Three seats were up on the Kingston City School District’s Board of Education, and when the clock struck five last Wednesday, May 1, just two petitions had been received. This all but ensures incumbents Matthew McCoy, the board’s president, and the Rev. Arthur Coston will return for another three-year term, but leaves the trustees down a voting member.
In a district where as recently as 2011 there were nine candidates for four open seats on the school board, the candidate list often bursts at the seams. But in 2012, three incumbents held their seats unopposed. And with the two incumbents running unopposed this year as well, there’s some hope among trustees that, because of community confidence in the direction Superintendent Paul Padalino’s cabinet and the Board of Education are taking the district, there’s less need for public participation and scrutiny.
“I’m hoping that’s what it is,” said McCoy. “I can’t believe it, to be honest. We closed four buildings in the last year-and-a-half, laid off 200 people and moved fifth-graders and still nobody ran. I was a little bit shocked. I guess it’s like Dr. Padalino said: Maybe people are happy with the way things are going.”
Padalino has often said the comprehensive redistricting plan was necessary to “rightsize” a school district built to serve 10,000 students that has seen enrollment drop below 7,000. There was vocal opposition among some of the communities of the elementary schools earmarked for closure — Frank L. Meagher closed at the end of the 2011-12 school year; and Anna Devine, Sophie Finn and Zena will all close at the end of June — as well as among parents across the district who feared fifth-graders were too young to intermingle with seventh- and eighth-graders.
But while the district only received two petitions this year, Board of Education Clerk Camille Ellsworth said “several people” picked up applications but never returned them. This is nothing unusual, she added.
“There’s a lot of information and workshops available to help them figure out what their role is, and sometimes people have a misconception about what the board of education does,” Ellsworth said. “And it’s a commitment.”
McCoy is poised to begin his third consecutive term as a trustee, while Coston, who served a full term beginning in 2005, returned to the board for a second time in 2010 after a two-year hiatus. The third seat was vacated by Kristen Uhl, who resigned last December, citing family and professional demands.
Trustees decided against appointing a candidate to fill the seat through this June, and one option available to them is to leave it unfilled to see if anyone wants it in 2014. This would leave the board with eight members and while a vast majority of the votes of the school board in recent years have been unanimous, it’s not clear what would happen if a vote came out 4-4. It’s also possible a write-in candidate will emerge at the polls, and that candidate would both be qualified for and want the responsibility. And trustees could also call for a special election to fill the seat, though that seems the least likely scenario.
“I can’t see us doing a special election,” McCoy said. “Just to run a special election for a Board seat is expensive.”
Write-in candidates have been successful in the past. In 2004, Kathy Germain and Dr. Marc Tack mounted write-in campaigns and wound up winning over candidates who’d filed petitions by the official deadline.
McCoy said trustees were unlikely to come up with a concrete plan for the third open seat until they see what happens at the polls on Tuesday, May 21.
“I think there will be a write-in campaign,” McCoy said. “If someone gets written in and accepts we’ll go from there, and if not we’ll have to figure out what the majority wants to do.”
Of course for a write-in to be taken seriously, they not only have to want the gig, but they also have to qualify to serve. According to Ellsworth, candidates must be able to read and write, must be a qualified voter in the district, must have lived in the district for at least one year, may not be a current employee of the district, may not reside with another member of the School Board, and may not have more than a 5 percent financial interest in a vendor used by the district.
Ready for his third term, McCoy, district clerk of the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, is interested in sticking around to see the district move into the future.
“There are some things I voted for that I want to see implemented,” McCoy said. “I want to see the transition on closing these buildings and make sure that goes smoothly. I want to see how the transition works out with the fifth-grade moving to middle school. And I want to see us move forward with putting a referendum up before voters for the high school renovation project. I think that’s one of the main reasons I ran six years ago was to renovate the KingstonHigh School campus. Nobody can argue the fact that something has to happen there.”
Most recently, trustees and school officials have been discussing a $92 million renovation plan for the Broadway campus of Kingston High. Developed in 2010 and recently updated by KSQ Architects, the plan could go before voters sometime in the next year.
Coston, pastor of the New Central Baptist Church at 229 East Strand in Kingston, could not be reached for comment.
McCoy said he’s looking forward to continuing his work as a trustee for another three years, and possibly beyond.
“I’m still young,” he said. “I’m still passionate and feel I bring a lot to the table. And that’s what I decided to run again.”