Teacher-backed slate wins GCSD election, budgets pass handily

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
School board members and candidates cluster around the first available election results. From left are board President Seema Rivera; incumbent Kelly Person, who came in first; trustee Rebecca Burtterfield; incumbent Gloria Towle-Hilt, who came in second; candidate Katie DiPierro, who came in third; and trustee Blanca Gonzalez-Parker.

GUILDERLAND — The school and library budgets sailed through on Tuesday while the hotly contested school board race — with 10 candidates running for four seats — was won decisively by the slate that the Guilderland Teachers’ Association supported.

Incumbent Barbara Fraterrigo, the board’s longest-serving member, was ousted.

“I’m always appreciative to this community for stepping up and supporting our students,” school Superintendent Marie Wiles told The Enterprise after the unofficial budget-vote results were projected on the wall of the Guilderland Elementary School gymnasium Tuesday night.

Next year’s $109,887,845 budget passed with 68 percent of the votes —  3,215 to 1,483. Spending is up nearly 5 percent over this year and carries a nearly 3 percent tax increase, still under the state-set levy limit.

“It was a big ask this year — a large increase,” said Wiles. She noted the students, still coping with effects of the pandemic, have “more and more needs — academically, socially, emotionally. That takes resources,” said Wiles, concluding she was grateful for the support.

Voters also approved the purchase of eight 66-passenger school buses with 71 percent of the vote — 3,319 to 1,337.

This year’s school board race featured two slates of four candidates, along with two independent candidates, who trailed in the election.

The winning slate was made up of three current school board members — Kelly Person, Gloria Towle-Hilt, and Kimberly Blasiak along with teacher Katie DiPierro. They supported work done by the district’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and also supported teachers being trained to be respectful of LGBT kids.

The Pro-parent Choice candidates — made up of Fraterrigo, along with three candidates making their first run for office: Nicole Coonradt, Mark Reamer, ane April McAllister — was formed through a Facebook group called “Taking back our school boards” as part of a national movement that started with parents objecting to their children having to wear masks in school.

“We will march together to victory in May ….,” wrote organizer Jeff Thomas on the Facebook page during the campaign. “God is moving in our group!”

The two independent candidates, Jennifer Romano and William Kearney, were also making their first run for school board.

All of the candidates on the winning slate along with Romano filled out a questionnaire from the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, detailing their views. None of the other candidates responded to the questionnaire although all of them participated in an Enterprise forum and all but Kearney took part in a PTA-sponsored forum.

At the PTA forum, the candidates on the winning slate along with Romano listed many PTA and school activities they had been involved in while only Fraterrigo on the Pro-parent Choice slate had substantial involvement with the schools.

The mood was tense in the Guilderland gym after the polls closed on Tuesday night as about two dozen people gathered, including the four winning candidates; Fraterrigo, the only candidate from the losing Pro-parents’ Choice slate to show; seven library trustees; and several other school board members as well as the former teachers’ union president and administrators.

The crowd waited for figures from the five elementary-school polling places to be tabulated in the school office by Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders who would relay the results through a computer.

“The mom part of me is a little scared,” commented Blasiak to Wiles.

“Everyone’s in black,” said Wiles who herself wore a beige suit.

Towle-Hilt said she hadn’t slept for two nights.

About an hour after the polls closed, board member Judy Slack appeared, as is her tradition, with handwritten results from Altamont Elementary School. Slack said the turnout was higher than usual and Altamont had to resort to 50 paper ballots, which weren’t yet tabulated. Onlookers clustered closely around Slack to see the results.

The mood lightened as it looked like the candidates backed by the teachers’ union were winning. 

These are the not-yet-certified results available Tuesday night:

— Kelly Person was the top vote-getter with 3,005 votes. A pilot who has served in the Air National Guard for 25 years and is now an inspector general, Person first ran for the board in 2019 because of her four children; Person said that she and her wife chose Guilderland because of the schools. “I think people came out and voted their values for Guilderland,” Kelly told The Enterprise on Election Night. “I think they want to see our children remain being supported as they are.” Person will serve a second three-year term;

— Gloria Towle-Hilt came in second with 2,969 votes. Towle-Hilt, who has retired from her career teaching social studies at Farnsworth Middle School, and has two grown Guilderland graduates, said of her slate’s victory, “For me, it underscores the direction we’ve been moving; the voters said, ‘yes.’” She also told The Enterprise on Election Night that she was thrilled with the budget vote and pleased with the turnout. “This is such a critical time,” she said. “Voting is such an important right.” Towle-Hilt will serve a sixth three-year term on the board;

— Katie DiPierro came in third with 2,908 votes. A special-education teacher for the Capital Region BOCES, DiPierro has taught in Guilderland schools and has two children in the district. She has been active in the PTA, served on a school building cabinet, and has recently been elected president of the Capital Region BOCES Faculty Association. “I’m just very excited for this opportunity,” DiPerro told The Enterprise on Election Night. She will serve her first three-year term on the board;

— Kimberly Blasiak was fourth with 2,871 votes. Blasiak, who was chosen among six applicants to fill a vacancy on the school board last October, has four children in Guilderland schools, ranging from the elementary to high school levels. She describes herself as an activist for special-needs students and is active in the PTA locally as well as on the board of the New York State PTA. Blasiak said she took personally the attacks made on training for teachers by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network because she has a transgender son — “a wonderful, unbelievable human being.” Because she came in fourth, Blasiak will fill out the one year left in seat she now holds;

— Barbara Fraterrigo came in fifth with 1,264 votes. She will have served eight terms, 24 years, on the school board. She told The Enterprise on Election Night that she had chosen to run with the Pro-parent Choice slate because two mothers — McAllister and Coonradt — had experiences “they thought were inappropriate and they said, ‘You’ve been around a long time” and asked for her guidance. Fraterrigo said the winning slate had support from the New York State United Teachers, which distributed several sets of fliers across the district. “So much money was spent …. Messaging is powerful,” said Fraterrigo, who concluded, “I’ve had a good run”;

— Mark Reamer came in sixth with 1,132 votes. Reamer, who described himself as a “small-business guy” and advocate for parents, has two grown Guilderland graduates. He expressed concerns Guilderland didn’t rank as high as it once had. Reamer said he had watched the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network video used to train Guilderland teachers and said parents should be allowed to “opt out.” He also said, during the PTA forum, he had questions about social-emotional learning, which he just found out about last week. He further said, “I’m against CRT. It assumes you are guilty because of your skin color … It just divides us further”;

— April McAllister came in seventh with 1,035 votes. McAllister, who owns a hair salon, said she moved to the district for her children. She said schools should get back to the basics and “the people of Guilderland are tired of … power trips.” At the PTA forum, McAllister also said she was speaking for a lot of other parents when she expressed her concern about what “is being introduced under the umbrella of DEI.” She said, “I believe there are things coming in that are being imposed on all children that is causing more division.” She also said that, during the campaign, “As a Christian, my own personal walk in faith has been used against me”;

— Nicole Coonradt came in eighth with 1,027 votes. She advocated to the school board in March on behalf of her 12-year-old daughter to leave vaccination for sports up to parents and children with their doctor. “I am fiercely against mandates and I do not co-parent with the government or my children’s school,” she wrote to the “Taking back our school boards” Facebook group. She said at the PTA forum that, while DEI is very important, “I don’t want to see curriculum that would create further division.” Near tears, she called the election process “pretty awful” and said she had received backlash from her daughter’s teachers after her request to ban a book had been leaked;

— Jennifer Romano came in ninth with 982 votes. An independent candidate, she stressed the importance of equity and inclusion as well as her work to improve school safety. She also outlined innovative ideas for increasing volunteers and raising funds outside of taxes. “It’s clear parents do want to help; we just don’t know how,” she said at the PTA forum. She also said that she and her wife have biracial children and when her preschooler told her, “Mommy, I think I just want to be the white part” she knew “there’s something still wrong in our society.” Romano said school board elections have become a microcosm of the division in our society and concluded, “Education is our path forward”; and

— William Kearney trailed with 546 votes. Kearney, with two elementary-age sons, and a wife who is a teaching assistant at Farnsworth Middle School, ran as an independent. A certified public accountant, he said a “fiscal mind” would be good to have on the board. “I actually believe in standardized testing. I am for them,” Kearney said during the Enterprise forum, differentiating himself from the other candidates. He moved to Guilderland after looking up school reports online, he said. “I purposely chose to pay higher taxes in this school district to have my kids go to a school that emphasizes good grades and high education and graduation rates,” he said.

 

Library

The Guilderland Public Library’s $4,174,465 budget for next year passed with 66 percent of the vote — 3,037 to 1,558.

“I’m happy,” said Catherine Barber, president of the library’s board of trustees, when asked for her response to the budget victory. “The board considered the budget carefully …. It’s efficient. I’m glad it passed.”

There were four vacant seats on the library’s board of trustees: two with five-year terms; and two with one-year terms. But only one person ran — Elish Melchiade, who was appointed as a library trustee in February. She received 2,841 votes.

Melchiade moved to town last summer, in the midst of the pandemic and said, “It’s important when you live in a community to positively affect the place where you live.”

She works as a project manager at an international medical-device company, Demant, which makes hearing aids. She has a background in software, human-resources marketing, and event planning.

Melchiade has two children, ages 5 and 7.

She describes the library board as “a very well oiled machine” and is impressed with the “huge capital improvement project” that she says is “serving the community well.”

Altogether, including Barber and Melchiade, seven of the library’s 11 trustees — the others were Norina Melita, Marcia Alazraki, Fraterrigo, Michael Hawrylchak, and Peter Hubbard — were on hand to hear results on the budget vote on Election Night.

It was unclear on Tuesday night how many write-in votes there were for the other three vacant posts as write-in votes had yet to be counted and announced.

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