Incumbents face tough issues but no opponents
VOORHEESVILLE — When school district voters go to the polls May 21 they will be able to cast votes for two open and unchallenged seats on the board as incumbents C. James Coffin and Cheryl Dozier each seek another four-year term.
Both candidates have careers in education.
Coffin has served on the board for 24 years. First elected in 1989, he served two terms, five years each at the time, before losing his third bid for election in 1999 by nine votes. However, after about a year, one of Coffin’s contenders decided to leave the board for personal reasons and he was asked by the sitting members to fill the seat until the next election. He then won the seat and has been elected to consecutive terms ever since.
Working for the New York State Department of Education for 32 years, Coffin, said he specialized in work with federal and building aid, and had gained a lot of experience working with state aid issues as well. One of his major accomplishments for the department was taking part in crafting special-needs legislation of the 1970s, which helped set up the foundation for today’s special-education programs.
During his time with the state, he also served on New York’s Fire Safety Unit for seven years, in charge of all building codes for state school districts. He has two graduate degrees, one in general education with an emphasis on special education, and another for school business administration. He’s also a licensed superintendent of schools and business manager.
Coffin and his wife, Betty, have lived in the school district since 1969. She was a Voorheesville Elementary School teacher for 10 years. He’s a 25-year member and former president of the Kiwanis Club and volunteers at St. Matthew’s food pantry where he helped coordinate collections as the organization’s chairman for four years. Coffin also operates a private real-estate investment business.
Dozier is the current board’s vice president and has held her seat for the last five years. She was appointed to the board and served about a year before being elected to a full four-year term by voters. She is on the district’s behavior task force and a member of the curriculum and policy and governance committees.
Currently, Dozier is an associate professor at the University at Albany where she has served on the faculty of reading since 2000. She has a doctorate in reading, as well as master’s and bachelor’s degrees in general education. She has lived in the district for 16 years. The Enterprise asked the candidates to comment on these topics:
— The role of a school board member.
“We must maintain a strong education program and that’s the focus — deliver to the children what is absolutely necessary, so they’re equipped to enter and be successful in college and in their work experiences,” said Coffin. “In today’s financial environment, that’s the struggle.”
Coffin said he first ran for a seat on the board because he thought his career experience could contribute to the community and now he says his understanding has been further enriched by his previous terms.
“That depth of understanding, where we’ve been and come from, is helpful in dealing with the problems of the current day,” he said. Coffin said learning to work within the confines of an elected group was critical in reaching productive negotiations and getting results for the community.
“As a board member, each responds with his experiences,” said Coffin.
“My role,” said Dozier, “is to be an advocate for students. We’re a high-performing district and we want to be sure as a board to maintain and preserve the programs. We have to be mindful about what the community can afford, be mindful of the fiscal climate.”
The district develops goals each year, explained Dozier, and, at their heart, are four things that she said were vital. “We want the goals to give us a direction,” she said, “The first line is one revolving around the student experience, one is supporting teacher initiatives, three is a sound budget, and fourth is community engagement.”
With 30 years of experience as an educator, Dozier said many of the challenges she faced in her career prepared her well for working on the board.
“I think I can draw on my perspective and experience,” she said, noting her work on student placements and adding, “I’ve taught in the classroom.”
The budget and implementation of the state’s tax cap.
Noting the challenging fiscal environment facing schools and taxpayers, Coffin said he understood the reasons behind instituting a tax cap but said it was causing significant strain on districts and shifted burdens from the state to local level without solving the larger problems.
“To decrease spending, the tax cap was a unique way of forcing districts to look at what was absolutely necessary and forced them to rein in expenses,” he said. “It’s definitely reducing the district’s abilities — in the last few years, we’ve either been holding the line or not increasing expenses. We’ve been forced to give up a lot.”
“It all about squeezing everything to get more from less,” said Coffin. “That’s what’s happening; how long can it go on like this is the question. The cost of doing business, no matter what it is, doesn’t stand still.”
Even before the tax-levy cap was implemented in 2012, Coffin said schools were already tightening their budgets following the 2008 fiscal crisis. He said proposed tax cap legislation was not new when it was adopted and “in the cards,” he said. “If you were paying attention to the political process downtown, you saw this coming. Several years before the cap was passed, there was a threat about something needing to be done about school spending levels.”
However, Coffin believes the tax-levy cap is only going to complicate schools’ abilities to remain solvent and functional in the long term.
“Something is going to have to change in the near future because schools are not going to be able to function as the parents of students would like it to. Because you can’t maintain strong programs, expand and renew those programs, when pressure is coming down on every aspect of the process and when there is an unwillingness to appropriately fund education at state levels,” said Coffin.
When first elected to the board in 1989, Coffin said about half of Voorheesville’s budget was supported by state aid and that now it’s about 25 percent. Coffin said the cap was one action among others by state politicians to shift larger educational and financial problems from Albany to local schools. According to estimates from Voorheesville business officials, and if the current finical trends remain unchanged, Coffin said the district would be “in a deep dark hole in 2016.”
“We’re in better shape than most; some of the biggest districts out there are already on the verge of bankruptcy,” he said. “They’re putting more pressure on the local level, there’s a shift in finical responsibility from the state to public schools.”
Coffin said the state should reconsider the tax cap and fund education more by restoring some aid or else schools would be left with the consequences.
“The best revenue-sharing machine, designed to bring in money from the state to local communities, is the state,” said Coffin.
“I think the cap makes it harder to work within that,” said Dozier. “I don’t want to compromise our programs. I want to provide an excellent program, but there’s a danger if this continues. It’s always a balancing act but we have to make sure not to compromise our programs.”
Dozier said she is a supporter of extracurricular programs because they offer students a full experience and better education when combined with regular curriculum, which, in turn, leads to more successful paths in life.
“I think one of the things we want to do is prepare a child as a whole,” said Dozier. She said she supports alternative funding methods to preserve activities such as music, art, and sports. She noted how parents at a recent board meeting offered to work with the boys’ freshman basketball team to raise funding and she encourages the idea.
“Musicals, plays, drama, art — those things matter,” she said. Dozier said she also favors restructuring or consolidating programs to help maintain them. As an example, she mentioned the school’s newspaper and literary magazine, which have been eliminated due to previous cuts, and suggested combining the groups into a single, multi-faceted writing club instead.
“Student interest is there, so how do we meet it?” she asked.