CRARYVILLE–Five candidates are vying for three open seats on the Taconic Hills Central School District Board of Education. The candidates are Craig Bender, Lynn Brandt, Joseph Costa, Nadine Gazzola and Linda L. Lee.
Two of the seats are for five-year terms and one is for a two-year unexpired term.
For 2019-20, the proposed budget is $38,112,618, which is down from the adopted 2018-19 budget by 1.62 percent. The proposed tax levy is $24,811,160, up $794,345 or 3.31 percent–the state Maximum Allowable Levy limit.
There is also a proposition to purchase two school buses.
This year’s budget vote and school board election will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 21 in the Veterans Community Room.
Following are brief profiles, in alphabetical order, on each of the five candidates:
Craig Bender of Ghent has been a district resident for 20 years.
He works as an executive at IBM and is responsible for a $12 million budget. Mr. Bender’s daughter attended Taconic Hills from grade 7 through 9 (2003-2005) and he is involved in a number of local community organizations.
Mr. Bender is president of Kids Need Music, treasurer of the Columbia County Bail Fund, serves on the Social Action Committee of the Chatham Synagogue and on the Music Committee of the Spencertown Academy of Arts center.
Asked why he is running for school board, Mr. Bender said, “As a Taconic Hills board candidate, my core beliefs are: a) enriching children’s experience through Math, Science, ELA and the arts; b) open communication and transparency to the community; and c) work with what we have (fiscal responsibility without raising taxes).”
His hobbies include classical piano, hiking and golf.
A lifelong district resident, Lynn Brandt of Churchtown is a senior dispatcher with the Hudson City Police Department, where she has been employed for 18 years.
She has two children and a niece currently enrolled in Taconic Hills, and two stepchildren, a sister, and two cousins previously graduated from the school. Both her parents, two uncles, three aunts and both maternal grandparents graduated from the district’s former Roe Jan and Ockawamick schools.
Ms. Brandt is active in the community. “I am a life and active member of the Churchtown Fire Company,” her candidate profile questionnaire stated. “I joined as a Junior Member at the age of 17. I currently hold the elected position of Secretary and Board Secretary.”
She is also a member of St. Thomas Lutheran Church; volunteered as an EMT; and is a board member of the Taconic Hills Dollars for Schools program. She also volunteers for the Taconic Hills Sports Booster Club.
“I would like to run for the board as I have always had a sense of community and giving back,” she said in her questionnaire. “I have either volunteered or worked in community service most of my life. With a long history of family graduates and future graduates I have a great sense of commitment to Taconic Hills.”
She wants to find solutions to the systemic issues at Taconic Hills. “Although there are many parents that are very happy with Taconic Hills, I’ve seen a growing number of parents who feel like they cannot trust the school administrators,” Ms. Brandt said. “I feel that this is because the school does not properly communicate with the parents. I would like to see the school communicate better with how and when they disseminate information to parents.”
Ms. Brandt would also like to see a reduction in absenteeism. “I think if we can find a rewards system for high school students to work with and mentor/tutor junior high students, then maybe we can reduce the number of absenteeism,” she said. “Creating a positive relationship with the school experience.”
Incumbent Joseph Costa of Churchtown has served on the Board of Education for the past nine years and hopes to continue to do so.
A district resident for more than 50 years, he is employed in the family automotive business — which has been a local business for almost half a century, he said in his candidate profile questionnaire. In addition to the family business, he has also served as a volunteer firefighter at Churchtown Fire Company for more than 20 years and has been a member of the Philmont Rod and Gun Club for more than 35 years.
Mr. Costa is a 1982 graduate of Taconic Hills, has two children who graduated from the district, and his spouse is an employee of the district.
If elected, he plans to “promote the importance of a proactive approach to children’s education.”
Born and raised in Columbia County, incumbent Nadine Gazzola of Claverack has lived in the district for 14 years.
In addition to running a family business in Ghent with her husband, Ms. Gazzola has been involved in both her parents and her in-laws businesses for more than 25 years. She has served on the Taconic Hills school board for the past five years, as well as the Questar III board for the last four years and the FASNY board for the past year.
Ms. Gazzola has two children in the district, a third grader and a seventh grader.
Her goals for the coming year are to “continue to guide Taconic Hills in a positive direction that is beneficial to the adults of our future,” her candidate questionnaire stated.
For Ms. Gazzola, top issues facing Taconic Hills are parental involvement and social issues. “Children are encountering serious issues, such as dealing with social media, bullying and opioid addiction, at a younger age,” she said. “As a community we need to guide the children not just how to deal with the situations, but how to combat them in the first place.
“I believe this is a community effort,” she continued. “Parents, the school, and outside agencies need to work together to achieve this.”
Ms. Gazzola is also a 4H leader for the Columbia Crafters and teaches a monthly women’s safety program at the Hudson Fish and Game Club.
Hillsdale resident Linda Lee, a writer and editor, grades English and science essays from various state assessment exams for a private testing company. She previously worked as a writer and editor for the New York Times for 17 years.
Her book, “Success without College,” suggests educational and career options for children with “all kinds of minds,” according to her candidate profile questionnaire.
She’s running because she wants to prepare students for the road ahead. “I want to work with the board and administration to prepare our children for a future with life-ready skills for success in education, employment and life,” she stated in her questionnaire.
In 2019, Ms. Lee joined the Hudson Valley Chorus and the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society. She is also a supporter of Film Columbia and the Roeliff Jansen Community Library.
Ms. Lee has volunteered and served on the board of RSVP, “an organization that matches age 55+ volunteers with nonprofit programs in neighborhood and government organizations to work in hospitals and nursing homes, schools, veterans’ programs and disaster relief programs,” according to her questionnaire.
“One of the things that concerns me is the fact that the school has so much empty space. It was built for 1,800 students and is serving 1,200 students. I’d like to see a way to see the empty space in the building used more efficiently. Perhaps with new kinds of programs.Outreach to the community,” she said in an emailed statement.
“I’d like to make sure that every kind of student is given accommodations. Whether it is a matter of a shy student or a student who has difficulty with math or English. A student who does better working with his or her hands. That there are additional life to work programs that are available without the stigma of it being a BOCES program. That they can actually learn something like plumbing or electrical skills and have a chance to come out of school with a very valuable life skill that will give them a chance to earn a better living than if they had a college education.”