CARS HOMES JOBS

Write-in candidates step up in Schenectady, Duanesburg

Two districts had been short school board contenders

Saturday, May 17, 2014
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Write-in candidates

Duanesburg

Michael Jackson

Age: 45

About him: He has two sons at Duanesburg Elementary School, one in kindergarten and one in second grade. He works as a general manager at a distribution center.

Mara Burns

Age: 36

About her: She has a son in kindergarten at Duanesburg Elementary School and a 3-year-old daughter. She works as a computer programmer for the state Thruway Authority.

Schenectady

Jonathan Simms

Age: 54

About him: He has a son who graduated from Schenectady High School in 2008 and a daughter who graduated in 2010. He has worked in educational sales for 12 years.

Dharam Hitlall

Age: 35

About him: He has a 5-month-old son. He works as a mortgage broker.

— Michael Jackson has said he would run for school board if he felt the board “wasn’t getting the job done.”

Because that wasn’t the case, he didn’t file a petition to run for one of two open seats on the seven-member Duanesburg Central School District Board of Education.

But when Jackson — who has sons in kindergarten and second grade at Duanesburg Elementary School — learned last month that no one else had either, he knew he had to get involved.

The two three-year terms are being vacated by board President Bob Fiorini and Paul Munson.

“They were getting the job done,” Jackson, 45, said of the current board, “but if they weren’t going fill the two seats, then the job wasn’t going to get done, so I guess the time is now.”

Jackson is running a write-in campaign with Mara Burns. The two parents were at the April 21 meeting when the board announced that no one had filed petitions before the deadline.

“I think we were both shocked, really, to hear that nobody had stepped up to run and sad, really, that no one wanted to take that up. So I think it just really pushed us to run,” said Burns, 36, who has a son in kindergarten at Duanesburg Elementary, as well as a 3-year-old daughter. “We knew that we were passionate about our children’s education and we’re already active in several things, so we just decided that it was for us at that point.”

4 candidates, 3 spots

In Schenectady, what had been an uncontested race won’t be a guarantee for any of the candidates, with at least two write-in campaigns underway.

Jonathan Simms had thought about running, but hadn’t given it “thorough consideration.”

He launched a write-in campaign after reading in The Daily Gazette that only two candidates — incumbent Cheryl Nechamen and Tanya Hull — had filed petitions to run for three open seats.

“That prompted me to do it,” he said.

The same goes for Dharam Hitlall, who has a 5-month-old son and wants the district to offer pre-kindergarten.

“The school district right now, it’s in bad shape,” the 35-year-old mortgage broker said. “There’s a lot of kids dropping out of school. We need more programs, and programs for getting kids started early.”

Simms, 54, has a son who graduated from Schenectady High School in 2008 and a daughter who graduated in 2010. He has worked in educational sales for 12 years and hopes to help the district find efficiencies in the budget.

One of his ideas is to have the district study the potential cost savings of revised bus routes.

“I really believe that there are additional efficiencies that can be accomplished to help us not have to cut programs,” he said.

Simms and Hitlall are up against Nechamen, who is running for her second term, and Hull, who is seeking her first.

Nechamen, in her campaign statement, said she is a strong supporter of the fine arts and is committed to an open and transparent process in all school board decisions.

Hull said she would focus on goals that allow children “from all racial, cultural, religious and economic backgrounds to succeed emotionally, academically and socially.”

Respect for the job

In Duanesburg, Burns admitted that running for school board hadn’t crossed her mind until she learned no one was running.

“I wouldn’t have seen it coming, but I’m excited about it, and I’m definitely ready,” she said.

Jackson and Burns recently petitioned to add a section of first grade in the budget for next year, feeling that class sizes, at around 23 students, were too high.

Board members did not approve another section, but took the time to explain their decision, Burns said.

Through that two-month-long process, in which Jackson and Burns met with the administration on several occasions, they said they developed respect for the board members.

“In today’s economy, schools have so little to deal with, as far as money goes, and they have to make decisions that will help the most children,” Burns said.

Jackson said his running mate will succeed on the board because she already “treats it as a second job.”

Jackson, a general manager at a distribution center, said he’s “very familiar with expense control and working around a budget plan.”

He also knows from his job that “you’re not going to please everybody all the time,” he said. “You have to weigh the good and the bad.”

 
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