Many school board races in this region are uncontested, but there are healthy fields of candidates in Fort Edward, Granville and Whitehall.
Monday was the deadline for candidates to file petitions to run, except in city and common school districts.
Whitehall has seven candidates seeking five seats on the Board of Education. The large number of available seats is because of three mid-term departures. The board in September appointed Virginia Rivette to fill the seat of Anthony Scrimo, who died in August. Chris Dudley was appointed in November to replace Amy Austin, who resigned for personal reasons. Both Rivette and Dudley are running to stay on the board.
Jeremy Putorti resigned effective April 1 because he relocated to South Carolina for work. He has four years left on his seat.
James Brooks is seeking re-election, but Samantha Kingsley is not.
The field also includes Jason Hoagland, Whitehall Police Sgt. Richard LaChapelle, former Lucia’s restaurant owner Roxanne Waters and Michele Redmond, wife of Athletic Director Keith Redmond.
Voters in 2016 approved a proposition to shorten the length of the terms from five years to three years starting with this election.
The top vote-getter will receive the four-year term. The next two highest vote-getters will receive the three-year terms and the fourth- and fifth-place finishers will get the two-year terms.
The Granville Central School District features a field of five seeking three 3-year seats. Suzanne McEachron is the only incumbent running. The other candidates are Philip Berke, a retired Washington County judge who ran unsuccessfully in 2015; J. Murray McHugh, The Nature Conservancy’s critical lands manager for southern Vermont; Susan Perry and Kim O’Leary-Cartmell.
There are contested races in Fort Edward, where school officials are grappling with a budget problem created by the loss of tax revenue from the now-closed General Electric Co. river sediment dewatering plant.
Candidates run for individual seats in this district. President Richard Doty is not seeking re-election. Joseph Carroll is running for his five-year seat. Ella Collins, the retired superintendent of Abraham Wing School, and Lisa Norton-Greene are vying for the other five-year seat. Competing for a one-year seat are incumbent James Grumley and challenger Christopher Miles.
Schuylerville has incumbents Stanley Barber and Veronica Wood and newcomer Michael Bodnar vying for one five-year seat and one two-year seat.
The following school districts have uncontested races: Argyle, Bolton, Cambridge, Corinth, Fort Ann, Greenwich, Hadley-Luzerne, Hartford, Indian Lake, Johnsburg, Lake George, Long Lake, Minerva, Newcomb, Putnam, Queensbury, Salem, Schroon Lake, South Glens Falls, Ticonderoga and Warrensburg.
The deadline for candidates for school boards in city and common school districts is April 26. There are two five-year seats available in Glens Falls, three 3-year seats in Saratoga Springs and one three-year seat in Abraham Wing School.
Last year, about half of the 30 school board races in The Post-Star coverage area were uncontested.
Incumbents Mike Erickson, Frank Hill and President John Maday are seeking re-election to three-year seats and are being challenged by Cortney Swan.
Maday is seeking his fourth term and Erickson his fifth. Hill has been on the board since at least the late 1990s, according to Post-Star archives. Swan ran unsuccessfully in 2016.
Impact of tax cap
The New York State Council of School Superintendents said it has not noticed any trends regarding lack of contested races. However, participation in school elections has declined drastically since the budget tax cap was enacted in 2012.
The number of votes cast in the school elections statewide declined from 982,000 in 2011 to 578,000 2017, according to a report from the New York State Association of School Business Officials.
“That’s a significant decrease in voter participation. I think it generally means that districts are generally putting forward levies that the community can tolerate. That, obviously, has deterred some people from voting at all,” said Greg Berck, assistant director for governmental relations and assistant counsel at the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
“I don’t know if that correlates to who’s running for office. We think it has an effect,” Berck added.
He said low turnout makes it more likely that single-issue candidates can get elected to boards.
Last May, 98.5 percent of school budgets passed. For those budgets that stayed under the tax cap, the percentage was even higher — 99.7 percent.
Interest in school board races seems to be very region specific, according to David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.
“Sometimes, if there is a hot topic or a controversial issue in the district, that might drive more people to run for school board,” he said.
Albert cited the movement by parents in Long Island to opt their children out of taking standardized tests, which he said prompted some people to run for the school board.
Barry Entwistle, director of member relations for the association, said he found in his 15 years serving on a school board that not too many people run against incumbents.
“Maybe the district is operating relatively smoothly,” he said.
However, he added that an issue such as closing a school building may spur people to run for a seat. Entwistle said prospective candidates will tell him that someone recruited them to run for school board.
Many times, he said, people running for school board have never sought elected office before and may not be aware of the responsibilities it entails, including long meetings at least once a month. School boards today have to deal with shrinking resources, declining enrollment, aging infrastructure and the tax cap, according to Entwistle.
In a tax cap environment, Albert said the board still has an important role in deciding what programs or staff will have to be cut if the budget is defeated.
Before the tax cap, even a contingency budget contained increases. Now, a contingency budget means a school district’s tax levy cannot be any higher than the current year.