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Candidates for Saratoga Springs School Board talk priorities, platforms during forum

Mat Kopans, Connie Woytowich, Joe
Saratoga Springs City School District
Mat Kopans, Connie Woytowich, Joe Sabanos, and Deb Amory discussing their priorities and platforms for their board of education campaigns

Candidates running for the Saratoga Springs Board of Education attended a forum Tuesday to discuss their platforms ahead of next week’s vote.

The Saratoga County League of Women Voters hosted four candidates running for three open seats. A fifth candidate, incumbent Amanda Ellithorpe was not in attendance.

Connie Woytowich has previously served on the school’s board, and sees the body as a way to keep school leadership in check.

“Recently, we have faced serious challenges such as an independent audit revealing that our books had not been reconciled in a timely manner and prior years. And concerning accusations about our sports program. These issues underline the need for us to enhance our oversight mechanisms, including communication. Furthermore, as we face declining enrollments, it becomes even more critical to scrutinize our budget closely, we must ensure that every dollar spent is an investment in the future of our students helping to sustain and enhance the quality of education amid these demographic shifts,” said Woytowich.

A proposed budget for the 2024-2025 school year of over $148 million would be a 4.2% increase in spending, with a 3.49% tax levy increase.

Renewed allegations of abuse against a number of coaches resulted in an investigation of the school’s athletics program. That investigation found the school had inadequately responded to complaints that span nearly four decades. The district is conducting a review of its sports program with the help of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and has stood by its long-tenured running coaches, who were at the center of the report.

Deb Amory is a professor and chair of the Social Science and Public Affairs department at Empire State University.

“I would support the vision of the board as one of oversight but not involved in the day to day running of the schools not telling people what to teach or what books should be in the library, but rather to focus on policy and budget and working with the superintendent,” said Amory.

Debates over school book bans and curriculum concerns have raged across the country. Amory raised concerns over legislation in states like Florida she says have resulted in inappropriate changes to the teaching of race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Amory said it’s v ital to support LGBTQ students to ensure their academic success, and disagreed with parental notification policies.

“It's an ongoing, evolving practice. But you create safe zones where students know they can go to people who have been trained to provide support. You enact policies across the district to support trans students, as well as LGBTQ students. And you celebrate the diversity that trans students bring to the community. And you celebrate the long histories of gender non-conforming peoples in the United States, among Native American groups, there are long traditions of trans identity and around the world. So, there's lots of ways to provide that support,” said Amory.

Matt Kopans works as a development officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater New York.

“Our school district, like our community, is very homogenous in the way it looks. And those who are not part of that community often feel left out or not part of our school district. The overt racism and homophobia heard in our hallways, is just a symptom, I think of bigger challenges. And I think the board really needs to lead the way to set policy to make sure that all of our students are treated equitably, and feel welcome at our schools,” said Kopans.

Allegations that the district has responded inadequately to discriminatory behavior and use of racist language by students were renewed last year. District officials say they take such instances seriously.

Increased police presence in schools in the form of School Resource Officers has been a national and local concern.

Joe Sabanos, a graduate of Saratoga Springs High School, said a balance between mental health services and physical security measures is the best approach to student and staff safety.

“I do believe that the safest way to reduce violence from actually occurring is to prevent it from escalating in the first place. I do believe that this will would rely on us mental health professionals, a qualified and trained school resource officer and social workers. I think that seeking out the students who may be struggling in school or at home is the first step towards helping them stay on a safe path,” said Sabanos.

Kopans is skeptical about adding more SROs.

“There does seem to be evidence that armed police officers make already marginalized students feel less safe. Having more support for our students in counseling, doe in fact make students safer as a whole. So, I would be very much in support of, of increasing the number of counselors or the number of resources for students to get counseling and, decreasing, frankly, the number of armed police officers in our schools in particular elementary schools where there's really no evidence that that is useful at all,” said Kopans.”

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m.until 9 p.m.

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