New Paltz Central School District voters will see three candidates on the ballot May 19. Brian Cournoyer, the Board of Education president, is running with two newcomers — Alison Easton and Michael O’Donnell.
All three are running for three vacant seats with terms ending in 2018. They’re running unopposed, unless a challenger can mount a successful write-in campaign.
Here is what the three candidates had to say about why they decided to run.
Alison Easton first moved to New Paltz from Vermont back in 2001 with her husband. She’s a chemical engineer and former IBMer who has volunteered locally with the PTA and Boy Scouts. Easton has two kids in the district — one in kindergarten and one at the middle school.
Why did you decide to run for the New Paltz school board?
Having spent many hours within the elementary schools — as well as having two children far apart in ages — I have directly seen the impacts of state policy and budgetary stresses on our school system. As someone who was a beneficiary of an excellent public education, I want my own children, as well as the children of the community, to equally benefit. I want to help ensure that can happen.
What skills, experiences or qualifications do you have that make you believe you would make a competent member of the board?
I have spent several years on the board of the Duzine-Lenape PTA. I also have several years’ experience working as both a manager and project manager.
I personally understand the work and patience required to navigate diverse opinions, regulation and build consensus.
The changes that are coming down from the state require that everyone be invested, as well as be willing to do the homework to understand the impact these changes will have. I’ve navigated many situations like this both professionally and as a volunteer.
What do you see as the top three challenges facing the New Paltz Central School District?
I believe the top challenge facing the New Paltz School District is budgetary, as unfunded mandates continue to come from the state while state funding is stagnant despite rising costs.
As a parent and a taxpayer, it has been extremely frustrating to see the continual cut of programming and teachers while property taxes continue to rise, as the tax burden has shifted to local homeowners.
The other top challenges the school district has is managing the impact of high-stakes testing and Common Core on both the children and the teachers.
While I do strongly believe that as a district we can always improve, I do not believe that the implementation of high-stakes testing is helping drive the improvements in education our community or country needs despite its best intentions.
The school district does not exist in a vacuum, and one of the most important things I believe the board can do is clearly articulate the impact state budgetary and policy decisions are having on the education of our children in order that we, as parents and citizens, can demand change.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
If elected, my first priority would be to work with the current board members on oversight of the recently approved capital project. The board and district has been entrusted with funds to help upgrade the school systems, and it has to be a priority to ensure the work happens as seamlessly as possible.
My second priority would be to preserve as much diversity as possible in our education system. There are many types of children with whom the district is entrusted to teach, and diversity of programming ensures not only a well-rounded education but that programs exist where each child can be successful.
The third priority would be continuing the work the current board has in understanding and combatting the impact high-stakes testing is having on our school districts, students and teachers.
During his three years on the Board of Education, Brian Cournoyer has served on the district’s Policy Committee and Legislative Action Committee. He became school board president last year, leading the board during the build-up to the $52.9 million capital improvement vote.
Cournoyer has lived in New Paltz for 13 years, works at Dutchess Beer Distributors, and he has a son attending Wappingers Junior High School and a step-daughter at New Paltz Middle School.
Why did you decide to run for the New Paltz school board again?
Schools are our most important public service. I’ve found the past three years to be very challenging, but also very rewarding. I’ve gotten to work with some really bright, hardworking people and learned a lot about the way a school district is run.
There’s a very steep learning curve here. I’m coming to the end of my first term, and I feel like I’m just finally getting conversant with everything. I think we’ve done a lot of good things, and this is something I want to keep being a part of. It’s fulfilling work, and I’m giving back to my community. Hopefully, people think I’ve done a good job in the last three years. Even though we’re three people running for three seats, I don’t take the public’s support for granted, and I hope I’ve earned it.