Two incumbent Highland BOE candidates run for two seats on ballot

Susan Gilmore. and Thomas Miller. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Susan Gilmore. and Thomas Miller. (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Highland voters on May 17 will be asked to approve two incumbents — Susan Gilmore and Thomas Miller — running to retain their trustee seats on the Highland Central School District Board of Education. Also up for a vote will be the proposed 2016-17 budget of $41,656,096 million, requiring a supermajority 60 percent voter approval to pass because adoption of this budget requires a tax levy increase of 1.987 percent, which exceeds the statutory tax levy increase limit of .590 percent.

The trustee positions carry three-year terms to begin July 1. New Paltz Times recently asked the two candidates what they feel the biggest challenges facing the school district are and what their priorities will be as new trustees.

 

Susan Gilmore

Sue Gilmore is running for her third three-year term on the Highland Central School District Board of Education. She also represents the Highland district on the Ulster BOCES Board of Education, her term there running through June of 2018. Gilmore is employed as a finance manager for McCabe & Mack law firm in Poughkeepsie.

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Why did you decide to run again for your seat on the Highland School Board?

Highland Central School District has a very collaborative board. We deeply respect each other’s opinions and we want to have the district continue to move forward. I wish to continue as a part of the progress of our school, as well as our community.

 

What skills and experience do you bring to the board?

For the first 26 years of my career, I worked for Key Bank, NA. I started in accounting and worked my way through auditing, operations, commercial banking and sales. For the past 15 years, I’ve worked for McCabe & Mack LLP, attorneys-at-law in Poughkeepsie. My duties include human resources and finance work for the firm. Being in the private sector for my entire career, I have enjoyed the rich experience of seeing the growth of small-to-medium size business. Small business is what has made our country the success that it is. We must continue to make it affordable for any person to risk everything they have to start a new business in New York State. I feel I bring the private sector worker experience and knowledge to the board.

 

If elected, what will be your top two priorities?

My main priority, in a nutshell, is to provide excellence in education at a price our community can afford. I’m a strong proponent of Common Core learning. Our faculty at Highland has demonstrated to me the value of critical thinking and has shown me the power of Common Core learning. Children learn in different ways and Common Core grabs that concept. I’ve seen it in action, and although the related politically charged testing is in its infancy, the Highland Central School District is leading Ulster County in grade 3-8 mathematics assessment in grades 3, 4, 5 and 7 in percentage of children being proficient.  The process is going to take time. It’s challenging and the change is not easy, but I’m excited about the progress Highland CSD is making.

I also want to see our number of school non-completers decrease. In the school year 2013-14, we had eleven students and in 2014-15 we had 13 non-completers. We’ve put a lot of money in AIS and have added staff in regard to behavior intervention, and I strongly encourage these investments to pay off. Our staff has a lot of energy and great ideas of how we can continue to grow and help our students to succeed. I know we can get there!

 

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

In regard to cost, my colleagues on the board know I’m concerned with declining enrollments and increased free and reduced price meals; not only in our district, but throughout  Ulster County. I’m concerned about the number of foreclosures in our community as well as the number of vacant homes and empty commercial buildings. And even though we provide an excellent educational experience, I see that some businesses and young families find our area unaffordable when it comes to property taxes. We can’t expect a young family to buy a home knowing they will have to put aside $700 to $800 a month for property taxes. If businesses find our area unaffordable, then young struggling families will not be able to move here or continue to live and work here and enjoy the excellence of our schools.

 

Thomas Miller

Tom Miller is also running for his third three-year term on the Highland board. He is currently its vice-president. He has been a board member in the past for several youth sporting organizations, holding leadership positions, and is retired from Verizon. He has two children who have graduated from the Highland school system.

 

Why did you decide to run again for your seat on the Highland School Board?

I believe in volunteering and giving back to my community, and I want to build on my six years of experience on the Highland Central School District Board of Education. We are currently starting our Capital Project, which I had an integral part in developing as a member of our Support Services Committee. I want to help guide it through to completion. Also, we have great chemistry on our board. Our respect for each other makes this very responsible position somewhat easier. I promise to continue my part of the good work we are recognized for.

 

What skills and experience do you bring to the board?

Having been on the BOE for six years now has strengthened my knowledge base of its function. It is a very intricate organization that requires a wide range of understanding of New York State Education Department rules, regulations and mandates. I also have an increased awareness of the budgeting, business and policy-making requirements of the Highland district.

 

If elected, what will be your top two priorities?

Keeping a very ambitious Capital Project on schedule. I’m going to continue to actively support our administration’s ongoing lobbying efforts for Foundation Aid restoration and relief from existing mandates and/or increased funding for those that aren’t funded. I would also like to increase the educational opportunities and offerings for all of the students in the district.

 

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

I would like to see Highland be a district that families want to stay in or move to. We have to try to make it affordable for them and at the same time give their children an opportunity for an education that rivals or exceeds other districts in the area. We need to be sensitive to all of our taxpayer’s needs; we aren’t the only entity coming to them with tax requests, but school districts are the only taxing entity whose budget they can vote on. Our budget needs to be developed in response to this while maintaining healthy balances in our fund balance and reserve accounts.

 

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