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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 17, 2009

Eight vie for appointment to Guilderland School Board

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Eight candidates are vying for the school board seat left vacant when John Dornbush died in July. One of them served for 15 years on the board, and three of them were unsuccessful candidates in past elections.

The candidates were interviewed in a televised session last night, and the school board’s remaining eight members will decide at their next meeting, on Oct. 6, which one to appoint.

Dornbush, who had served on the nine-member school board, an unpaid post, for a decade, succumbed to cancer after a four-and-a-half year battle. The board decided in August that a special election would be too costly, at $4,000 to $7,000. The appointed member will serve until the next annual election, in May.

In recent years, four to six candidates have run for three school board seats. Board President Richard Weisz said he wasn’t surprised that eight had applied to be appointed.

“It’s easier,” he said. “You don’t have to put out signs and reach…thousands of voters.” Also, he noted, the eight-month commitment is less daunting than that of a three-year term. And, Weisz said, “It’s an interesting time for public education.”

Last night’s session was moderated by Guilderland High School sophomore Katy Bender, with ninth-grader Hailey Mathews serving as time-keeper.  Both students are active in the media department, and Bender anchors a high school news program.

Questions for the candidates were developed by two school board members, working with Lin Severance, the assistant superintendent for human resources. Five of the questions were given to the candidates in advance and five were revealed last night to see “how they think on their feet in front of a camera,” said Severance.

The Enterprise talked to the candidates about why they were seeking appointment and what they hoped to accomplish.


—         Stephen V. Anderson, a doctoral candidate in public administration at the University at Albany, believes his expertise in evaluating the effectiveness of government programs will be useful to the school board. 

He has worked as a social scientist for most of his life, for state prison systems in Ohio and Virginia. One study he did in Ohio evaluated all those who left the state’s prison system in 1992, comparing the rates of recidivism for those who had taken advantage of educational opportunities in prison with those who had not. He found that education coupled with vocational training led to a drop of one-third in recidivism. The group most impacted was black males under age 25.

Anderson also teaches scientific research methods and said he would advocate for developing and increasing the critical thinking skills of Guilderland students. He said he has also done analysis of the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation and that it is difficult to “tease out the impact of various efforts.”

“If I’m selected, maybe I can help.” he said, “Especially with the economy in bad condition, we need to do what works and spend money on what works.”

Asked if he would run for election in May, Anderson said, “I’d have to look at it. Being an incumbent would be a huge advantage. It would have to fit both ways”;


—         Michael Borges has two daughters in Guilderland schools — one at Pine Bush Elementary and the other at Farnsworth Middle School. “Our involvement has broadened,” he said of his reason for seeking appointment to the school board.

Borges, who works as the executive director of the New York Library Association, also serves on the Guilderland Public Library’s board of trustees. “My term on the library board ends in May, he said, and he is not seeking re-election.

He has served on several boards and has knowledge of the community and educational issues, Borges said. He formerly worked as a lobbyist for New York State United Teachers.

He said, if he is appointed to the school board, there is a “possibility” he would run in May.

His major goal, if he is appointed, is to “make sure we have a quality education for reasonable expenditures,” he said. Borges also said that he’d like to make the schools “working family friendly.” He concluded, “Sometimes, I think the school district doesn’t know that parents work”;


—         William Brinkman served on the school board from 1990 to 2005. After retiring from a career with the State Education Department, he started his own consulting business, the Center for Educational Funding, which largely helps charter schools, he said. Brinkman didn’t seek re-election in 2005, he said, because his consulting business was taking off but now he misses the interaction with Guilderland staff and he misses being in the schools.

“Kids always energize you,” said Brinkman.

Brinkman said he decided to seek the appointment for two reasons. “First was for John Dornbush,” he said. “I served with John for many years and I know his thought process. I think we have a lot of similarities.”

Secondly, he said, “I’d like to see closure for our teaching assistants.” Guilderland’s 210 teaching assistants are at an impasse with a contract that expired over a year ago.

Asked if he would seek election in May, Brinkman said, “Time will tell….I give it some thought every year…I think I have a lot to offer”;


—         Emilio Genzano would like to be appointed because, he said, “I think I have the ability to provide a team perspective. I’m a team player.”

Genzano is the assistant vice president for engineering and construction at Albany Medical Center. “I have a good background in construction and budgeting,” he said.

He has been a Guilderland Pop Warner board member and helped found the Challenger League for players with special needs. He has a child with muscular dystrophy.  “I understand special needs,” he said.

Genzano has twice run for the school board. “The first time, I missed by 10 votes and the second time, I was against all incumbents,” he said.

If appointed, Genzano said he would consider running in May “if I found I’m a positive influence.”

Genzano concluded, “Board members ultimately have to do what’s best for the children — they’re our future. The key is community. I think I offer a broad spectrum”;


—         William Goergen, a retired architect, wants to be on the board “to bring a different perspective,” he said. He has experience with facilities design and would like to “give back to the public,” he said.

When he worked with the State University of New York through the construction fund, which was treated as “the ugly stepchild of the University,” he learned of the importance of surroundings in education.

Goergen has served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee for two years and he also served on the facilities committee that developed the current $27 million renovation project.

Asked if he would run for the board in May, Goergen said, “Quite frankly, I’d like to see what it’s about and what I can do.” If it’s fun and challenging and he feels he can make a difference, he said, he would run in May.

“Education is more important now than it’s ever been,” he said, noting he has two grandchildren in the Guilderland schools;


—         Elijah Sharma was a Guilderland High School senior last year when he ran for the school board, coming in last in the five-way race for three seats.

He ran as an openly gay candidate on a platform that included putting an end to bullying, increasing transparency of the school board, keeping teaching assistants who were being cut, and reducing class sizes. He spoke out on these last two issues when he served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee. Sharma, who had helped lead massive student protests in the summer of 2008 over the transfer of two teachers, had said during his campaign that people should vote for him as opposed to voting down the budget as a sign of protest.

Sharma is currently a student at Hudson Valley Community College, studying political science, and planning to transfer to the University at Albany in two years.

He said he is seeking the school-board appointment because “it would be unfair to let down the nearly 1,500 who voted for me. I feel I owe it to them.”

If chosen, he said, Sharma would focus on harassment in the schools, increasing communication, and more transparency.

On choosing a new school board candidate, Sharma said, “Ideally, a special election would be the most democratic.”

He went on, referring to Allan Simpson, “Two of us did run…Extra consideration should be given to us.”

Sharma said that, if he is appointed, “I definitely would seek election in May.” If he is not chosen, he said, “I’d have to look at who else is running”;


—         Allan Simpson came in a close fourth in the five-way race for three school board seats last May. Simpson, who had served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, had advocated a budget with no tax increase at a time when a slight increase was predicted. (Actually, because of an increase in assessed values in Guilderland, the school board last month adopted a tax rate with a slight decrease.)

Simpson believes his financial expertise will be useful to the board. “I think we’ll be going through hard times,” he said. “I have 30 years’ experience in business.” Simpson is currently the comptroller for the New York State Insurance Fund, totaling $1.5 billion, he said.

“I plan to run again in May, with or without the appointment,” said Simpson. “The current fiscal crisis of the state of New York will be nothing but worse for the taxpayers,” he said, citing the shortfall in the Teachers’ Retirement System. “I suspect the taxpayers will foot the bill.”

He said he was “perplexed” why the board didn’t appoint him to the post since he came in fourth in the last election rather than soliciting other candidates. Simpson said he would like to see “what it is like in the trenches” and would have more visibility in the next election and a better understanding of the issues; and


—         Bruce Smith works in higher education administration as vice president for enrollment management at Excelsior College in Albany, a distance education college. He oversees admissions, financial aid, and marketing.

Asked why he was seeking appointment to the board, Smith replied in an e-mail to The Enterprise, “I think my 17 years of higher education experience, knowledge of educational innovation, diverse experience with boards, passion for education, and commitment to win-win partnerships among stakeholders such as taxpayers, teachers and students would let add value to the board.”

Smith said he does plan to run for the school board in the May election.

Smith also said that his goals, if chosen for the board, would be to “help lead a process of innovating to maintain and improve quality cost-effectively [and to] strengthen stakeholder participation to make the best decisions we can for students, taxpayers, and teachers.”

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