Wanted: Hardworking Voorheesville resident with budget experience for difficult position

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Rachel Gilker, Voorheesville School Board member, pictured here during May’s elections, unseated the incumbent board president in overwhelming fashion. 

NEW SCOTLAND — The Voorheesville School Board at its monthly meeting on Monday debated its three options to fill the seat left vacant when Michael Canfora resigned in October. The board came to the conclusion that its best chance to find a successor was to invite district residents to submit letters of intent, explaining how each could help the board get through its toughest time of the year — budget season. 

The board set a Jan. 3, 2020 deadline for submissions. 

According to district policy, the only qualifications a candidate for the board needs are the ability to read and write, to be a voter in the district, and to be a resident of the school district for at least one year prior to the election — or appointment. 

In addition, only one family member at a time can be a board member and no district employee can be a member — “except as permitted by law,” the district’s policy states. 

 The appointee will be in the position only until the state-set May school board elections. The winner of the election will take over the seat in May rather than wait until the July reorganizational meeting. 

On Dec. 9, the board also discussed either holding a special election or making an appointment without public involvement. The six remaining board members were in complete agreement that holding a special election a few months before the regularly-scheduled election just didn’t make much sense. 

The recommendation made in November by the school district’s attorney was to avoid the cost, time, and expense of an election — which would cost an estimated $3,500. “It’s a big undertaking, especially for something that would only be in place for six months or so,” Ryan Mullahy, the district’s lawyer, said at last month’s meeting.


Varied views

Board President Cynthia Monaghan had opened the Dec. 9 meeting with a discussion among the board members about how its next member should be found — by election, appointment, or letter of intent and appointment. 

Rachel Gilker, the board’s newest member, spoke first and said she was in favor of an application-and-appointment process — as well as approaching in the next month specific people who live in the district who may not be aware that the seat is open and asking them to apply. 

She also said she’d like to see interviews with potential new members conducted in public, or she’d like shared with the public “a blurb” about the applicants, or she’d like to give applicants an opportunity to speak at the Jan. 6 meeting.

Mullahy said last month that the interviews could be held either in executive or public session. The process would be whatever the board thinks is fair to fill the seat, Mullahy said.

Board member Robert Samson was in agreement with Gilker; his hope was that by the Jan. 6 meeting there would be a list of applicants that could be interviewed or that the board could discuss for appointment.

Samson said later that having residents who actually want to be on the board apply for the position is a more favorable option than members themselves having to generate lists of candidates to lobby to send in a letter of intention. 

Board Vice President Jeannie McDonnell and Trustee Diana Straut were in agreement with Samson and Gilker. 

Next to speak was Trustee James Coffin.

Coffin was, at first, the board’s lone dissenting voice against a letter-of-intent appointment process. Coffin instead wanted to bring on a former board member, he said; that way, he or she can come on at the busiest time of the board’s year — budget season — and can hit the ground running. 

This would allow the normal election process to take place in May, presumably, without the appointed board member having the advantage of incumbency. 

“I think that makes it nice and clean,” Coffin said. “And those former board members would simply drop off at the end of the season and we would have a normal approach to who is going to be on the board going forward.”

Coffin was then asked what if no former board members were willing to serve. His response was that any former members could be reached fairly quickly, in just a few days. “If we can’t do it, then we can’t do it,” he said. “But my bet is: We could probably get one for a few months.”

“I think the timeline,” Samson responded, whether appointing a former board member or opening up the process to the public for an appointment, “is going to be the same — regardless.”

McDonnell then said that she preferred appointing a former board member because the appointee, wouldn’t “have to go through board training,” but added, “I go with majority.”

Samson responded that a former board member would still have to undergo state-mandated board-member training. 

He was told that wasn’t correct. 

However, Interim Superintendent Mark Doody said there’s no penalty for not participating in the training. Doody, who took over as acting superintendent for the early-retiring Brian Hunt in May, will be leaving the district on Dec. 15, making way for Frank Macri, who was named the next superintendent of  Voorheesville schools in September

“The law does not provide a formal sanction for non-compliance with the training requirement,” according to the state Education Department. However, the department also states, “An appeal to the Commissioner brought by a citizen could result in removal of the board member.”

So, hypothetically, if an appointee who hadn’t been a board member didn’t complete the required six hours of training within the first year of being appointed — remember, it’s likely the earliest someone will be appointed is Jan. 27 and the election for the seat is May 19, or about four months later — he or she would be in violation of the law.

Doody also said inexperience or lack of training shouldn’t be a reason for not appointing someone to the seat. 

McDonnell then said, “But a former board member already has a bit of an up and an insight, but I am not sold; it is majority rule.”

Straut said she understood the value of appointing an experienced hand, but said the board had nothing to lose by opening it up and making the appointment a more transparent process.



Earlier in the meeting, Straut also made a point to ask that the board think about the criteria or qualities it wanted to look for in a new member and asked that the New York State School Boards Association be contacted for its guidance. 

According to NYSSBA, the characteristics “all effective board members should possess” are:

— Being an effective communicator and listener, being able to describe what he or she wants as well as being able to describe what others want;

— Being a consensus builder, having the capability to work toward community-wide supported decisions and willingness to compromise to achieve goals;

— Being a community participant, meaning enjoying meeting a variety of people and being able to identify and reach out not only to a community’s key communicators but to the community at-large;

— Being a decision maker, becoming comfortable with making decisions and supporting group decision-making;

— Being an information processor, having the ability to organize priorities and schedules to handle large amounts of information;

— Being a leader, willing to take risks and being supportive of fellow board members in addition to district staff and community; and

— Being a team player, helping promote the board’s vision and goals.

Letters of interest and qualifications for Voorheesville School Board membership should be submitted by Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, to Jessica Tabakian, district clerk, 432 New Salem Road Voorheesville, NY 12186; electronic submissions should be sent to: .


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