Voters in the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District will go to the polls Tuesday to elect seven members to the new district’s first board of education. Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. and all residents will vote at D.H. Robbins Elementary School in St. Johnsville.
Last week 11 of the 14 candidates attended a “Meet the Candidates” event sponsored by the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville Teachers’ Associations at St. Johnsville Junior – Senior High School where they answered randomly selected questions and shared their thoughts on why they would like to sit on the school board.
Renee Swartz, a two-year member of the St. Johnsville Board of Education and a registered nurse and director of nursing at Wells Nursing Home in Johnstown, said for her it’s about balancing fiscal responsibility with what’s best for students.
“As a board member you have to do what’s best for everyone’s children and what’s best for the district,” she said. “That has to be the top priority.”
She added the district’s students have proven “we can do great things together.”
Bruce Carpenter is serving his first year on the Oppenheim-Ephratah Board of Education and worked for the Oppenheim-Ephratah district for 30 years as a custodian, bus driver and head of the school’s buildings and grounds department. He currently works as a delivery person for The Observer-Dispatch and The Times newspapers.
Carpenter said if elected he would like to provide the district’s teachers access to newer and better technology. “I’ve seen a lot from the teachers that work there and I know a lot of them wish they had a little bit more to work with,” he said.
Carpenter also said he would like to make sure “no student falls between the cracks.”
Cindy Breh is serving her first year on the Oppenheim-Ephratah Board of Education and is self-employed. She served three years on the Oppenheim Town Planning Board and has been active with the school district’s PTA and Parents as Reading Partners.
She said she would like to make sure the district’s students are college ready and added the board of education should make curriculum a top priority.
“I think we should stay in line with the merger study,” said Breh on the topic of fiscal restraint. “If we stray from the study we could face financial difficulty down the road.”
Ben Conte began serving on the Oppenheim-Ephratah school board this year and is currently serving as board president. He is an instructor at Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES and Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
He said he would not have a problem spending money “if it’s for the right reasons. He also said he would like to see classes added to the district’s academic program.
Page 2 of 4 - “Not just classes for the sake of adding classes, but classes that could receive articulated and college credit,” said Conte. “These type of classes would help our students save money by reducing their future college costs. They also would help reduce their first or second semester course load in college or help them graduate college earlier.”
Susanne Sammons is currently serving her sixth year on the Oppenheim-Ephratah school board and works at Fulton-Montgomery Community College as a technical assistant with the Student Development Center. She has been active with various F-MCC committees as well as the Oppenheim-Ephratah Parents – Teacher Association.
Sammons said she believes the students deserve everything the district can give them.
“It’s our responsibility to take each child’s interest and needs into consideration, and to do our best to accommodate their learning styles,” she said.
Sammons said she would like for the district to follow the merger study when it comes to financial planning and added she would like to see classes added to the curriculum.
Chad Eggleston is serving his first year on the St. Johnsville Board of Education. He is a third-grade teacher at Canajoharie Central School and served on the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville merger study committee.
“All of us care about the community, all of us care about the children of our community and we all want what’s best for them for now and into the future,” he said.
A father of four children attending St. Johnsville schools, Eggleston said he wants not only what’s best for his children, but for everyone’s children.
“That’s why I became involved with the board of education,” he said.
Neil Clark is a hydroelectric maintenance mechanic for Brookfield Renewable Power and most recently volunteered his time at the ice skating rink in St. Johnsville. Prior to joining the power industry, he worked as an estimator and project manager for commercial construction handling many public-funded jobs, including St. Johnsville schools.
He said he would like to help the new district build morale.
“We need a proactive board that’s involved and that works closely with leadership,” said Clark, adding he wants to create a district the students will be proud of.
Keith Handy is a dairy and crop farmer who served on the St. Johnsville school board from 1990 to 2005, holding the office of president and vice president during his tenure.
“We need to look at the finances and for the board members to be extremely responsible with the business side of the school,” he said. “If we can keep track of the finances, we will have happy parents, happy teachers and happy students.”
Handy has 11 years of experience as a youth group leader and is an elder in his church, and said he would like to see the district improve and update its technology.
Page 3 of 4 - William Lints works as an environmental scientist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The town of Opppenheim’s dog control officer since 2010, he is a Utica Zoological Society Board of Trustees member and is former president of the New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if you are excited about making this community our own, it’s not going to be built in a day, but this is the time when we can make it our Rome,” said Lints of the new school district.
A former instructor with the State University of New York, he said he understands the arts, humanities, science and math and added he would like to represent the community.
Lee Quackenbush served 21 years as a school administrator, including 10 years as a school superintendent. He retired after serving 33 years in public education.
“My goal is to see the district the best it can be,” said Quackenbush.
He added he would like the district to look at all of its buildings and take advantage of the increased building aid to produce buildings that are in “great condition.”
David Christopher Mosher is a civil engineer with the state Department of Transportation and has served eight years on the St. Johnsville school board. He currently serves as the board’s president and said board members have to ask themselves three questions — “Is it what’s best for kids?” “Is it fair for adults?” and “Is it sustainable for the community?”
“If we ask ourselves those three questions before we make a decision we will create the district that everyone here tonight has been talking about,” said Mosher.
He added he believes the board should follow the merger study as a guide when it comes to fiscal planning and creating “the best possible district for our students.”
Darren Bellen, Glen Blanchard and Patricia Christensen were absent from the event, as each had a prior commitment. Bellen has served on the St. Johnsville Board of Education since 2008 and owns Bellen’s Archery and Recreation, Blanchard is currently serving his twelfth year on the Oppenheim-Ephratah Board of Education and is a senior bus driver for the Little Falls City School District and Christensen is a four-year member of the St. Johnsville school board and is a registered nurse at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica.
In a referendum on Jan. 29, district residents approved the establishment of a seven-member board of education with members serving full terms of three years.
In order to stagger the number of seats up for election each year on the board, the candidates elected with the most votes Tuesday will serve the longest terms, while those elected with the fewest votes will serve shorter terms.
Based on the number of votes received, three members will receive three-year terms, two members will receive two-year terms and two members will receive one-year terms. Winners in all subsequent elections will receive full three-year terms.
Page 4 of 4 - The new board of education will take immediate control of the district once they are elected. Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel will convene the board’s organizational meeting after which the board will select a superintendent, negotiate contracts and finalize the district’s first budget.