Highland voters can expect an experienced group of three candidates to run for the two open school board seats on May 21. This year’s race will pit incumbents Sue Gilmore and Tom Miller against their onetime colleague Vincent Rizzi, a former Highland Board of Education president.
In a stunning turnaround, Rizzi lost his seat on the school board last year to newcomer Mike Reid after a recount. The former president lost by only two votes.
All three candidates said they’re focused on the challenge of balancing taxpayer and student needs in a time of crunched budgets and reduced financing. Contract negotiations with the unions weighed heavily on all of their minds. Gilmore and Rizzi both call Highland home, but Tom Miller lives farther afield in Clintondale.
Along with the candidates, the $38.5 million school budget will be in front of voters on the ballot that same day. It will only need a 50 percent majority to pass, since it complies with the New York State tax cap.
The two winners out of Gilmore, Rizzi and Miller will serve terms lasting until 2016. Here’s what the candidates had to say about why they’re running:
Why did you decide to run for school board?
I’m running for election to the Highland Board of Education because I have 16 years of experience on the board – including two years as president. I’m very experienced with the budget process, contract negotiations and many other school management matters, including governing the board.
If I’m elected, I’ll be able to represent students, taxpayers on day one since I won’t require any orientation or training.
What experiences, skills or positions will make you a competent board member?
I think that basically boards of education all over the state should have a good representation of their community. I’m in construction. I’m a contractor. I’ve been in the business for about 35 years. I’m self-employed, and I think I bring a commonsense approach to the Board of Education.
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the school district right now?
The biggest challenge is trying to gear up to this change that the state is almost forcing on districts: That is to maintain quality education with less money. That’s really it. I think that times are certainly different now. We need to figure out how we can continue giving our students, our children the best education as we possibly can and make it affordable. In my mind, that’s a big challenge.
If elected, what are your top two priorities?
I hear a lot of people say that all the problems, or most of our problems, are with the state. Change has to take place at the state level, at the upper levels. I really truly believe that it’s got to be some sort of a balance. We need to push the state to look at reforming the Triborough Amendment. We need to look at distributing the cost of education through a wider tax base – not just the homeowner anymore. I think that’s a huge priority that boards throughout the state should be pushing.
I know we’re in the process of negotiating contracts right now. I’m not 100 percent sure if they’re going to get completed if I get elected to the board. But that would be a big issue for us, to get something that I would consider fair to everyone involved. That’s the district, the community, the taxpayer, the children and the employees.