This Tuesday, May 17, registered voters in the Saratoga Springs City School District may vote in the 2022 Board of Education Election and Budget Vote.
Here is a brief overview:
- The election will be held in person on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
- Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the elementary schools. Go to sscsdvotes.com to find your polling location.
- Absentee ballots can be acquired through May 16 by going to the district’s Administration Building, where you may complete the application and the ballot at the same time. Save time and download your application at sscsdvotes.com
- There are 6 candidates running for 3 positions. The candidates are John Brueggemann, Martha Devaney, Dean Kolligian, Natalya Lakhtakia, Billie McCann, and Edwin Spickler.
- You can vote for up to 3 candidates.
- Also on the ballot are:
- Bus Bond Proposition (SSCSD seeks approval to replace 10% of its buses annually). This week the SSCSD Transportation Department earned a 99.56% New York State Department of Transportation inspection rating!
- Facilities Bond Proposition, which includes purchase of front-loaders for snow removal. The budget staff believe this will save the district $650K over the 25-year life of the machinery.
- Watch a recording of the Meet the Candidates forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.
- Read our notes from the Meet the Candidates forum.
- Read the candidates’ responses to SEEN’s Questionnaire which was created to help the community make informed voting decisions. We asked the candidates to respond to our questions regarding educational equity in the district.
- Review Board of Education meeting notes, taken by SEEN members. Specific examples and meetings are also linked in the text.
- Find out where to vote. The Board of Education Election and Budget Vote is Tuesday, May 17, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voting occurs at all six Saratoga elementary schools, but your voting location might not be your “home” elementary school. Go to sscsdvotes.com to find your voting location.
- Reach out! School board elections in Saratoga typically attract less than 10% of the electorate. In such a small election, every vote counts; last year, the third place candidate won by 18 votes. Talk to friends, family, and neighbors, and encourage them to get informed and VOTE! The results of this election will determine the direction of our district for many years to come! Sharing your perspective is invaluable.
- 2021 election results
- 2020 election results (Note: due to COVID, voters received ballots in the mail)
- 2019 election results
Candidate Overviews: Including Highlights on Equity Issues
Below we provide brief biographies of each candidate. As an equity-advocacy group, SEEN is highlighting answers from the League of Women Voters (LWV) Forum related to equity issues. For a complete review of the forum, see SEEN’s notes. In addition to the Meet the Candidates forum, SEEN reached out to all candidates this year with a candidate questionnaire. Where relevant, we are adding answers here to help voters make informed decisions, and encourage each individual to review our additional resources.
John Brueggemann, PhD, is a Professor of Sociology at Skidmore College, and has lived in Saratoga Springs for the last 29 years with his wife, a local pediatrician. He was first elected to the school board in 2019. He is the father of one SSCSD graduate and two current high school students, each of whom attended Lake Avenue Elementary. John earned his Bachelor’s degree from Earlham College, and went on to earn his MA and PhD from Emory University. John has previously served on the Board of Trustees for the Saratoga Economy Opportunity Council (now LifeWorks Community Action) and Shelters of Saratoga, is an alumnus of Leadership Saratoga, and former coach and volunteer for Saratoga Wilton Soccer Club. He is endorsed by both the Saratoga Springs Teachers Association (SSTA) and the CSEA.
- Equity: John completed the SEEN questionnaire. In response to the League of Women Voters’ question on DEI, what it means, and how it is implemented, John noted that this is an important topic, has been one of the most contentious issues, and that because of the data from the Every Student Succeeds Act in terms of racial and class disparities, it has his “full-throated” support: “Equity has to be a part of what we do every single day….[it needs to be] woven into the district.” John referenced a number of examples where the Board can see the gaps that exist and the interventions that work to close those gaps, including wifi access, social-emotional learning, access to healthy food, reduction of fees (including free PSAT), and open registration for AP courses.
Martha Devaney is an experienced educator, having taught business courses at SUNY Albany, and also served as an administrator at SUNY Adirondack. A former small business owner, she also consulted for local businesses in all sectors and nonprofits, and now serves as the Director of Finance and Case Manager for Kee to Independent Growth, a Ballston Spa-based nonprofit community service organization serving adults with disabilities and traumatic brain injuries as well as veterans. A Skidmore graduate, she has lived in Saratoga Springs for most of her adult life and raised her two children here (Greenfield Elementary, Junior/Senior High for her eldest, and Greenfield, Dorothy Nolan, Maple Avenue and Saratoga High for her youngest). The Wilton resident maintains that her experience across the arc of public education gives a greater awareness about how each year of a student’s education builds upon the others. Martha asserts that because she will not be viewing current school issues through the lens of her children’s concurrent experiences, she is better situated to serve each and every student enrolled in the district equally, and to have a more pragmatic and holistic view of governance. Martha supports caring and community-building “across the board.”
- Equity: Martha completed the SEEN questionnaire. Even before the LWV question about DEI and the BOE, Martha had twice mentioned she was thrilled there was a DEI policy in place. In response to the question, she was looking forward to assisting on implementation, and that through her work, she is intimately aware of ways to measure progress and results. For Martha, DEI is an “opportunity for everyone to feel they are part of a community–who is here and who will be.” For her, this is about access to resources, and being sure that each and every student feels a part of the community. When asked about alleged increases in violence at the high school, Martha did not propose increased reliance on punitive responses, but noted that the U.S. Department of Education states the solution is more investment in mental health services and counseling.
Dean Kolligian is Vice President in Charge of Security and Facilities Operations at Adirondack Trust Company, where he oversees 14 locations and 20 buildings, overseeing, among other things, security and emergency action plans. In addition to his work for Adirondack Trust, he and his wife own 100K square-feet of Wilton office space, which includes educational businesses. Dean and his wife (he noted, a 3rd-generation SSCSD alum) are parents to four children, ages 11-20 years old, three of whom are still enrolled in Saratoga schools, having moved through Dorothy Nolan. Dean is a graduate of Penn State University with a degree in kinesiology and sports medicine, and later an MS from Towson University in Health Care Management, and was endorsed by the SSTA. Despite repeated efforts to contact Dean, he has not responded to our emails, and we could not confirm if he received CSEA endorsement. An incumbent, Dean was initially elected to the Board in 2019. Dean is also supported by several anti-equity groups.* As a candidate and as a Trustee, Dean has not denounced the support of anti-equity groups like Excellence in Education, in violation of the Code of Conduct in Campaigning.
- Equity: Despite repeated emails, Dean did not respond to the SEEN questionnaire in any form. Dean’s work as a Trustee was marred last year by his concern that “anti-racist” is too harsh a word, which initiated a contentious discussion about the proposed DEI policy and regulation. Dean’s questions prompted a response from Natalya Lakhtakia that “racism is harsh.” At the same time Adirondack Trust was subject to an investigation for discriminatory lending processes, which they settled in June 2021.
- In April 2022, his McGregor Village Development Corp. was tied to the elimination of the special education programs at Abilities Saratoga. McGregor Development was threatening litigation and eviction against the school. In the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns, Abilities had to stop providing certain services, and therefore received no reimbursements, but rents remained. Dean began to pursue eviction during the eviction moratorium, and per the Times Union, made an agreement to forgive half the accrued rent if the first half was paid. Despite payment, he continued to pursue litigation in the spring.
- Confronted with questions by the Times Union Education Reporter Kathleen Moore, Dean provided a written statement: “Abilities continues to remain open and operating because we understand this IS [sic] about the children they serve. The decision to close that specific program was theirs alone.” He insisted the issues at hand had nothing to do with his role as a Trustee of the Board of Education, despite the long-term ramifications for students with special needs being without programs or therapies. After the special education program was eliminated and co-founder Valerie Keen removed as CEO, Dean removed the litigation against Abilities, leaving his personal friend, Stacey Frasier, as the only remaining co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. Because people involved have not answered questions beyond the original article, the details about this are difficult to discern. What’s known is that children’s needs are not being met, and the implications for their educational experiences will persist for years.
- Asked about DEI during the LWV forum, Dean noted it was a “hot topic” and that each person benefits from learning what DEI means. “At the Board table,” Dean stated, this is in diversity of opinion, and that in the classroom, students provide opportunities for others to learn from their thoughts. “Inclusion is important,” and we’ve been doing this work in terms of students with special needs for a while. When votes about Board oversight over classroom readings and curriculum have come up, Dean has repeatedly voted in favor of Board decision-making rather than the professional expertise of teachers and curriculum staff. See SEEN’s archive of Board of Education meeting minutes, especially February 15, regarding enforcement of masks and reflections on the proposed resolution in support of teachers and the April 12 discussion regarding “violence, drugs, and vaping.” Because we have not been able to process notes all year, please review the recording of the January 18 meeting, particularly Agenda Planning toward the end, in which the vote was 4:4 (with Anjeanette Emeka absent).
Natalya Lakhtakia is a speech-language pathologist in the public schools, dually certified in New York and in New Mexico, and moved to Saratoga Springs in 2016. She is also a NYS-certified teacher. She was first elected to the school board in 2019. She is the mother of a Kindergartner at Division Street. Natalya worked on the policy committee of the District Equity and Inclusion Committee to help create the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy and Regulation which were both passed unanimously by the school board in the Spring of 2021. Natalya holds degrees from Penn State University and University of Utah. She is endorsed by both the Saratoga Springs Teachers Association (SSTA) and the CSEA.
- Equity: Natalya oversees both the Policy Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees, and the policy subcommittee of the District Equity and Inclusion Committee. She completed the SEEN Questionnaire. As the only current person of color on the SSCSD Board of Education, Natalya has led the District’s efforts on equity alongside Dr. Patton and Board leadership. She led the authorship of the District’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policy and Regulation, and worked to have it pass unanimously. As chair of the Board’s Policy Committee, Natalya has been a leader in revising policy language to be gender-inclusive, and to include adult learners with special needs; previously, policy language addressed children but students with special needs are entitled to public education through 21 years of age.
- In response to the LWV question about DEI, Natalya noted she was proud to be part of the committee doing that work, and that each and every student should feel welcomed and affirmed in school. Equity, she said, is when each and every student is served. It is not about the benefit of others, but used the example of special education, appliances and other disability interventions. If a student needs glasses, not every student needs to be given glasses. If one student needs a hearing aid, other students do not benefit from hearing aids, and should not have them supplied. This should be understood as the way to implement equity, to identify what’s needed and provide it for the students.
Billie McCann is a licensed occupational therapist and life coach for children and families. A native of Hudson Falls, Billie is a graduate of Utica College of Syracuse University (Utica College was established as an outreach of Syracuse University in the 1930s, and established as its own degree-granting institution in 2008). She opened her OT practice as a contractor for local hospitals in 2006, and for school districts in early intervention. In 2019, she opened a small business, Healing in Motion, which included OT, life coaching, and reiki services. She is the parent of twin boys enrolled at Caroline Street; they will begin at Maple Avenue Middle School in the fall. Billie has lived with her husband in Saratoga Springs since 2017. McCann is supported by several anti-equity groups.*
- Equity: Billie declined to complete the SEEN Questionnaire, and a “meet the candidates” event in support of Billie, Dean, and Ed was advertised under the premise that it is “time to take back our school board.” Asked what that meant, she deleted comments, blocked commenters and gave no answers.
- She shared in the LWV forum that she wants to review the efficacy of “restorative justice,” and believes that when persons violate the code of conduct, they need to be held “accountable.” She also insisted that though the VADIR report does not show any increase in violence, she knows there is “in what violence actually means.” She would like to see more school resource officers, grounds monitors and floor monitors hired, and has proposed that these new hires be “diverse.”
- Asked directly at the LWV forum about what DEI means and what it looks like, Billie asserted that the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee is “not diverse, equitable, or inclusive”, and believes other districts do better (Note: other districts have looked to SSCSD for guidance). She expressed concern that “culturally-responsive teaching” is really just “critical race theory,” because Gloria Ladson-Billings is a critical race theorist. In ramblings about “critical race theory” in several posts to their Facebook page, Moving Saratoga Forward has maintained Ladson-Billlings is referenced in the NYS Regents Framework and Policy Statement, which she is not. Ladson-Billings also specifically differentiates between “culturally-responsive teaching” and “critical race theory”; SEEN covered this topic in our Critical Conversations forum series.
- When responding to a question about civil discourse at the LWV forum, Billie stated that she wants to increase transparency with district curriculum and policies, in particular in relation to DEI work. This has been a repeated subject of discussion by sitting trustees and members of the public who are working against equity. See public comment and agenda planning portions from October 28, December 7, January 6, January 18, and February 15, among others.
Edwin Spickler is a native of Mechanicville and father of two sons, one of whom attends Maple Avenue Middle School and one of which currently attends St. Clement’s. Ed and his wife, Karen, moved to Saratoga Springs in 2008; in campaign materials and public comments, they only note that they will have two children in Saratoga Springs City School District, or that they have children who attend schools in Saratoga Springs. A co-founder of Saratoga NFL Flag Football and coach for youth sports, Ed is a graduate of Northeastern University. He was an early donor to Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools (2019). Ed is garnering support from several anti-equity groups.* Ed has not denounced the support of anti-equity groups like Excellence in Education, which he linked to from his website for fundraising, and he has since posted to Facebook that while he cannot “control” the messaging of certain supporters, “we appreciate their support because frankly we need it.” Candidates cannot “control” others, but they can repudiate or denounce – indeed, they are expected to. Ed’s failure to do so and his embrace of these tactics is in violation of the Code of Conduct in Campaigning.
- Equity: Ed has made a point on his website that he supports “equality of opportunity,” claiming that the only identity within the school district should be “student.” This is in direct opposition to the district pathway of “equity of opportunity.” If taken literally, “equality of opportunity” would be both against the mission for the district and illegal, effectively eliminating special education programs, for example. He displayed an ignorance of the laws surrounding the systems for Case Managers and Least Restrictive Environment for special education students.
- Asked directly about equity in the forum, Ed said that the way he sees it is the way he grew up, and that you put differences aside and work together to a common goal. Ed also argued that committees needed to include parents (most already do), and to be representative of everyone; after Billie’s comments about the lack of diversity on the DEIC (an argument rooted in political party registration, not the needs of the students or overall representation of intersectional identities within the school community), Ed’s answer was understood as in favor of political diversity, only.
- Ed also professed a desire to see the school district be so popular that it has an “overflow” of students (Note: this is illegal in public education, and would likely reduce educational opportunity and outcomes), and that we would be turning people away who apply for jobs (Note: this happens). The statements implied a limited understanding of public education.
- Ed refused to answer any questions in the SEEN Questionnaire, claiming SEEN had already endorsed candidates and requested information about our membership; as a network of individuals, SEEN has expressly not endorsed candidates. His fundraising is specifically linked to the anti-equity group Excellence in Education.
*An overview of these anti-equity groups: Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools formed in October 2019 to increase the number of school resources officers employed by the district and allow non-police to carry guns, despite evidence that shows the presence of police in schools leads to greater number of arrests and suspensions for BIPOC students. Excellence in Education registered its website by proxy in February 2022. Its organizers and members attend board meetings to speak publicly against equity. Moving Saratoga Forward and Saratoga Conservative Chicks have also directly endorsed these candidates through their Facebook pages. Finally, the People’s School Board is one of many local Facebook pages promoting candidates aligned with or supported by NY Informed, a group that supports “medical freedom” and “parents rights,” and is “anti-CRT.”