the difference. The board will have to carefully consider how to manage these budgetary pressures and make sure that our teachers, administrators, and staff are able to keep their focus on their core educational mission.

We also need to do a better job of communicating these challenges to the broader Garrison community. We all have a stake in the success of the district: the Garrison district attracts young families to the area, helps support property values, and is a center for the local volunteerism that makes our community great. The district also pays tuition for Garrison’s high school students to enroll in neighboring districts.

Despite this, the district has been chronically underfunded and forced to rely on its fund balance to maintain educational programming. Even after last year’s override of the tax cap, Garrison’s school tax rate is less than half that of our neighboring districts and ranks 616 out of 678 districts in New York. I know that we would not be happy if our students ranked 616 out of 678 in achievement or performed half as well as our neighboring students.

As a board member, I will work to advance a long-term budget plan for the district that prioritizes educational programming while providing greater predictability and stability.

What can the district do to cut costs and otherwise weather inflation that’s higher than the tax cap? 

apicelloApicello: I’ve served on this board since 2019 and have witnessed a number of cuts and would argue that our challenge at this point is to increase revenue rather than make more cuts. As The Current conveyed to readers in recent coverage of public school tax levies in this age of inflation, the only foreseeable way to increase revenue is to ask our school community to raise more in property tax levies through a reasonable yet meaningful override of the 2 percent cap.

Our administration has been very busy and sometimes successful in lobbying elected officials for funding and applying for grants, and while these revenue sources are welcome, they can’t be relied on for future budgets. Nor can continuously dipping into fund reserves. The district has to build deep trust with our community and communicate about issues that are not just related to the budget or tax cap to be sure we cultivate support for this district moving forward.

We should be celebrating the positive things the district has accomplished — such as implementing environmental education; integrating curricula across grade levels; fostering a talented, cohesive faculty; collaborating with other districts and community institutions; improving the school environment which has positive effects on student learning and well-being; developing a meaningful vision for our graduates; and assembling a strong, thoughtful administrative team — to help our broader community value what the district does for our children, who in the very near future will be global citizens that carry their school experiences with them wherever they go.

harriton-wilsonHarriton-Wilson: Based on the budget meetings I have attended, it appears the district has done its best to cut costs. This will need to continue as inflation outpaces the tax cap. I believe that this is especially difficult in a small district where the economy of scale does not always weigh in the favor of the district.

JasnowJasnow: The district’s top priority should be to maintain the diverse and enriching educational programming that our students and community have come to expect, including music, environmental education, art and theater. As we continue to invest in these and other critical programs for our students, we must also carefully scrutinize every line of the budget to make sure the district’s resources don’t go to waste. We should also look for creative solutions to control energy and fuel costs, such as exploring rooftop solar electricity for the Garrison district and pursuing grants and donations for electric buses and vehicles.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Articles attributed to "staff" are written by the editor or a senior editor. This is typically because they are brief items based on a single source, such as a press release, or there are multiple contributors, such as a collection of photos.

One reply on “Questions for Candidates: Philipstown School Boards”

  1. When you vote on the Haldane school budget on Tuesday (May 16), please remember to show your support for current board member and candidate Peggy Clements. Our community is so lucky to have had her many years of dedication to our students’ success, as well as her 25 years of expertise in the education field. Thank you for serving with the highest standards and integrity, Peggy!

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