Three candidates file for two seats on New Paltz School Board

There are three candidates this year running for two available seats opening up on the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education. The seats are currently held by board president, Aimee Hemminger, who has opted not to run again, and trustee Steve Greenfield, who is running to retain his seat on the board. Entering the field are two new candidates: Kathy Preston and Teresa Thompson. The terms are for three years, set to begin July 1.

Also up for a vote on Tuesday, May 16 will be the proposed 2017-18 budget of $59 million. There will not be a separate bus proposition this year.

New Paltz Times asked the three candidates to tell us in their own words what they feel the biggest challenges facing the school district are and what their priorities will be as new trustees, if elected.

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Kathy Preston

A lifelong resident of New Paltz and graduate of New Paltz High School, Preston earned a degree in photography from Ithaca College before moving back to her hometown. She started a craft business, creating an original line of children’s clothing and home décor, which evolved into owning and operating The Treehouse. The business located in downtown New Paltz from 2012-16 featured the work of Hudson Valley artisans. She currently works for the Town of New Paltz as assistant to Town Supervisor Neil Bettez. Preston is married to musician, composer and SUNY professor Bob Lukomski, with their daughter a sixth grade student at New Paltz Middle School.

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the New Paltz School Board?

I’ve considered running for some time, but it wasn’t until this year that I knew I had the time, energy and commitment to serve. It’s a great opportunity to expand on the efforts I’ve made in public education advocacy and to serve our community in a way that is meaningful and engaging.

Have you ever served on a board like this before?

I’m currently president of the New Paltz Middle School PTA, and a community member of the Board of Education’s Legislative Action Advisory Committee. I’ve served as vice-president of the board of directors for the New Paltz Childcare Center, served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, and was a founding member of New Paltz Arts in the Schools (NPASA). I’ve been actively engaged in community organizing around budget advocacy, public education and civil rights. I haven’t held elected office before, or served on a board whose decisions affect as many constituents, so this is an exciting opportunity to bring that experience into a larger arena.

What skills and experience do you bring to the district?

I like to know what I’m talking about before I talk about it. That means I’ll do the research and the work necessary to fully understand a problem, and ask a lot of questions. I’m willing to listen and deliberate respectfully while looking for common ground and workable solutions, as well as handling sensitive and confidential information appropriately. My professional life has always been based around service, and my training as an artist has shown me time and time again that sometimes a great idea needs a lot of revision to achieve the desired outcome — and sometimes it just needs to be scrapped and looked at from an entirely different angle.

If elected, what will be your top two priorities?

I will do everything I can to ensure the district continues to provide appropriate protection and support for the most vulnerable students in our district: low-income, at-risk, undocumented, non-gender-conforming, LGBTQIA and students with disabilities. Everyone deserves a chance to reach their highest potential, and to do that, they need to feel respected, seen and heard. No one should slip through the cracks. Policy decisions need to reflect that, and district policies need to meet the needs of all students, providing them with the support, coursework and experiences that will help them to find success and happiness after high school.

My other priority is providing all students with developmentally appropriate, engaging and innovative instruction. In the current environment of inequitable funding, high-stakes testing, flawed learning standards and harmful education policy, this is extremely challenging and our teachers must be empowered and supported in their work. A strong school community must make culturally-relevant and inclusive curriculum and practices a priority. To that end, I will continue and expand upon the work that the district and the board have already begun and help to advance the voices of all parents and community members.

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

Under the tax cap, budget cuts seem inevitable. The Board of Education has done a remarkable job of preserving the quality of education we’ve come to expect in New Paltz, but we’ve lost so much. Since 2010, we’ve cut about 40 positions and eliminated Pre-K. The state government has withheld nearly $14 million in Foundation Aid from our district since 2009, while the threat of privatization looms large over public education and districts are left to fight over scraps. We’re going to have to continue to look for innovative solutions to increased funding pressures, recognizing that there are always legal restraints and ethical considerations, and working within those parameters.

 

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Teresa Thompson

Originally from Carmel, NY, Teresa Thompson is a 30-year resident of Gardiner and a two-time graduate of SUNY New Paltz, earning a B.A. in communications in 1985 and an M.A. in English in 1996. She and her husband, Doug, have owned and operated the Main Street Bistro in New Paltz since 1993. Prior to that, she was employed as an advertising executive and writer at the Poughkeepsie Journal. Thompson has two children who attend New Paltz High School; her daughter is a freshman and her son a graduating senior who will attend Ithaca College in the fall.

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the New Paltz School Board?

I am running because the New Paltz Central School District is facing a very uncertain future. The lack of funding from the state is putting our public schools in jeopardy. We need to find creative ways to maintain and broaden the services we offer our students and staff, while simultaneously keeping our community an affordable place for individuals and families to live. I hope to take my many years of community service, fundraising, community relations and volunteerism to a new venue and work with the existing board members to enhance and create new opportunities for our district’s children and community members. I also feel that our current BOE lacks diversity. There is a huge segment of the NPCSD population that is not properly represented on the School Board. I hope to bring a fresh, new perspective to the table.

Have you ever served on a board like this before? 

I’ve been very active in the community since arriving in New Paltz and purchasing a home and business here. I’m currently the vice-chair of the Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation at New Paltz and also sit on the boards of the New Paltz Athletic Association, the New Paltz Baseball & Softball Association and the New Paltz High School PTSA. I have also served as president of the Huguenot Street Cooperative Nursery School and as board member of the Duzine-Lenape and New Paltz Middle School PTAs and Pop Warner football.

What skills and experience do you bring to the district?

I have over 20 years of community service, fundraising and community relations in the New Paltz area. Last year, I was awarded the “Excellence in Service Award” by the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce and Senator John J. Bonacic and Ulster County Executive Michael Hein. I have sat on many boards in our community, and am proud to say that during my tenure on each one, their respective bank accounts increased substantially through my expertise in fundraising and fiscal responsibility. I plan to bring this same work ethic to the New Paltz School Board. All of my previous roles have required an ability to listen, understand issues from multiple angles and achieve specific goals and consensus.

If elected, what will be your top two priorities?

The budget and the budget. I strongly feel that we are in dire straits with our spending and lack of resources. Without a fiscally conservative plan, our district could be insolvent within just a few years. This should scare everyone. We have an amazing school district with a highly skilled and competent staff. We need to ensure that this continues and flourishes for our children. We absolutely cannot keep cutting teachers, programs and extracurricular activities. We will be left with nothing, and in turn, our school district and its highly-regarded reputation will disintegrate. The key to addressing this issue is to take a good, long look at our budget and its expenditures and see if we can find ways to save money and perhaps, share services. We cannot spend taxpayer dollars frivolously; each and every dollar spent needs to be accounted for and be used for our most basic needs first. I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for this community, and I intend to use that knowledge to help where it’s needed most… in our schools.

If I’m allowed one more priority, I feel that communication is another big concern. There is a clear and distinct lack of unity in our school district. The BOE needs to do a better job of communicating with its constituency, with the teachers and staff at our four schools and with our students. I am out in the New Paltz community every single day, speaking with teachers, administrators, community members, business owners and students. In our busy world and lives, people often don’t have the time to attend lengthy board meetings and committee forums. If chosen, I promise to listen to our electorate and bring their concerns and issues to our bi-monthly meetings. We are all stakeholders in our school district and in our children’s educations. We need to come together, all of us, and I believe if that occurs, we will be able to solve the vast majority of our problems.

 

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Steve Greenfield

Born and raised in New York City, where he lived until 2000, Greenfield graduated from Columbia College in 1982 with a degree in economics. He has worked as a musician since his late teens. After moving to New Paltz with his wife in 2001 to start their family, he entered volunteer public service in 2003 with an appointment to the town Transportation and Land Use Committee. He joined the fire department in January, 2004, where, in addition to his firefighting duties, he is a member of the Executive Board as company secretary and delegate to the Ulster County Volunteer Firemen’s Association.

Greenfield was elected to the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education in 2008, and again in 2014. In the course of his six years on the board, he has chaired the Policy, Facilities, and Legislative Action committees, been the district’s voting delegate to the annual New York State School Boards Association convention and advocate at the annual Capital Conferences with state legislators. He has received several professional development certificates and chairs the Ulster County School Boards Association Legislative Action Committee, recently named vice president of that organization.

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Why are you running to retain your seat on the New Paltz School Board?

These are the most uncertain times in the modern history of public education. Since the onslaught against funding and the teaching profession took off in 2010, the New Paltz Central School District has continued to thrive and improve, and plays a leading role in pushing back against hostile county, state and national politics. I feel I’ve been instrumental in the success of those efforts, and as the longest-serving current board member, best able to provide the continuity, relationships with boards throughout the county and state, and institutional memory necessary to respond effectively to attacks currently being formulated in Washington.

In addition, the capital project will continue and be finished during the next term. I have chaired the Facilities Committee during the hiring of the architects, public approval of the bond, and the awarding of bids to contractors, all of which are on-time and under budget. We are disbursing almost $53 million dollars’ worth of the public trust, and the law provides no room for even a penny’s worth of error. The architects, engineers, project managers and school administrators overseeing the project must not need to divert any time to bringing new board members to an action-level understanding of the work being done, and how state laws and financing are being fulfilled. That is properly the role of the Facilities Committee and its chairperson. I will bring the project to its promised successful conclusion.

What qualifications or experience do you have that make you well-suited to the position?

A degree in economics. Considerable volunteerism within all four schools for events and field trips. Six years on the New Paltz Board of Education, with continuing certificated professional development through state training throughout that time. Four years chairing the Facilities Committee, chairing the Policy and Legislative Action committees, and chairing the Ulster County School Boards Legislative Action Committee, and the work and relationship-building with our neighboring districts to be named vice-president of that organization. Thirteen years with the New Paltz Fire Department, with more than half that time as a member of the Executive Board, and delegate to the Ulster County Volunteer Firemen’s Association. Executive Board of the American Federation of Musicians Local 238-291, Hudson Valley. Founding member of the New York State School Board Advocacy Group, and the national Network for Public Education’s Grassroots School Board Members Network. Long-standing personal contact with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and Senator John Bonacic in the course of legislative advocacy on behalf of the district. Three children in the school district throughout that time, including ongoing participation with Special Ed operations and extracurricular activities. Unshakeable respect for scientific knowledge, observational data, and evidence-based decision-making.

What are the greatest challenges facing the district at this time?

How to assure continuing improvement of the quality of our district’s education, childhood experiences, and health, well-being, and safety in the face of drastic education policy changes being planned by Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump; and the completion of the capital project on-time and on-budget.

If elected, what will be your top two priorities?

Providing the time, knowledge, experience, cooperative relationships with staff and the other board members, and continuity of service necessary to meet the aforementioned challenges; and continuing to invest the time and research needed to improve my ability to serve the interests of our children, staff and taxpayers. Toward those ends, I ask voters to approve me as their representative one more time. ++

The Duzine/Lenape PTA will host a candidates’ forum on May 1 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the New Paltz High School audion. This is an opportunity for the candidates to present their platforms and answer questions from the audience. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, please e-mail duzine.lenape.pta@gmail.com.

A public hearing on the budget will be held Wednesday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at the high school. The vote will be held Tuesday, May 16 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the high school gym.

There are 3 comments

  1. T.S. Bonniwell

    Just putting this out there:

    Teresa Thompson says she wants to add “diversity” to the New Paltz BOE. She is a privileged white person. That isn’t what “diversity” is about: adding the voice of another privileged white person to the proceedings. If by “diversity” she means “bossy local mother who thinks she knows everything and should be listened to because she donates lots of money while lacking the knowledge of and experience for the job,” then I guess it makes a certain amount of sense. Anyone who’s followed her exploits on the New Paltz School Talk page on Facebook knows how crazy she is. This one is a no-brainer. If you value education in this community, don’t vote for this woman.

  2. MaryAnn Tozzi

    First, I’ll be signing my own name because I’m not afraid or ashamed of myself or my words.

    Steve Greenfield is bully who degrades and blocks anyone who dares disagree with him. He’s the kind of person who has his friends write anonymous posts about people he doesn’t like. He is not a good example to children and he’s not interested in hearing anything but his own voice and the voices of his friends ie NOT a representation of the community.

    https://www.facebook.com/NeverSteve/

  3. Richard Jedermann

    MaryAnn Tozzi is a troll and a tool of a New Paltz faux hippie business, so it’s obvious she’s not a reliable source of information. Steve Greenfield is bull-headed, but he gets the job done.

Comments are closed.