Candidate forum: Four seeking two school board seats discuss budgeting, new strategic plan, excellence


Four candidates for two open seats on the Pelham Board of Education discussed writing a new strategic plan, the importance of a smart budget and re-imagining excellence in the schools at a May 4 forum. 

The candidate forum was sponsored by the Council of PTAs and conducted in Alumni Hall at Pelham Memorial High School in a civil-debate style, with a moderator and questions submitted both from the council and the public. 

Candidates for two three-year terms as trustees are Annemarie Garcia, Tade Reen, Sid Burke and Connie Garrido-Carmody. There are no incumbents in the race, as current Trustees Jessica DeDomenico and Sue Bratone Childs are not running for reelection. 

The election will be held on May 16 in the Pelham Middle School gymnasium from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Along with the two open seats on the board, residents will also vote on the $91 million budget for the 2023-24 school year. 

Budget Process

The candidates commented on the strengths and weaknesses of the current budget and what skills they would bring to the budgeting process in future years.

Connie Garrido-Carmody with her family.

Garrido-Carmody said it was important to collect data during the budgeting season. “It’s key to have data that gives us results on how students do on standardized testing,” Garrido-Carmody said. Through data collection, Garrido-Carmody said the board would be able to best direct funds toward areas where students need help the most. 

Garcia said a successful budget is one that has the “lowest tax impact, greatest amount of resources.” Garcia highlighted her own ability to learn at a fast pace, her eagerness to be familiar with the budgeting process and said there was a need to “maximize resources” when formulating the spending plan. This could be in terms of sustainability or lowering the district’s carbon footprint. 

Burke said he has experience with the budgets, as he worked with a charter school in Mount Vernon. He said when writing a budget, “the funding follows the students.” Burke suggested the possible inclusion of solar panels in next year’s budget in an effort to boost Pelham’s sustainability.

“I find the budgeting process very interesting,” said Reen. He described his desire to learn more about the school budget, as well as his fascination with all the different people it takes for it to become final. “It is a people process,” Reen said.

Strategic Plan

Tade Reen and his family.

With the current five-year strategic plan coming to an end next year, the new school board will begin the work of forming a new vision for the district. 

Garcia pointed to the importance of “the whole child” pillar in the current plan. “It is important to balance the emotional well being of our children and their academic achievement,” she said. When discussing the current document, Garcia praised the district and the board for catching up with all the work caused by the Covid-19 emergency. While she believes the existing program was a success, Garcia said she “would love to just see more.”

Reen brought up the point of the technology age, and the impact social media has on the students in Pelham schools. He offered ideas that included increased parent communication and more technology-based information.

Reen discussed the risk of gun violence in terms of school shootings. “How can you have a plan for a school district that doesn’t talk about it?” he asked. Reen said that he would be willing to engage in that conversation, despite its unsettling nature. 

Garrido-Carmody said she also sees the importance of adding a technology-based goal to the plan. To promote the district’s current pillar of “authentic learning,” she said the district offer high-impact tutoring. She said she believes that when formulating the strategic plan, the district should be “evaluating what needs work and what we can enhance.”

According to Garrido-Carmody, the unfilled diversity, equity and inclusivity coordinator position in this year’s and next year’s budget should be filled as part of the next strategic plan.

Sid Burke and his family.


Idea of Excellence

At the forefront of the candidates’ goals are including students’ voices as the district seeks to fulfill its promise of excellence. The candidates tied that idea into many of the questions asked at the forum. 

Sid Burke said Pelham schools should be a place where all students feel welcome and mental health is valued. “Social-emotional learning is important,” he said.

Burke said the district’s DEI policy plays a big role in making sure student voices are heard. He praised the work being done in terms of DEI at the elementary schools, and said he “wants to see these efforts grow with the kids in middle and high school.” In terms of excellence, Burke said the district can improve in how it measures the needs of the students. “I think the school district can do better in terms of defining and measuring success for themselves,” he said.

Garrido-Carmody said the most important job of the school board is to “provide our students with the highest quality education, resources and opportunities.” She stressed the importance of making all children feel welcomed and embraced.

“We should focus on celebrating differences, but finding commonalities,” Garrido-Carmody said. If elected, a goal of hers would be to come up with new ideas on how to identify excellence in Pelham schools.

Annemarie Garcia.

The current plan goals focused on “the whole child” and “authentic learning” stand out to Reen when discussing excellence. It is important to “make sure that all kids feel the same support and level of presence,” Reen said. The children in Pelham are extremely lucky to be attending the district’s schools, he said, and he wants the board’s idea of excellence to reflect that idea.

“We’re great people, and we should turn out great people,” said Reen. 

“I think it’s really important that we see students individually,” Garcia said of excellence. She stressed the importance of collecting qualitative data versus quantitative data so the district can provide the board with more creative ways to assess the students.

“We want a bigger picture for our kids and where they’re at,” Garcia said. She called for increased student participation, including on board committees.

“The conversation should always come back to the students,” said Garcia.

The full forum can be watched on the district’s YouTube channel.