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After Divisive Campaign, Saratoga Springs Voters Choose School Board Candidates

A voting machine

A contentious race for school board in Saratoga Springs has come to an end. Though the tone of the campaign was sometimes negative, the winning candidates say they’re looking forward to working together on the school board.

More than 18,500 ballots were cast in the race for three open seats on the Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education. Seven candidateswere in the race.

The race was dominated by the community conversation surrounding guns in schools. Last fall, the Board of Education elected not to renew a district practice to allow school grounds monitors to arm themselves. The district does have two school resource officers, partnering with the Saratoga Springs Police Department and county sheriff.

The grounds monitors decision prompted the formation of a group called Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools, which then launched an effort to elect a slate of candidates in favor of re-arming grounds monitors. However, only one such candidate was elected to the school board.

Results were close, but the candidate with the most votes according to unofficial results posted Tuesday night was John Brueggemann, a Skidmore College professor.

Brueggemann, who does not support re-arming grounds monitors, acknowledged the contentiousness of the campaign, but says he respects all of the candidates who ran. 

“The more I got to know them, the more I respected them. And I think they all got in this race for the right reasons. They all care about the students of our community. And I hope the people that weren’t elected, I hope they run again. I don’t respect the divisive tactics. The personal attacks, the half-truths. I don’t think we need big money in our school board,” said Brueggemann.

The Safer Schools group raised thousands of dollars, produced ads, hired an outside political consultant to work on the campaign, and distributed robo-messages.

The candidate with the second-most votes was Dean Kolligian, Vice President of Facilities and Security at the Adirondack Trust Company bank. Kolligian was endorsed by the Safer Schools group.

Asked about the negative dialogue during the campaign, particularly on social media, Kolligian said the majority of the debate was in the community and not among the candidates.

“I think we were all knowledgeable enough that moving forward, any of us that were going to be potentially elected, were going to half to work with other folks that may not see eye-to-eye on certain issues that we have. So ultimately, for all of us – I would speak for myself personally, but I would assume for all of us – that negative dialogue wasn’t occurring between us,” said Kolligian.

Kolligian was grateful for all the members of the community who turned out to vote.

The candidate with the third-most votes on election night was Natalya Lakhtakia, a speech pathologist. Lakhtakia, who like Brueggemann doesn’t want to re-arm grounds monitors, called the negativity during the campaign “a letdown.”

“I think that there was a lot of bad communication. And I’m a speech therapist, I firmly believe that good communication is what brings us together. And I think that just the lack of genuine back-and-forth conversation led to a lot of negativity that just wasn’t necessary,” said Lakhtakia.

Though only one of the Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools candidates was elected, in a statement emailed Wednesday morning, the group pointed to the majority of ballots cast in favor of candidates who support re-arming grounds monitors.

Four candidates support the action, but one of the candidates rejected the endorsement from the group during the race.

Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools says the vote “re-affirmed this community’s commitment to the safety of our children, teachers and schools and the strength of our candidates’ qualifications and character.” It added that it was waiting on the final votes to be tallied, including absentee and provisional ballots.

Saratoga Springs voters also approved a school budget and a school bus bonding provision. The new board begins July 1st.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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