At VCSD, Saia, Canfora win seats

The Enterprise — Clara Flores

Waiting for election results: Michael Canfora, right, waits patiently as the polls close Tuesday. Canfora came in second with 377 votes, and won a seat on the Voorheesville Central School District Board. 

NEW SCOTLAND — Voters here approved a $22.8 million school budget on Tuesday, and turned out in larger-than-usual numbers to decide a four-way race for two school board positions. Incumbent Doreen Saia and newcomer Michael Canfora won seats on the board.

Also, the Voorheesville Public Library budget of $1,150,616 passed, and library trustees David Gibson and J. Lance Moore retained their seats.

School budget

Voters approved a $23,149,718 budget for 2015-16, an increase of $436,110 over last year’s budget, with a vote of 573 to 193, or 75 percent in favor.

The district has a $16,746,414 tax cap for the amount of money it can raise in taxes. The tax levy amount proposed is up $308,000 from last year, which is an increase in the tax levy of 1.88 percent.

Voters also approved propositions to purchase new buses at up to $230,000; to wipe out $100,000 of a school lunch fund deficit; and to undertake $200,000 of capital improvements.

School board victors

Saia, who was appointed to the board in November to fill an unexpired term, won retiring board member Gary Hubert’s seat for a full four-year term with 469 votes.

“I’m excited to serve on the board the next four years,” Saia said. “I am flattered by the outcome.”

Previously, Saia, an attorney with two sons in the school district, told The Enterprise, “I have learned a lot. There’s a lot to be done,” she said. “I think it does help to have a lawyer on the board, because it brings a different skill set.”

 

Incumbent Doreen Saia won the seat vacated by retiring school board member Gary Hubert, left, and will fill a four-year term. The Enterprise — Jo E. Prout

 

Canfora, who entered the race after it was reopened due to a candidate withdrawal, took Saia’s former seat — a term with a remainder of three years — with 377 votes.

 

“I’m very happy and very grateful for those who turned out to vote,” Canfora told The Enterprise. “It’s a privilege to serve.”

Canfora holds graduate degrees in accounting and in public administration, and also has two children in the district.

Defeated candidates

Their challengers, Stephen Giordano and Adam Shelmerdine, were not present when the unofficial poll results, reported here, were announced.

Giordano, who filed a petition at the last minute of the extension, won 282 votes.

“I am…disappointed that I ended up in third place, but I am proud of what I accomplished in less than two weeks, and I am confident that Michael and Doreen will do a fine job, so I don't feel too bad,” Giordano wrote in an email to The Enterprise.  “In the community forum held the other night, …I found myself agreeing with many of the things they said, and I respect them for stepping up to serve the community.”

Giordano, 59, is the director of the Albany County Department of Mental Health, and an adjunct professor at the University at Albany. He currently serves on the district’s Community Alliance for Healthy Choices, and has a son in the district.

“My main concern remains making sure that there is adequate attention to, understanding of, and services for the disabled, those in need of special education, those with emotional and psychological challenges, and those struggling with drug [or] alcohol issues,” Giordano wrote. 

Voorheesville “is a wonderful district with many advantages for our students; however, increased investment in the emotional well-being of students can only reap greater rewards down the line,” he wrote. “It was my hope to balance out the Board a bit by bringing this unique perspective to the table along with my organizational and management skills…If the opportunity should arise, I would definitely consider running again.”

Adam Shelmerdine, who openly challenged the school board about its policies for standardized testing, received 162 votes. Shelmerdine, 29, is a local beekeeper who runs a small chicken farm. He has two young children, and the elder attends elementary school. He serves on an advisory board for the proposed Albany Museum of Political Corruption.

“I’m a voice for dozens of teachers, hundreds of parents, and a large amount of students,” he told The Enterprise on Wednesday. His 162 votes for his first run for office are “a step in the right direction,” he said.

“My platform was the Common Core. I look at [the election] as a positive,” he said.

About the election of Saia and Canfora, Shelmerdine said, “I think it’s going to be a bleak outlook. They play into the status quo.

“I respect what happened,” he continued. “That’s why we live in a great country. The fight’s not over. I’m going to continue. I’m still going to speak up any time there is injustice happening.”

Previously, Shelmerdine told The Enterprise, “A curriculum that labels you ‘incorrect’ when you have the correct answer, I say, is, laughably, a major failure. Our great nation got to the moon and back on good old classic learning. With my vast knowledge of Supreme Court cases and federal law pertaining to parents and education, we will soon stop this madness, and be able to help our children with their work once again. 

“I am a voice for students,” Shelmerdine continued then, “who have no idea the amount of personal data that is being collected from them. This not only puts their identity at risk, but [the collected data] also, unbeknownst to them and their parents, is being used for purposes beyond the scope of its promised intention. ‘Cradle-to-college’ has a much darker purpose when our children are looked at as subjects entered into computer algorithms, rather than the wonderful individuals they are.”

Asked if he would run again, Shelmerdine said, “Absolutely! There are two more seats open next spring. I look forward to the next race. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

School board President Timothy Blow, who drew criticism for endorsing candidates, waits with fellow board member, C. James Coffin, center, to hear Tuesday’s election results. The Enterprise — Clara Flores

 

President weighs in

School board President Timothy Blow publicly supported Saia, Canfora, and Giordano this week, but not Shelmerdine, and sent out his appraisal of the candidates to some district residents using an email distribution list. Blow’s communiqué was forwarded to The Enterprise, along with questions of impropriety.

Blow told The Enterprise that he did share his personal opinion with others.

“Mr. Shelmerdine’s views and concepts about the school board, I’m not sure are legal, but are certainly not what I believe in,” Blow said.

“My communications were very limited. I did give my opinion to a couple people,” he said. “I think [Shelmerdine’s] views are very…out on the fringe…very out there.”

Blow said that, as a school board president, there was no conflict for him to send his candidate endorsement.

“People ask me my opinion all the time,” he said. “I have no idea what anybody’s politics are.”

Blow said that Shelmerdine had criticized the board’s work publicly, and that a personal discussion had not gone well.

“I take that very personally. [Voorheesville has] a strong school board. We’ve accomplished a lot,” Blow said.

“My brain has to stop?” he continued about expressing himself. “I shouldn’t have an opinion? That’s why I was elected, to make the best decision for the students, and the taxpayers.

“Is it a conflict to give my opinion on things?” Blow continued. “Maybe there’s a fine line. That wasn’t my intent. His comments were offensive to me. I think there are some good [candidate] choices. He’s put himself out there as a public figure.”

“He has a First Amendment right to give an opinion,” said Jay Worona, the deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, about comments emailed by a school board president.

Determining whether there was a “bad practice or an illegal practice” depends on whether the person expressing the opinion used district funds to give out his message, or did not make clear that he was not speaking for the board, Worona said.

Speaking as an individual, Worona said, may not be “best practice,” because the candidate about whom the opinion was expressed could be elected and the board’s working “relationship might be problematic,” and not “be on a proper projectory for serving kids in the district.”

Ultimately, Worona said, individuals have to be sitting side by side on the board serving the community.

“Clearly,” he said about a school board president, such as Blow, “he has a constitutional right to say what he wants.”

 

Library Trustee David Gibson, who won a new five-year term on the board, confers with Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder as the polls close Tuesday night. The Enterprise — Clara Flores

 

Library

The library budget of $1,150,616 passed by 68 percent with 516 votes for it, and 238 against it.

Tax rates for library users, based on the towns served by Voorheesville’s school district, will be steady for New Scotland residents, at $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed home value; and for Guilderland residents, at $1.45 per $1,000. School district residents in Berne will see their tax rate decrease to $2.03 per $1,000, a decrease of one cent.

The budget includes a 2-percent increase in salaries for library employees.

Incumbent David Gibson was elected to the board in 2013 to complete an incompleted term. On Tuesday, he received 405 votes and won a five-year term on the library board.

Trustee Lance Moore was appointed to the library board this spring to fill a seat vacated by former Trustee Robert Kent, who resigned Dec. 31, 2014. Moore received 403 votes on Tuesday and will complete the remainder of Kent’s term for four years.

On Tuesday, Gibson told The Enterprise that the library board is happy to have the budget approved, after a proposal to expand was voted down in 2012.

“This is two years in a row where the budget decreased without a loss of program,” he said. “We are trying to rebuild credibility with the voters.”

More New Scotland News

  • Voorheesville Trustee Richard Straut said that he and Superintendent of Public Works Brett Hotaling had been talking in recent weeks about the impact of inflow and infiltration on the sewer system in the Salem Hills neighborhood, “about some of the troubles we’ve been having,” in particular during heavy rains and when snow melts. 

  • The owner of Stonewell Plaza has acquired an attorney who in turn has reached out to New Scotland planning and zoning board attorney Crystal Peck and is now trying to come up with a compromise that might work instead of paying for a parking analysis that is only going to show what is already known by nearly everyone involved: The site has too few spots to accommodate plaza businesses or to meet what is called for in the code.

  • “It’s just a lot of chance to take ...,” said Wendall Thayer of holding the Voorheesville Memorial Day parade despite COVID-19 still in the community. “It would be awful  somebody caught something because we had the parade.”

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.