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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 22, 2010
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Elijah Sharma is continuing to campaign against bullying and for environmental stewardship as he did during his first run for school board last year.
“It’s more important than ever at a time when budget reductions are being made,” he said.
Last year, as a senior at Guilderland High School, Sharma described himself as the first openly gay candidate to run for the school board.
He had served as a trainer for the National Coalition Building Institute, an organization founded in 1984 to eliminate prejudice. “I’ve seen it change students,” he said, stating what a loss it would be to the school to cut NCBI.
Sharma said of continuing the schools’ anti-bullying programs, “Bad behavior needs to be dealt with so it doesn’t become a pattern. You have to make sure every student feels safe and is given guidance on how to treat people.”
He also says that, if elected, “I would focus on environmental issues, and outreach to local groups to manage our resources better. The world has become more environmentally conscious. It’s important to reduce your footprint.”
Sharma is now a student at Hudson Valley Community College and plans, after completing his two years at Hudson Valley, to transfer to the University at Albany where he will major in political science.
Sharma was one of the student leaders in the summer of 2009 when protesters objected to two popular high-school teachers being transferred to the middle school; one has since left the district and the other has returned to teaching at the high school.
Sharma has served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee for two years and is planning a “smarter” campaign this year, he said; in 2009, he came in last in a five-way race for three seats. Sharma is running as an independent and plans to post lawn signs and send out campaign fliers. He also has a website ElijahSharma.com to promote his campaign.
On the role of a school-board member, he said, “At the end of the day, we need to serve the people who elected us. But the whole point of a school is to educate children, and you have to keep that a priority.”
He said, as a school board member, he would follow this edict: “Don’t ever do anything that harms a student.”
On the search for a new superintendent, Sharma said, “We should find a candidate who has experience…I don’t want someone learning on our district. It would be awesome if you could find someone in the district or else from the area who knows the district.”
On the superintendent’s role in relation to the board, Sharma said, “The board shouldn’t answer to the superintendent. The superintendent should work together with the board. They should help each other.” In the final analysis, he said, “The superintendent would answer to the board.”
He also said that the district should “look for someone interested in being long term…It would add continuity.”
Sharma said that he supports the $87.4 million budget. “To vote down this budget would do more harm than good,” he said.
Although he supports the budget overall, he said there were some things he would have liked to see changed. Most notably, he’d like to see teaching assistants reinstated. He opposed the cuts to teaching assistants both last year and this year.
“Two years of reducing TAs will have an impact on results and students later on,” he said.
He finds the argument that TAs should be cut to save money “almost offensive,” Sharma said. He said that it is unrealistic to believe class sizes can be increased while support for teachers is decreased and “it will work.”
“It’s a cut that has an impact on the classroom,” he said. “I don’t feel they tried every way to make reductions before touching the classroom”
Asked what other cuts should have been made instead, Sharma said, “I think the district is a little top heavy” with administrators; he suggested re-arranging supervisors and principals.
If additional state aid were to come in after the May 18 vote, Sharma said it should be split, with some used to lower taxes and put some aside for next year.
If the budget were voted down, he said, “It should be revised and put up for vote one more time.” He suggested holding community forums to get feedback on what needs changing and then working actively to make sure the revised budget passes.
“That would be the best way to move the district forward,” he said.
On the tax hike, Sharma said, “We should always work hard to keep the tax rate low, within reason. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of the students.”
He went on, “Voters definitely aren’t willing to support an increase over 4 percent…There are places that could be trimmed like administration and money for travel and conferences.”
On negotiating contracts without raises, Sharma said, “It should be fair to everyone involved. It would be unfair to make it black and white. The situation should be looked at when it comes. I would advocate for a raise, but weigh it against the current circumstances.
“A raise would keep our teachers interested in working for the district. It attracts good teachers. Treating teachers well is good for students.”
On full-day kindergarten, Sharma said, “The full-day kindergarten issue is unfortunate. I supported it last year and I still support the concept. But, unfortunately, the board made its own mess with this one. At the last minute last year, they put it into the budget without review [from the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee].
“Last year, even though I supported the concept, I was willing to concede it might not be affordable. The community wasn’t behind it. I said that at CBAC.”
Sharma concluded, “Continuing it in a budget crisis is unfortunate. Getting rid of it in its second year looks like irresponsible planning. It should be a lesson learned.”