By Mark Reynolds
On May 17 Highland voters will not only be voting on the school budget, but will also have the opportunity to select two members for the school board.
Tom Miller has served on the school board for 12 years and is currently its President. He said his service on the board, “is my way of saying ‘thank you’ on behalf of myself and my family. Providing the best educational opportunities and activities for our students in balance with the abilities to support this by our taxpayers is my goal.”
Miller said the Highland district is facing a reliance upon grant funding for social service positions but expects these will eventually have to be integrated into the budget on a more permanent basis. He also favors increasing vocational and alternative career opportunities to support students who want to transition from school to work in the trades.
Miller hopes that in the future, county, state and federal monies are guaranteed, “and increased appropriately to deal with the legacy effects of the pandemic on education and societal dysfunction in general. The local districts have to get back to the core efforts on education and they can specifically supplement some added services but not take them over completely.”
Miller has lived in Highland for 45 years and he and his wife have two sons and a daughter-in-law who live locally and are blessed with two granddaughters.
“I want to make this a better school district for my grandchildren to attend in the future,” he concluded.
Sue Gilmore is running for a final three year term. She and her husband Russell have lived in Highland for 35 years, “and are deeply committed to serving our town in any way we can. (Russell is a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.)
Gilmore believes there should be at least some members on the school board who do not have direct ties to existing or former employees or with members of the school board within the district.
“I feel that I bring an objective point of view that represents the entire community, whether they have children in the district. A $48 million budget with $29 million supported by the local taxpayer commands objectivity.”
Gilmore believes Highland’s school population of 1,600 student, “affords the staff to give much more individualized attention to the student, which is priceless in their personal development.” She pays close attention to the periodic student achievement reports and graduation rates and continually discusses ways to improve student outcomes.
Gilmore’s background in banking, accounting, and human resource management, “allows me to be familiar with the budget process and inner workings of day-to-day management of staff and I am currently a member of the Audit, Contract Negotiation and Diversity Committees.”
Gilmore understands the need for more mental health professionals during the ongoing pandemic, while districts, “are struggling to bring more awareness of equity, diversity, tolerance, acceptance of others.” She noted that the school board, “must carefully balance the financial needs of the district with our community’s ability to pay, whether it is the annual budget or a new capital project request. In addition, all county school boards voted to approve a $39Million dollar project to improve infrastructure and building upgrades to their various locations of Ulster BOCES. Highland’s share of that commitment is $3Million which will be a line item in our future expense budget.”
Simone Stewart is running for the school board for the first time, saying that she wants to, “create a shared vision for academic achievement; to create a high quality education while working with students, parents and with the community.”
If elected, Stewart said her background as a social worker, “will help me focus also on the social emotional outcome of the decision for students and the educational community.”
Stewart has lived in the Hudson Valley for 15 years, holds a BA in Social Studies from SUNY New Paltz and recently received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Adelphi University and is currently pursuing a 2nd Master’s Degree.
Stewart said the taxpayers should, “hold board members accountable for spending and getting results. The school board needs to consistently take the public’s voice into consideration when making decisions.” She believes the board should always be willing to revisit the needs of the students, staff and the community, especially during this challenging time of the pandemic.
Stewart said the board should, “continue to work with the local Department of Health to make sure our children and staff are following the right health protocols; focus on special education students who may have fallen behind due to school closure; strategize on how to continue providing a high quality education and collaborate with board member to use school funds to assist operating costs and other cost relating to Covid related expenses.”
Stewart concluded by quoting President John F. Kennedy’s address at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt on June 25, 1963; “I believe children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” Stewart concurred with the late President’s remarks, adding that, “we must take their education and well-being seriously.”
Several attempts to reach school board candidate Jeanine Gemmell were unsuccessful.