Urges voting off expertise, not friendships; endorses Miller, Young, Powers for school board seats

To the editor:

I write this letter as the mother of young children with many years left in Pelham’s public school system. On Tuesday, May 18 we face a choice to determine which two of the five candidates will join Pelham’s board of education.

In my opinion, a good board of education member can look beyond their own path to “success” to ensure the educational environment is one where all children are supported and challenged to reach their full potential, no matter what that may look like or what that path may be. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue in this election has largely revolved around issues that are either less relevant or mischaracterized.

I write to share my thoughts on the issues that have been raised during this campaign with the hope that my neighbors will keep these issues in mind when voting:

1) The pandemic. Managing a school system in a pandemic is a temporary undertaking, and the board of education’s tasks in non-pandemic times are diverse. Further, as an epidemiologist and a public health professional, I caution against relying on any one person’s individual clinical experience as a substitute for professional public health guidance.

2) Criticism of board of education meeting protocol and lack of transparency. Proposing to change protocols may appear helpful, but the reality is that a) one or two board members will not realistically be able to change protocols that exist due to outside guidance from NYSBBA, and b) haphazardly implemented changes could put the district in a vulnerable position. Further, inaccurate and unprofessional use of the term “gag-rule” only serves to demonize a common practice among school boards in New York State.

3) Infrastructure needs are critical. The capital plan must be a priority or we may end up with infrastructure emergencies that not only threaten the district’s financial stability but also put our children’s education at risk.

4) Legal and financial expertise. Running a school district is not the same as running a private company, or even a public charter school network. Legal and fiscal restrictions abound due to contractual obligations and NYS education law. Understanding these boundaries is critical.

5) The district’s strategic plan. The district’s strategic plan was adopted by the board of education in 2019. The equity audit was one step towards the cultural competency pillar of the strategic plan. Digesting the content of this audit may be painful, but it is necessary. Understanding the strategic plan including the cultural competency pillar is vital as a board of education member.

6) It should be noted that while the Princeton Plan has been discussed in this campaign, no candidate has been advocating for implementing a Princeton Plan. A “No Princeton Plan” position is a campaign position for the status quo.

As we all go to the polls tomorrow, I urge my fellow Pelhamites to please vote for who you think are the best two people to do the job, not who you like as a friend or who you enjoy having a drink with. All five of these candidates may be wonderfully nice people, but, I ask, which ones have the clearest understanding of the job and will do it professionally? It is easy to appeal to parents’ discontent with pandemic learning by blaming the board of education for all that was difficult in the past year. But, I urge voters to separate the campaign buzzwords from what is actually achievable as a member of the board of education.

I believe Eileen Miller, Jess Young and Janice Powers stand out among the five candidates for Pelham’s board of education due to their experience and expertise, their demonstrated commitment to local volunteerism, the pragmatic ideas that they are able to articulate professionally and their understanding of the role of a board of education member. Unfortunately, there are only two open seats in this election, but I hope you will join me in voting for two of these three exceptional candidates who seek to roll up their sleeves and implement actual solutions to real problems on day one.

Ariel Spira-Cohen

508 First Avenue