Gilker is new VCSD board president; SRO appears to be off the table

— From Rachel Gilker

Rachel Gilker was recently elected by her colleagues as Voorheesville’s school board president.  

NEW SCOTLAND — Three years after voters unceremoniously ousted the sitting school board president, Rachel Gilker, who won that election in a landslide, was recently selected to lead the Voorheesville School Board. 

The unanimous vote took place at the board’s July 6 reorganizational meeting, when members elected Robert Samson as their vice president and Robyn Willoughby was sworn in as the board’s newest member. 

Also during the meeting, board members appeared ready to pass on a school resource officer for the upcoming school year. 

The district had a resource officer for nearly all of the 2018-19 school year, which followed months and months of meetings, discussions, and public surveys in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. 

Following the May massacre of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, board members again broached the subject of a resource officer at their June meeting. 

At the July 6 reorganizational meeting, trustee Tim Kremer looked for an update. 

“I haven’t had any further conversations, because I’m waiting for the board to say if that’s something you want to do or not,” Superintendent Frank Macri responded. From the last conversation board members had in June it sounded like they wanted to explore other options, he said.

Gilker said the board had “talked about a lot of larger safety questions. And that would be potentially a part of it,” she said of a school resource officer. “So we can discuss the safety [plan] and then if that fits into it.” At the board’s June meeting, it was asked if the funds the district would allocate toward a resource officer would be better used for adding a social worker or school psychologist. 

Samson asked if the board should have another broad discussion on the topic at its next meeting. “Maybe about safety in general, what we feel, we should start talking about, questions we start asking, etcetera,” he said. 

Trustee Argi O’Leary said it would be good to start with an overview of what’s in Voorheesville’s safety plan, which Macri told her was currently on the district’s website for review and then for discussion and at the board’s Aug. 9 meeting.

Macri also said he’d been in contact with a local organization that has established anti-bullying, social-emotional, and drug-awareness programs. “So I’m working on hopefully developing a plan and adding that to a layer of what we do as” part of Voorheesville’s safety plan.  

Kremer was slightly vexed about the school resource officer conversation.

“I guess I was a little confused. I thought we kind of had that conversation about the mitigation plan and all the different levels of security and such. And we kind of had one question about SRO,” he said. “And it’s — I don’t know, we just let it be and we just left it on the table, or was it denial? We don’t want to go there?”

O’Leary responded, “I don’t think there was strong support voiced among the board for moving definitively in that direction.”

Samson said a resource officer hadn’t been budgeted for. But he also said the board wanted to be responsive to the comments of students and staff, and the concerns they may have. “And that we’re [having] the right conversation was to address the SRO.”

 

New president

In 2019, then-challenger Gilker nearly tripled the vote count of incumbent school board President Doreen Saia to win her first four-year term.

Gilker received 775 votes to Saia’s 278 while newcomer Sean Fell received 100 votes.

A total of 1,210 people voted that year, nearly doubling the previous year’s total. There were approximately 100 more ballots cast in 2019 than there were in this year’s school board election, with its infusion of toxic national politics. 

Gilker, who lost her first bid for the school board in 2016, rode a wave of anti-incumbency — she needed just 25 signatures to get on the ballot, but returned a petition with 350 names — and possibly the first-ever Voorheesville Teachers’ Association endorsement onto the board three years ago.

The voter backlash had been driven in part by the board’s handling of a lawsuit filed against the district by Robert Baron, the former head coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team. 

By the time Gilker was running in May 2019, the case was into its 15 month with no sign of slowing down. Because Baron attempted unsuccessfully to overturn a lower court ruling in favor of the district, the case dragged on until November 2021.

Asked what made her want to accept her new post as president, Gilker told The Enterprise, “I’m just here to serve the community and the district.” As for specific goals she’d like to achieve during her tenure, Gilker said she’d like the district to continue on the path it’s been placed by her predecessors.  

More New Scotland News

  • The New Scotland Town Board unanimously adopted the budget at its Nov. 9 meeting, where it also discussed the need for new planning board members due to the impending resignation of Christine Galvin and previous departure of board alternate Robert Davies.

  • Voorheesville Superintendent Frank Macri said the school board had conversations over the summer about once again having a school resource officer, about protective factors, about social and emotional health, and about safety in general. 

  • But now, nearly 12 months after it rescinded its objection to the deal, the village of Voorheesville finds itself in roughly the same position it did in December 2021, with the Quiet Zone project appearing to be back on track, only now Voorheesville could be looking at $50,000 in annual maintenance costs for the two safety gates it’s been pining after for a decade.

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