SOMERS, N.Y. – Voters in the Somers Central School District will tackle a wider-than-usual array of decisions when they go to the polls next week.

Besides a proposed $88.3 million budget, residents will be asked to approve spending of $1.7 million for repairs and upgrades at the high school and to choose, for the first time in years, among multiple candidates to fill two school board seats.

Polls will be open Tuesday (May 16) from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Somers Middle School gymnasium. Inside, residents will confront these issues:

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The budget. At $88,330,309, spending in the new school year—it starts July 1—would rise $1,428,558, or 1.64 percent, over current outlays. As always, most of that money would be raised by property taxes, up overall by $1,318,504, a 1.77 percent increase. That translates to a tax rate of $160.23 for each $1,000 of assessed value, up $2.43, or 1.55 percent.

Capital outlays. The Somers Central School District has the necessary money, a total of $1,723,508, to spruce up high school athletic facilities. But it needs voter approval to spend the cash. Since that money is already in the capital-reserve fund, which residents authorized two years ago, the spending will have no impact on property-tax bills. The improvements include new equipment for the wellness/fitness center and pulling up the 10-year-old carpet covering two fields and resurfacing them with new artificial turf.

School board. For the past three Mays, anybody running for a seat on the school board found one. Not so in 2017. Next week, five candidates will compete for two openings on the seven-member board. Seeking three-year terms, they are, in ballot order, MaryRose Joseph, Jonathan F. Welsh, Chadwick Olsen, Lindsay Portnoy and Raina Laredo. Below, you can meet the candidates and learn why they are running.

MaryRose Joseph

‘I am a complete product of the publicly funded educational system, from elementary through postgraduate studies.’

MaryRose Joseph, a public school teacher since 1998, has lived in Somers since 2006 and has two daughters in the Somers school system.

Born in Mumbai, India, she came to America as a young child, attending grade school in Manhattan and high school in Yonkers before earning a degree in psychology at SUNY Buffalo. Joseph went on to earn a master’s in science education at CUNY Lehman and is now pursuing studies in educational administration and leadership at SUNY New Paltz.

Joseph has coached the Science Olympiad at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua since she began teaching there in 2007. In addition, she has been an active supporter of Hilltop Hanover farm through its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and was a Girl Scout troop leader for several years.

Why I am running: Many issues in the world need work. Tackling them takes time and focused energy. I wanted to take on the task of being on a school board when I knew I could put total concerted effort and energy into it. I am entering my 20th year as a teacher. I will have more time to devote to working on improving our school community. 

Currently, no school board member in Somers has the career background I have. Discussions `by a school board that includes varied viewpoints, especially an educator’s viewpoint, make for more-informed, well-rounded decisions. 

A school board member knows how to listen to others, gather reliable information/data, analyze it independently and collaboratively, and then make decisions that positively impact all students in the Somers community. However, these decisions have fiscal impacts and so, they should be fiscally responsible and data-driven. A school board member will install policies and programs that are for the greater good of the community and for a more-enriched student experience.

One major issue that I think all boards are facing is consistent, clear, honest communication. Schools bring about many initiatives that have certain goals in mind: the rolling out of PLDs for all students, for example, or the new Gifted & Talented program.

I believe the board and the district need to do a better job communicating the research behind these initiatives. What drives them? What information was gathered about these programs and their associated successes?  What data has been collected since their rollout? What are they doing to ensure the success of these programs and initiatives?

When there is transparency, there is trust! People want to know what their money is being spent on. People want to know the scientific thinking behind these programs. We all want our children to have the best possible outcome.

Jonathan F. Welsh

‘I want to help make a change [and] continue the good work the board has done so far.’

Born in Tuckahoe 20 years ago this month, Jonathan F. Welsh moved with his family to Yorktown Heights and the Somers Central School District in 2008. He is a 2015 graduate of Somers High School.

Now a student at Westchester Community College, Welsh plans to pursue a degree in political science and would like one day to enter politics.

Why I am running: I am running for the Somers Board of Education because I want to help make a change. And I also want to continue the good work the board has done so far. And expand on its work.

I view the role of a trustee as someone who cares about the students, along with the community, and tries to connect everyone so we can all communicate better with each other.

I don’t see any major issues with the Board of Education, but it will possibly face financial trouble when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos tries to remove funding from public schools and hand that over to private and charter schools. The best way to help that is to propose increasing the property tax levy by a higher percentage than the tax cap permits and try to have the state subsidize and cover the costs we would lose because of her actions.

In addition to my college career, I am working at a Rite Aid. With that schedule it has been hard to take part in school or town organizations. But if I am elected, I would make time for the meetings with the Board of Education.

Chadwick Olsen

Growing up as the son of a teacher-father ‘helped foster my deep-seated belief in quality public education.’

A stay-at-home dad since moving to Somers 13 years ago, Chadwick Olsen has three daughters in Somers schools. He was elected in 2015 to finish the two years remaining in the term of a trustee who had resigned.

Olsen grew up in Wisconsin, where his father was a public school teacher, coach and athletic director, and went on to earn a B.S. in economics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Before taking up homefront responsibilities in Somers, he worked on information systems at Lord & Taylor, Arthur Andersen Business Consulting and First Consulting Group. 

Since moving to Somers, Olsen has been a Girl Scout troop leader. For the past four years he’s co-chaired the Girl Scout Veterans Day Cookie Project, “a way to both thank our veterans for their service and sacrifices and to help our Girl Scouts appreciate what service and sacrifice mean.”

Why I am running: Our public schools play a critical role in the development of our children into productive, independent and responsible members and leaders of our society. The quality and character of our school district also reflects and enhances the image and value of our town.

As a current trustee, I will continue to maintain a long-term view for our infrastructure investments and educational programs, both from a budgetary and curriculum standpoint. I will continue to have an open mind to the suggestions and concerns of Somers residents and other stakeholders and will thoughtfully apply an independent lens to make decisions that will meet those goals.

We must provide our educational programs and innovations within the framework of New York education law and ensure that we support all our students, teachers and administrators. I pledge to continue to bring thoughtful insight to the challenges that confront our board and community.

Preparing our children for the rapidly changing society of the 21st century requires new approaches to educating. We must take advantage of new technologies that enhance our students’ learning and prepare them to meet future demands.

We now have the opportunity and obligation to evolve our teaching practices to guide students into greater areas of discovery. Combining STEM instruction has been shown to provide both a deeper and wider understanding for students. I believe adding arts to blended instruction (STEAM) will additionally enhance ingenuity and curiosity as well as cast a wider net for student involvement and collaboration. 

Our educators need support and tools to move beyond traditional teaching methods. To guide our children to success in this era, we must invest further in the professional learning framework we have developed during my tenure and leverage proven visionary strategies such as those employed in the International Baccalaureate courses.

Dr. Lindsay Portnoy

‘I’m looking to give back to this community using my unique skills as a career educator, businesswoman, Ph.D. and parent.’

Dr. Lindsay Portnoy is chief learning officer of Killer Snails LLC, an innovative educational-technology company she helped to create. The mother of two boys in the Somers school system, Portnoy is also a certified teacher, with a doctorate in learning and development.

A Michigan native, she is a graduate of Michigan State University and earned her doctoral degree at Fordham University. For 10 years, as a professor at Hunter College, she prepared graduate and undergraduate students for classroom, administrative and counseling careers.

Portnoy then co-founded Killer Snails, a company that builds immersive learning experiences to engage students in STEM learning. She does grant writing and curriculum design and aligns content to learning standards and the accompanying assessment dashboards.

With sons at Primrose and SIS, Portnoy is a member of the PTA at both buildings and has served as class parent. She is also a trustee of the Somers Education Foundation and sits on that support organization’s scholarship committee.

Why I am running: The success of the Somers Central School District is due in large part to the school board’s support of students, teachers, parents and community. If elected I will bring four perspectives that make me uniquely qualified to serve on the school board. First, I am a co-founder of a successful educational technology business and have won nearly $2 million in grant funding to run my own business using educational technologies to improve learning outcomes for students. Second, I’m a certified teacher and have taught and conducted professional developments in classrooms from pre-K to 12th grade for over a decade. Third, I hold a Ph.D. in the study of learning and development where I’ve worked as a professor of undergraduate and graduate teachers, building administrators and counseling psychologists at Hunter College. Fourth, and most importantly, I have two children currently enrolled in two different Somers public schools.

Dwindling enrollment and a federal push for privatization will create significant fiscal challenges for our schools. Paired with the innovative new curriculum implemented in Somers schools from the International Baccalaureate to the improved science and social studies standards, we need a school board that understands the learning sciences as well as how to maintain an educational budget. There is a science to educational policy setting, and it relies on a strong understanding of the psychology of learning, methodically distinguishing beneficial programs from fads, and the responsible managing of funds. My unique skill set as a businesswoman, educator, researcher and parent will allow me to serve the school board by enacting fiscally responsible budgets to fund educational policies and innovative curriculum to boost engagement and learning that will ensure our students emerge from Somers schools as prepared citizens of the world and successfully contributing members of society.

Raina Laredo

‘My professional skills are relevant to being a board trustee; I am an effective communicator, detail-oriented, curious and approachable.’

Raina Laredo, an information architect and content strategist, has lived in Katonah for 18 years and sent three children to Somers schools, including a recent graduate and an SHS senior and freshman. 

Born in the Bronx, she grew up in Yorktown Heights and went to schools there, graduating from Yorktown High School. Laredo earned a B.S. in industrial economics with a focus on electrical engineering from Union College in Schenectady. She then “moved around a bit,” working for IBM, among others, before returning, now married and a mother, to Westchester.

Today, Laredo works with clients to develop digital marketing strategies with a focus on a website user’s experience in usability and satisfaction. She has been involved in school STEM activities, helping to start Hands-On Science night at SIS, mentoring during Engineering Week at SIS and SMS, and is involved in the Science Research Foundation at SHS.

Why I am running: I am running for the Somers school board because for 18 years Somers schools have been a daily part of my life. I feel very connected to all four schools and to the community and I have gained a lot of valuable perspectives from living through all the challenges and enhancements over the years. I want to offer my insights, experience and professional skills as a contribution back to the community. 

A school board member needs to be responsive to the taxpayer and ensure fiscal responsibility while making sure students are successful and district goals are met. The administration has laid out a strong and desirable plan so it is critical for a school board member to work collaboratively within the board to analyze, question and validate all initiatives while also carefully reviewing and putting forth a responsible budget. I am very excited by the programs that are being rolled out throughout the district and believe these will help open doors for children in our community at a new level.

A major issue facing the board is being adaptive to constantly changing state legislation—such as the tax levy cap, revised standards and mandates without funding. For example, while the intention of the tax levy is good, the majority of the school budget covers salaries and benefits that rise at a higher rate than the tax cap. I would work with the team to diligently monitor any changes and new demands on resources to ensure that the Board of Education can respond quickly and appropriately to protect investments in programs. I believe we need to share ideas with other school boards to find innovative solutions to common challenges. My career in analyzing information, developing creative solutions, and communicating effectively would serve well in accomplishing these goals.