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3 seek 2 seats on Taconic Hills board

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CRARYVILLE—On May 18 voters residing in the Taconic Hills School District (THSD) will decide on four propositions, including a budget and two members of the school board.

Proposition #1: Adoption of a $38.9 million budget for the 2021-2022 school year. The budget plan does not call for any increase in school taxes.

Proposition #3: Seeks approval to spend a maximum of $254,000 to purchase two full-size school buses.

Proposition #4: Calls for creating Capital Reserve Fund#2 of up to $5 million effective July 1. By email Assistant Superintendent for Business Cybil Howard wrote that the district will conduct a building condition survey that that would serve as the basis of a plan for facility maintenance and improvement.

Proposition #2: Asks voters to choose from among three candidates for two open seats on the school board. Candidate statements are on the district website. Interviews with the candidates (by email or phone) appear below in alphabetical order.

William Arp

William Arp, a former THSD board member (2016-19) submitted his response by email.

“I grew up in Greene County and lived in the Town of Greenville prior to moving to Claverack. My wife Lindsay and I moved into her childhood home where we currently live with my son Jackson, who is in the 6th grade at TH.

“I’ve been a police officer for 30 years and have been with the NYS Park Police for almost 25 years. I’m also a sergeant with the Village of Coxsackie Police Department in Greene County. I got my start with the Town of Cairo Police Department, where I grew up, in 1991. The parks in Columbia County, which fall under my area of responsibility, would be Taconic State Park in Copake Falls, Lake Taghkanic State Park and both Olana and Clermont State Historic Sites. Additionally, I patrol all state parks in Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties.

“I attended, and graduated from, Cairo-Durham HS in 1987.

“If elected again, I would serve on any committee the school board president and vice president ask me to serve. I did previously serve on the policy committee, audit committee and the faculty contract negotiations committee, which was a great learning experience.

“The $512,037 in federal CARES funds that TH was provided helped the district to open school in September, giving all students the opportunity to return to in-person instruction, safely and with smaller classes. I believe TH was one of the only, if not the only school, which opened fully in September 2020. I understand that TH will receive more federal funding next year, dedicated to addressing the negative impact of Covid-19 pertaining to student academic progress.

“I will help advocate and target areas that will add support to help students recover lost ground due to the pandemic. I will also push to add additional and much needed support to re-engage those children, and parents, who respectfully chose to remote learn during the past school year. It is crucial to re- establish those students with their school so relationships with teachers and fellow students, as well as their academic growth, continues to flourish! That would be my post-pandemic priority for TH.

“Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.”

Linda Lee

Linda Lee (incumbent) was interviewed by phone. She was elected in 2019 to fill a vacancy. Ms. Lee has rented an apartment in Hillsdale the past 3½ years and has owned property in Claverack, Martindale and Hollowville. She is originally from Minnesota and transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where she enrolled in its MFA Writing Program. Before graduating, she accepted a position as assistant editor at Farrar, Strauss & Giroux Publishing Company. She has written for several publications including Vogue, Fortune Small Business and The New York Times, where she was Styles and House & Home sections editor for 17 years.

In 2004 she pursued an opportunity to start a publication in Miami, where she was active in civic affairs, focusing on planning and park lands. Following the real estate crash of 2007, “I found myself unemployed and unemployable, ping-ponging back and forth between Florida and New York,” she said. Now she works as an assistant to the literary agent Mary Evans in Livingston.

Hip replacement surgery compelled Ms. Lee to move in with her son in Pennsylvania. She ran for the THSD school board because she was inspired by the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. “There was chanting: ‘Run for something.’ ‘Run for something.’ Run, I can barely walk!” she recalled.

Ms. Lee has written a book about education, “Success Without College: Why Your Child May Not Have to Go to College Right Now—and May Not Have to Go at All.” She laments the “conveyor belt from kindergarten with college as the goal,” and she argues that college is not a “guarantee of success.” We should ask, “What are [children] good at, what do they enjoy doing,” Ms Lee said.

She thinks the school board defines the school community too narrowly, limiting it to students and their parents. Ms. Lee believes that a broader definition of community would allow THSD to tap into the resources of “seniors and others without children, and weekenders.” Both groups, she notes, are district taxpayers.

In her candidate statement, Lee calls for “thinking outside of the box.” Asked for examples, she cited peer ZOOM tutoring sessions, including children outside THSD, reasoning that children would not have left students finding learning so lonely. She also suggested more welcoming signs in school buildings, asking, “Where’s the pool? The office? The high school driveway?”

Ms. Lee mentioned a coolness from board colleagues when she brought up the book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabelle Wilkerson, as a teaching aid on how people form prejudices.

Funding from the federal CARES act totals $512,037. She did not know what grants or areas of focus THSD applied for but stated unequivocally, “summer school, after the disruption of Covid-19, should be compulsory,” with numerous exceptions.

Ms. Lee said that Jr/Sr High Principal James Buhrmaster projected that out of 400 students, 100 were at risk of dropping out or failing. That calls for serious intervention, she said, adding, “Send in the troops!”

Bonnie Torchia

Bonnie Torchia (incumbent) is currently school board president. She is a resident of Claverack and has lived in the district for 25 years. Her current occupation is social media coordinator/organizer.

In an email responding to questions from The Columbia Paper Ms. Torchia said: “If anyone had told me 6 years ago that I would not only be a member of the Taconic Hills Board of Education, but serve as president for 2 1⁄2 years, I would have dismissed them as being crazy; however, now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have served on the policy, budget, negotiation and liaison committees.

“Both of my daughters, Michele and Nicole, graduated from Taconic Hills. I am newly retired from a 31-year career at UPS, where I, also, served as a union organizer.

“I am very proud that Taconic Hills made the decision to have students return to the classroom fulltime and that we did not have to cut a single program or lay off a single employee.

“If re-elected, my promise is to remain diligent with both the education of our students and the spending of taxpayers funding.”

She said the district encouraged district employees and board members to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
“The science and math support vaccines as a method of preventing disease spread. We also encourage all to wear a mask, wash hands and maintain appropriate physical distance.”

She said that the most important challenge we had was deciding whether to do a full open model. In September, “28% of the registered students chose remote and 78% were in-person. We are now at 22% remote and every week a few more students come back to campus.”

The district is receiving $512,037 in federal CARES Act funds for the 2020-21 budget, which replaced state aid. The money was used to create more sections of smaller classes “so we could bring students back to school fully in person in September.” New federal funding will be used “for similar purposes.”

She said the most difficult decision during her tenure on the board was the change to a “poll registration” system.

How to vote in THSD Election

SCHOOL DISTRICTS may follow guidelines set by The New York State School Boards Association or implement their own. THSD has its own rules. Notably, they require voters to provide documentation proving they are full-time residents either via tax returns, utility bills, auto registration or insurance bills. Post Office boxes are not acceptable.

Voters may not have STAR exemptions in any other school district.

May 18 voting hours are noon to 9 p.m. at the THSD Performing Arts Center. The deadline for absentee ballot requests has expired. The THSD website also has a tool to check whether a person is listed as a registered voter, https://vip.ntsteamed.com

THSD serves the towns of Copake and Hillsdale, the Village of Philmont and parts of the towns of Ancram, Austerlitz, Claverack, Gallatin, Ghent, Livingston, Northeast (Dutchess County) and Taghkanic.—Lorna Cherot Littleway

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