Six vying in hotly contested BOE election

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

GREENVILLE — Voters in the Greenville school district will head to the polls May 17 to determine the fate of the $33.7 million school budget and elect two members of the board of education.

Six candidates will be on the ballot for the two open seats on the board. They are, in alphabetical order: James Bucci, Kevin Bucci, Elaine Dykeman, David Finch, Jay Goodman and Glenn Yelich.

Candidates were asked to complete a questionnaire to let voters know where they stand on the issues. Their responses are presented in alphabetical order. Glenn Yelich’s questionnaire did not appear in the print version of this story but has now been added to the online version.

JAMES BUCCI

Age: 42

Family: Wife and two daughters

How long you’ve lived in the county: Lived in South Westerlo the last 17 years and approximately 27  years total in the GCS School District.

Occupation: Industrial Coatings Applicator / Owner www.BucciPainting.com

Are you an incumbent: No.

Previous elected offices, if any: High School Class of ‘98 Vice President

Previous community service, if any: Religious Education Instructor at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church (10 years) ;       Youth Group Instructor at Horizon Christian Fellowship Church (2018- present); Student/Assistant Instructor at Starr’s Karate (over 20 years); Assistant Leader Girl Scouts (2012-present); GS Encampment help/Small Boat-craft; Greenville Girls Youth Basketball 2017.

College: BA Economics, Siena College ’03; GCS High School Regents Diploma ’98

What do you think is the top issue facing the Greenville school district? What would you do to address this issue if elected?

Top Issue facing school district: Voting “YES” to everything: Every budget presented, every capital improvement, every new weird curriculum, every new technology, every new vehicle, every new mandate. These “Yes” votes often cost money. We can vote “No.” We can bring balance to our decisions. We can show some restraint. We can make our own decisions as part of our community instead of following everyone who claims to be an “expert.”

The issue of face masks was hotly debated in Greenville before the state mandate was lifted. Where do you stand on this issue?

All the science and theology can be debated all day. When all the dust settles down we find that this issue  has nothing to do with masks and everything to do with upholding a parent’s right to make decisions about  the health and well-being of their child. Every family must make the decision that best fits them. GCS Faculty/Staff also has the right to their person and are the sole decision maker in regard to mask wearing. As far as laws, regulations or mandates go, it doesn’t matter what a rule is labeled. If a rule is unconstitutional or harmful to the students, then we have an obligation to not enforce it and defend those that can’t defend themselves against such rules. This applies even if it’s hard or if we could get in trouble as board members. An oath is an oath.

What would you like voters to know about your candidacy for the board of education?

RESTORATION — In the darkest place, even the faintest faraway light becomes so apparent. While many lives have been darkened and shaken by the chaos and overwhelming issues of recent years, we are excited about the awakening that has already commenced. There is a growing number of individuals that on their own have made the realization that most, if not all, of our institutions have planted some bad seed. We know this because of the chaos and difficulties we have been harvesting more and more often. Let not  your hearts be troubled. People are waking up and can see the truth and are desiring a restoration of sound thinking and approaches to life. We are desiring to make budgets using reason and math, not feelings. The  people are desiring structure, not disorder. We (brothers James Bucci and Kevin Bucci) with God’s help (yes, I said it) intend to bring RESTORATION back to the GCS School District.

We are offering: 1) Two fresh pairs of eyes not clouded by being part of the tired system and fad of new-age thinking. Eyes that just might find some places to minimize taxes levied. Eyes that might see a way to minimize taxes without compromising foundational learning. 2) Two sets of working man’s hands ready to uphold the rights of each parent to make decisions over their children’s health. Decisions about mask wearing, vaccines, testing and other forms of religious expression are for families to decide, not members of a board or someone who thinks they are more of an expert than a student’s Mom, Dad or Guardian. 3) Two Greenville Graduates that care about all members of our district, including our teachers.

There are a few teachers still at the school that taught us as students and who now love our kids. These and all teachers/staff deserve to have the right to their body respected. Why should the students possibly lose a  great teacher, because of coercion? Teachers/staff in our community should not be threatened with losing their jobs if they don’t allow themselves to be violated with swabs and testings and be forced to provide their specific health information to their employer. 4) Two Dads that want to restore the focus of a traditional education including reading, writing and old-school math. Teachers have been forced to learn and teach ever-changing “common core” programs that change names every couple years with minimal training and are just confusing. Plans must be put in place to restore a more consistent and less confusing programs. In addition, the incoming Critical Race Theory programs that have started being introduced must  be rejected. Many of these programs oppose Judeo-Christian values and create victims instead of victors.

5) Two God Fearing men that will take an oath to the U.S. Constitution and abide by it. Two men that will  not engage in unconstitutional actions against the students and faculty (even for $3.5 of $16 million in extra money GCS received from the state and federal government for doing so).

Restoration is too great of a task for two new board members, but it’s not too big for God. He is left out of too many conversations. If each of us in this district does our part, and each of us takes time to appeal to Heaven for wisdom, understanding and strength, then all things are possible. We can see the light through the darkness. Can you? Please come alongside us, bring us your experience and ideas, help us be successful in this — restoration.

KEVIN BUCCI

Age:    36

Family: Wife and three children.

How long you’ve lived in the county: Lived in Greenville/Westerlo for the last 33 years of my life.

Occupation: Home Inspector/Utility Locator www.BucciEnterprises.com

Are you an incumbent? No

Previous elected offices, if any: None

Previous community service, if any: Greenville Volunteer Fire Company, Greenville Day Participant, Greenville Rotary

Education: Graduated GCS 2003, attended ITT and Columbia-Greene CC

What do you think is the top issue facing the Greenville school district? What would you do to address this issue if elected?

The issue closest to my heart at GCS is bullying. As a youth, I never appreciated being bullied just because of those I chose to befriend. Kids that have had to defend themselves from physical violence have been suspended and punished for things they did not bring about. Others are able to bully and violate the code of conduct over and over with limited repercussions. Sometimes there are no consequences for bullying.

Inconsistencies with discipline is not helpful. Who wants to go to school when they are freaked out about getting beat up? Rules at school have a purpose and should be objective. Mental illness is a real issue and has been climbing and climbing. To hear local students and parents at recent board meetings expressing the real-life situations that have been occurring at GCS have been cutting me to my heart.

These incidents and disciplinary issues are supposed to be tracked. I am excited to work closely with the new superintendent to find out why the inconsistencies exist, when the lax disciplinary actions may have started to become acceptable, and when they became the norm. It is important that those who are helping to create proper environments for learning be acknowledged and that those who are a detriment be properly disciplined. If we are going to have rules, then we should enforce them. While confidentiality is of the utmost importance for those involved, as a board member with the superintendent I hope to bring transparency to these issues. With the rest of the board we can hopefully make sure school policies are better enforced and monitored to assure kids are safe and can focus on learning.

The issue of face masks was hotly debated in Greenville before the state mandate was lifted. Where do you stand on this issue?

It all goes back to bullying. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. As a GCS staff member, student or parent, if you bully or discriminate someone because they are or are not wearing a mask or vaccinated or tested or whatever else you can think of, it’s still bullying and there is no place for it in the school.

What would you like voters to know about your candidacy for the board of education?

I am here (with my brother James Bucci, who is also running) to be the voice for the parents and members of the district who are afraid of the repercussions that can come when one brings their concerns into the public square. There are many parents with children who have been judged and treated poorly at schools because their parents raised concerns to administration or to past boards. There are people even at the school who worry about losing their job if they speak up or voice their opinion about serious issues regarding students and staff. I’m sure all parents will not agree with me on all issues, but I will do my best to be a voice for these parents and the kids. In addition, there are kids that may not have the strongest support or defense on the homefront. These kids need a voice as well. I will do my best to be a voice for all these listed who would otherwise be ignored.

ELAINE DYKEMAN

Age: 65

Family: Married

How long you’ve lived in the county: I have lived in Greene County for 24 years and the past five years have been in Greenville.

Occupation: I am a retired public school administrator with previous experience as a school social worker.

Are you an incumbent? No.

Previous elected offices, if any: I currently serve on the Greenville Country Estates HOA Board and my two-year term will be up for re-election in 2023.

Previous community service, if any: I am currently a member of the Athens Paddock Club (eight years). This is a philanthropic organization that raises funds through donations for the Greene County community, including awarding scholarships each year to graduating high school seniors.

College: BA SUNY Potsdam; MSW SUNY Albany; NYS School District Administrator Certification, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

What do you think is the top issue facing the Greenville school district? What would you do to address this issue if elected? 

A concern that frequently rises to the top is school taxes and how this money is spent and why.

To help alleviate this concern and others that come up, I support the district’s decision to hire a communication specialist to speak on matters that are important to the community.

The issue of face masks was hotly debated in Greenville before the state mandate was lifted. Where do you stand on this issue? 

It seems that the mask-wearing requirement in school districts has come to an end. If this issue comes up again, I will listen to the guidance on this matter from local and state health departments and consider the impact of health and safety for students and staff. We know that having children get in-person learning is paramount in their education process. I would not want to see virtual learning take place again unless all other options have been considered.

What would you like voters to know about your candidacy for the board of education?

My educational and employment experience will allow me to serve as an effective School Board Member. I am able to work as part of a team to achieve consensus and reach planned goals. As a board member I will work to develop policies that support the overall success of students and encourages them to become lifelong learners.

DAVID FINCH

Age: 62

Family: Wife and two children.

How long you’ve lived in the county: Lived in Greenville 28 years

Occupation: Retired teacher, full-time farmer

Are you an incumbent? How long? I have served on the board for three years.

Previous community service, if any: Coaching Little league, Babe Ruth, AAU Basketball, 4-H leader, high school baseball.

College: BS in Education, MS in Educational Technology, MS in Elementary Education

What do you think is the top issue facing the Greenville school district? What would you do to address this issue if elected?

There is a growing teacher shortage throughout the United States caused by a long list of issues.  We at Greenville Central School have our share of these problems. With teacher retirements, teachers leaving for better opportunities and a general short supply of teacher candidates, the district has been having and will continue to have issues finding great teachers. Teachers of special areas like Technology, Language, Math and Science are very difficult to attract to GCS.  

Early on in the pandemic, teachers and school staff were called heroes for the effort they all were putting forward to support the students of this community. We witnessed teachers going above and way beyond the normal scope of their duties to try to educate children under impossible situations. Teachers are now concerned about a changing climate in the school among students and in the community that may affect how they are able to help our young people learn.  Everyone plays a very important role in producing a graduating student that is well-rounded, well-educated and ready to take on a world outside of the small confines of the Greenville School District. Parents and teachers should strive to continue the traditional roles in supporting the growth and success of each child. The community has a large role in supporting the mission of making GCS a school we all can be proud of. Through the continued support of the budgets that the school board has put together over the past years, our school has been able to carefully and efficiently improve the school experience for each student. 

One obvious area of improvement is our sports facilities. With the guidance and careful planning of former Superintendent Sutherland, the board, with much community input, was able to improve our buildings and fields to a level of new pride for the school. The school buildings and facilities that we have are a precious asset to the community.  It takes a lot of effort, time and money to keep them in presentable shape. Many of the ideas for new items that a budget supports can come from students or teachers that want to try a new way of teaching or learning. All of this comes from the community support of your school’s budget.  If people or even school board candidates have questions or suggests for how we might better prepare the budget then I say, “Where have you been?” We have been working on the budget since October. No one has come to the budget meetings to share their thoughts.

Every school has a lot of work to do to get our children back to the levels they would have been if this pandemic had not occurred. No one is better equipped to perform this task than a great teacher working with supportive parents.

The issue of face masks was hotly debated in Greenville before the state mandate was lifted. Where do you stand on this issue?

I think the first letter for COVID, C should stand for confusion. This whole pandemic has been mishandled by many people in medicine and government from almost the start to a point of mass frustration and confusion as to what to do or even think. COVID-19 and the pandemic is a medical issue and belongs in that field’s arena. Government at various levels got involved because some decisions had to be made at that level, such as mandates and the lockdown. The government’s mis-messaging and flip-flopping on information and guidance, many times changing for political reasons rather than sound medicine and science, has confused most people.  Some to the point where they feel like they can no longer trust information about the subject regardless of who is presenting it.  

Add to that misinformation, rumors, web searches that will yield anyone’s point of view and a lack of patience by people just wanting this to be over helped to prime much of America for some kind of pressure release. I am married to a scientist so it is difficult for me to believe that COVID isn’t real and that masks don’t work. No, I don’t think a mask made out of Grandpa’s old T-shirt is going to stop the coronavirus but for over 100 years some of the smartest people in the world, doctors and professionals in the science field, have been wearing them for their protection. But it has to be the right, effective mask. I think as part of this frustration, aided by the fact that the virus continues to spread seemingly regardless of mitigation strategies that have been put forth, people have started to challenge things that are changing their lives.  The attitude about wearing masks in school has changed over the last two-plus years as the pandemic has been part of our lives. First, after the lockdown when all the students went into remote learning and the school board began working on our re-opening, most people, including the board, where in favor of doing anything required to get the students back into school. The board spent many hours with Superintendent Sutherland and the principals trying to figure out a plan that would work and satisfy the states requirements. Let’s remember that with the work of the superintendent, we provided some kind of in-person graduation ceremony for our seniors over the last two years, which was much different than most schools in NYS. 

When the state started to remove requirements in other places, like stores, but continued the mandate for schools, people started to question the necessity of the mandate. This led to a discussion the board had with some vocal members of our community. Some spoke of the effectiveness of masks, the constitutional rights of the school and state to develop the mandate and its enforcement, and if the school board itself had the right to violate the mandate and allow the students to enter school without protection. That meeting ended with much less contention than it started. A few days later, the governor ended the mandate requirement for schools. 

Many items are mandated for schools as well as other government organizations, like towns and villages. I have done research, have received advice from lawyers and believe that a mandate is the law. The school board had to follow the law. When people suggest that the school could violate the law, as a former teacher I wonder what we would be teaching the children. Second, I wonder what else people might feel the school could set aside in order to go their own way. As a school board, we have to represent all stakeholders and there are many people on multiple sides of this issue. I have thought from the start of this pandemic that a person’s attitude toward COVID is directly linked to their personal experience with the virus. 

What would you like voters to know about your candidacy for the board of education?

First, I would like to thank the community for their support for me in the past, continuing to support the school budget and the outreach by many district residents sharing their thoughts and praise for the school. The school budget is one area where we can actually see what our tax dollars are used for, educating our young people. The last three years have been a very challenging time to be a school board member in many schools across the country. We are voluntaries, there is no form of compensation for the hours we put into this service. During this period of time, we have had many, many meetings and most have lasted deep into the night.  Members need to be aware that they don’t just represent their children but all the children of the district, all the parents of the district and all the taxpayers of the district. So a narrow focus on items to be changed can lead to a very frustrated board member because change is affecting many children, change can be expensive and it should be given very serious consideration. I think we have a very good, functioning school board right now. We don’t all agree and we always ask many questions on every topic. 

The board is now discussing some changes on how we operate our meeting and creating opportunities for more community input, which the board desires. Some of the discussions the board had surrounding COVID resulted in changes to how the school operated. Most of those decisions had to be made during a time of huge uncertainty among the public and the experts.  But we were the school board members at the time and we had to make the best choicesWe have a new superintendent, who is off to a great start. Superintendent Bennett is excited about the future of our school and I would like to continue to work with him to help bring the children out of the pandemic and move forward.  There are still some changes and improvements I would like to see come to GCS and with my experience in education might help to make them happen. 

JAY GOODMAN

Age: 48          

Family: Wife and two children.

How long you’ve lived in the county: I have lived in the county for 13 years.

Occupation: I am a lawyer who focuses on energy law, regulation and policy.

Are you an incumbent? How long? Yes, I was elected in 2019.

Previous community service, if any: Greenville Planning Board, Alternate Member, four years (Feb. 2018 – present); Member, Board of Directors, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, four years; CYL baseball coach, three years.

College: Vassar College (B.A.); Yale University (Ph.D.); Albany Law School (J.D.)

What do you think is the top issue facing the Greenville school district? What would you do to address this issue if elected?

Too many students in grades 2-8 have reading and math skills that are one or more levels below grade level. I have been working with my fellow board members to address this issue by approving funding for summer school and critically evaluating testing data along with district plans to improve student performance. As a board, we supported district efforts to keep the schools open as much as possible during the pandemic because student learning suffered when classes were remote. I also worked with David Finch and the rest of the Board Policy Committee to strengthen the board’s oversight of curriculum and establish a formal curriculum review process. If re-elected, I would continue using the board’s oversight authority to ensure that the district is doing everything it can to improve student learning while working within the state-mandated tax cap.

The issue of face masks was hotly debated in Greenville before the state mandate was lifted. Where do you stand on this issue?

I voted with the board to make masks an individual choice effective as soon as the statewide mask mandate was lifted. While the mandate was in effect, the district was legally required to follow it – board members take an oath to uphold the law.  

The issue was complex and my legal background helped me understand the nuances. As a board, we consulted with our legal counsel. The state Department of Health (“DOH”) established, and periodically extended, the mask mandate. The mandate created a legal obligation for school districts to follow its requirements. In January 2022, one trial-level state court ruled that the DOH commissioner did not have the authority to establish the mandate and that court invalidated it. New York state appealed the decision and an appellate court reinstated the mask mandate while it considered the appeal — meaning that school districts had to continue complying with the mask mandate. The state lifted the mask mandate before the appeals court issued its decision.  

What would you like voters to know about your candidacy for the board of education?

I take my responsibility as a board member seriously and approach it with respect and integrity. I believe in transparency, open communication, collaboration, consensus and accountability. I am an advocate for students and staff and for the schools to have the resources they need to educate and support our kids. 

The most important part of my effort as a board member has been working with the board and the district to balance student needs with fiscally-responsible budgets. I believe it is critical for us to invest in our kids’ education so they are prepared to succeed in whatever path they choose after graduating from GCSD. This means ensuring that we hire and retain good teachers, that we provide diverse opportunities for learning and extracurricular activities, and that we invest in our facilities.

I support a fiscally conservative approach to district budgeting that meets these needs, plans for future contingencies, is sustainable in future years without forcing cuts to teachers/programming, and recognizes the need to moderate taxpayer impacts. 

We’ve made significant progress during my first term, but there’s more to do. I would be grateful for the chance to continue this work in a second term and ask for your vote on May 17.

GLENN YELICH

Age: 64

Family: Married. My twin adult children are Silas and Stella Yelich. They are 22 and are both graduates of the Greenville School District.

How long you’ve lived in the county: I have lived in Rensselaerville for approximately 25 years.

Occupation: I am employed as a school psychologist by the Bethlehem Central School District, where I have worked for approximately 30 years.

Are you an incumbent? I am not an incumbent.

Previous elected offices, if any: I have held no elected offices.

Previous community service, if any: I have served as a member of the Rensselaerville Library Board (1995-2000), and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Epilepsy Foundation of Northeastern NY from 2008 until 2010.

College: Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Union College (1980); Master’s in Educational Psychology from UAlbany in 1983; Certificate of Advance Study from UAlbany in 1984; Doctorate in School Psychology in 1990; Diplomate in School Neuropsychology in 2011.

What do you think is the top issue facing the Greenville school district? What would you do to address this issue if elected?

The provision of different graduation options for high school students is a primary issue. The establishment of “non-special” education academic programs, as well as opportunities for vocational training, would be a focus.

The issue of face masks was hotly debated in Greenville before the state mandate was lifted. Where do you stand on this issue?

While we may not agree with the usefulness of masks, the imposition of state/federal policies is something that we have to accept as a pragmatic reality.

What would you like voters to know about your candidacy for the board of education?

I have been involved in public education for approximately 35 years. I have a deep personal commitment to the importance of the education and the role which schools can serve in the development of children into young adults. I believe that my professional knowledge would serve an important function in helping to advise decision-making.

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