Board of Education candidate information for May 18 election

The Guilderland PTA Council conducts an annual “Meet the Candidate Night” to introduce potential board of education members to the community.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event will not be held live this year.  Instead, the PTA Council asked several questions of the candidates running for a seat on the board of education.  The questions asked and answers provided can be found below.

Seema Rivera

Q: What do you see as the role of a board of education member?

A: The role of a board member is to work with a group of people committed to improving our school district. The board works together to set goals for the district, helps create and pass the budget, listens to the community/public, and deliberates/creates or amends policies.  Overall the board helps to create conditions that will help the school district thrive.  This is all done through the work of the board together with the superintendent.  

Q: What would be your first priority for next year, and what are your priorities for the next three years?

A: COVID-19 created a huge disruption to learning. My priority for this upcoming year is to have students return to a safe and positive learning environment to grow academically and personally. That includes focusing on how to re-engage or re-connect students with school and prioritize social and emotional well-being.  Other priorities I have include: providing access/equitable opportunities for all students, improving facilities, creating an inclusive school environment for all students, high-quality professional development available to faculty/staff, optimizing our resources to improve student learning, offering students opportunities for extracurricular activities, and opportunities to provide curriculum that is meaningful and rigorous.  

Q: Without respect to cost, if you had the power to make one change in the Guilderland school district, what would it be?

A: Assuming we did not have to worry about COVID, I would have small class sizes that meet in person everyday. 

Q: If school funding decreased for next year, what areas of the budget would you cut? 

A: I would work with the board, district, and community to see where cuts would have the least impact on students directly.  I would also look into coordinating services with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to save costs.   

Q: If you did not want to make cuts, what are your thoughts on alternative ways to fund programs?

A: Again, I would work with everyone to see where cuts would have the least impact on students directly and also look into cost saving opportunities with BOCES.  I would also look into working with other districts to cost-share, grant-funding opportunities, and investing in resources/facilities that save costs over time. Essentially, I would look into all other options before making any changes that directly affect students. 

Nathan Sabourin

Q: What do you see as the role of a board of education member?

A: I believe the board is meant to pursue, advocate, and forward the needs of students and to act in their best interests – regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, social/economic status, physical limitations, learning ability, etc. – and work with those within the community to reach this goal. Furthermore, to provide sound guidance, leadership, and stewardship to the district, while promoting the benefits of a diverse, inclusive, and equitable public education system.

Q: What would be your first priority for next year, and what are your priorities for the next three years?

A: I’ll take the second part of the question first. My vision and priority for the next three years is to assure that the district continues its current and long-term initiative of becoming a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution of learning for all students. To assure that all students have a place where they feel welcome, safe, recognized, and, ultimately, a place where they can develop their individual passion for learning. 

With that said, the most immediate priority for the board is to develop a plan to insure that all students, faculty, and staff are back in the buildings to start and complete the 2021-22 school year. As a parent of two young children, I know how important it is to have everyone in the building.

Now, this return could cause stress not only for the returning students, but for the faculty as well. As such, I will work to insure that the proper supports are in place to welcome back those who have spent more than a year outside of the “normal” school environment. This may include having extra academic supports and intervention services in place; additional social workers, school counselors, and school psychologists; and/or additional technology available to students and faculty to address this transition.

Q: Without respect to cost, if you had the power to make one change in the Guilderland school district, what would it be?

A: Smaller class sizes. If we have learned and/or seen any positives out of the last year it is the benefit – for students, faculty, and parents alike – of having smaller class sizes. There is no dispute that smaller class sizes allow for a greater level of individual attention and intervention, which, in turn, creates a more nurturing and positive learning environment for our students. 

Q: If school funding decreased for next year, what areas of the budget would you cut? If you did not want to make cuts, what are your thoughts on alternative ways to fund programs?

A: Thankfully, thru the extraordinary efforts of the board and District administration, we have been able to avoid some of the financial constraints and cost-cutting measures of our neighboring districts. So, I do not foresee the need to cut areas of the budget in the coming years. 

With that said, we still need to consider and discuss this very tough and difficult question. As such, and subject to further developments, I would start with a review of the district’s technology, equipment, and utility maintenance costs. While it may seem counterintuitive, if we are paying unnecessary and high costs to maintain outdated and obsolete equipment, the district could likely save money long-term by upgrading this equipment now – short-term expenses offset by long-term savings. 

In terms of possible/alternative funding streams, I would like to see if the district can explore developing a possible co-generation system at the High School. Such a system would allow the district to provide all (or most) of the electricity, steam, and cooling necessary for the high school, and, potentially, create a system whereby the district could sell power back to the grid. 

Another potential area of additional funding is possibly applying for grant programs. There are a number of funding possibilities – from both public and private sources – whereby the District could obtain funding for its students to try new and different technology and academic programs.

Luciano Alonzi

Q: What do you see as the role of a board of education member?

A: I see the role of a board of education member as a representative of the community who is entrusted to make policy decisions for the district. It is important to act as an individual part of a team. A single member of the board cannot do anything alone without the support of other board members.  Working with the other board members to foster ideas and discussion about decisions is a must. It is also important that board members listen to community input and stay up to date with current events within the district. 

Q: What would be your first priority for next year, and what are your priorities for the next three years?

A: My first priority for next year is returning students back to the classroom for in person learning. While the staff and faculty have done an amazing job of teaching and providing opportunities to students, so much is lost from not being in an actual classroom. In the next three years I’d like to continue moving forward with the goals set by the board this year. Those goals centered around student achievement, diversity and inclusion, and maintaining/modernizing facilities. The first goal, student achievement, would begin by returning students to the classroom. The second, DEI initiatives, would begin with hiring an individual to fill the new DEI administrator position. Finally, facilities would be addressed by the completion of a capital project currently being planned to put in a turf field at the high school and to fix or maintain many current assets. 

Q: Without respect to cost, if you had the power to make one change in the Guilderland school district, what would it be?

A: I would love to see an expanded STEAM curriculum. I’d put emphasis on technology, art, and music. I believe these topics are vital for our students to learn. I think creativity is often overlooked in contemporary education. Providing more access to these fields offers students the creative outlet they desire, and the equipment and instructors to facilitate it. These topics shouldn’t supersede  others, like history and English, but can be a compliment to those curriculums as well. For example, art, music, and technology can provide a very insightful analysis into any historical time period. Similarly, scientific methods used in archaeology are vital to discovering history. Expanding STEAM education would afford students more opportunities to learn.    

Q: If school funding decreased for next year, what areas of the budget would you cut?  If you did not want to make cuts, what are your thoughts on alternative ways to fund programs?

A: I would begin by making cuts to personnel. Specifically, unassigned FTEs and administrators. I would also look into reducing per pupil allocations, and textbook funding. Textbooks don’t necessarily need to be updated on a yearly basis. I’d rather reduce costs than reduce programs. Our students are the first priority and should not be forced to shoulder the burden of cut programs. 

Alternative solutions to budget cuts include an increased tax levy. By levying additional taxes, we could potentially close a deficit. This solution would require a supermajority vote (>60%) which is often unlikely but an option no less.  Another solution is using some of the district’s fund balance. This is also risky for many reasons but it remains an option. 

Blanca Gonzalez-Parker

Q: What do you see as the role of a board of education member?

A: I see the role of a board of education member as an advocate and representative for our community.  I do not see it as an opportunity to push my own personal agenda or beliefs. I think the job of a board member is to respond to the concerns and priorities of the learning community including parents, faculty, staff, and most importantly students. To me, this means active listening and placing value on every opinion and personal experience that a community member has taken the time to share. As a parent, I have felt at times that the board of education was not particularly accessible or responsive when I’ve had a concern. During my time on the board of education this past year, I have made it a point to respond to all inquiries and made myself available to any parent looking for someone to listen and act on their behalf. If re-elected, I would continue to see my role as being a voice for others.  

Q: What would be your first priority for next year, and what are your priorities for the next three years?

A: My first priority for the next year would be to do my part to make sure we have a safe transition back to in-person learning and activities under the new guidelines, and “catch-up” students and teachers who were impacted negatively in terms of their academics, mental health, and/or provision of services. I want us to get those learning-gains, fun activities, and milestones back. Safely. I feel like life is short and that school isn’t just about the GPA, but several wonderful moments combined: making a new friend, acing that test, playing sports, being in the school play, attending a school dance, and so much more. My very-first priority is to do my part to get back the time we’ve lost-safely. I know we can do it! I would also like to keep an option for students with a preference not to return to in-person learning, either due to medical concerns or because they prefer remote learning and have shown it is a good fit for their learning style. I think options are particularly important as we navigate our way through this ever-changing territory together.

Q: Without respect to cost, if you had the power to make one change in the Guilderland school district, what would it be? 

A: If money weren’t a concern, I would make structural improvements across the board. In fact, I might knock some of our buildings down and rebuild. I would focus on making improvements to our classrooms in terms of accessibility for students of all abilities, technology, ergonomics, and making our buildings eco-friendly and comfortable to learn and thrive in. I’d add air conditioning and filtration systems to all buildings and improve all plumbing and fixtures. I would also focus on safety and security by working with the Guilderland Police, Fire Departments, and Emergency Medical Services to fund everything they think is necessary to keep our kids safe. Lastly, I would add a music and arts building, a designated space for student clubs and extracurricular activities, a room in each building for PTA meetings and business, and a sports complex with a pool, covered seating, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and turf fields with a big “G” in the middle.  

Q: If school funding decreased for next year, what areas of the budget would you cut? If you did not want to make cuts, what are your thoughts on alternative ways to fund programs?

A: If school funding decreased for next year, I would focus on conserving everything that is student-oriented and would try and avoid cuts at all costs. I would research grants, and donation opportunities and regulations to explore all avenues before making cuts. I think we should start looking at alternative ways to fund right away. Actually, I may start tomorrow even if I’m not re-elected. 

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