By LIZ BUTTON
Nine-year Rye City School District Board of Education veteran Edward Fox will not seek another term this year, while first-term member Karen Belanger has thrown her hat into the ring for a second go-around.
When it comes to Fox’s decision not to run again, it is all about time.
“I think nine years is enough,” he said.
Fox, a bankruptcy lawyer at Polsinelli in Manhattan, said his decision was not affected by the recent tension between he and board president Laura Slack over his opinion that the board has unnecessarily prolonged the reassignment of four elementary school teachers who were removed from their classrooms almost a year ago over allegations of “improper coaching” on state tests last April.
Due to his stance, Fox, 54, was the only current board member not sued by one of the teachers, Carin Mehler, who filed suit on March 27 for $2 million, individually suing the superintendent, board members, the board’s attorney and a number of administrators on the grounds that they violated her civil rights by keeping her out of the classroom since May.
His recent battles with Slack aside, Fox said he still believes every board member always has what is best for students in mind.
“Over the years, I have worked with an awful lot of board members and I think it is fair to say that, even when I disagreed with people, it was clear that everyone always had the best interest of the kids of the district at heart,” Fox said.
Fox and Belanger, who has been on the board for the past three years, announced their respective intentions at a March 11 school board meeting.
Belanger, 48, said being on the board has been one of the more frustrating, but rewarding, experiences of her life. Since joining the board, she said she has learned a lot about the Rye City School District and about public education in the state, which will help her serve the people of Rye even better for another three-year term.
The deadline to submit petitions to run for either Fox’s or Belanger’s seats is April 30. So far, no prospective candidates have handed in petitions, but, according to Slack, some people have expressed interest and asked for more information about the position.
Fox started on the board in 2005, and has been a fiscal watchdog for the district ever since; this year was no
Over the years, Fox has been a strong voice in expounding on the district’s financial woes: the increase in pension costs from Albany, the lack of state aid, the state-required implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards and unfunded state mandates that continue to build up costs for school districts all over New York.
When it comes to this year’s budget and the board’s impending decision on whether to push for an override of the state’s 2 percent tax cap on property tax levy increases or implement a utility tax on residents accompanied by a tax cap compliant budget, Fox, who chairs the board’s finance committee, said he understands board members’ concerns that the 60 percent approval of the public required for an override would be more difficult to obtain than the standard 50 percent.
“For anyone who is thinking about not wanting an override, if you look at it in terms of the actual economics, [an override] is the most economical way for people to go,” Fox said. “I would take the override and increase the property tax rather than do a utility tax.”
Unlike a utility tax, property taxes are deductible from a homeowner’s federal tax bill.
Belanger takes the view that, while the board has done a lot over the last two years in terms of cutting expenditures, the fund balance, currently at $11.2 million, has been drawn down a lot and student enrollment, the biggest cost driver for any school system since it requires hiring new teachers, continues to increase.
Belanger, who has a background in management consulting and an MBA, started off as a class parent and got involved with the Midland School PTO as president from 2009 to 2011.
Before her family moved to Rye in 1999, she worked for a Boston consulting group, doing financial analyses and strategic planning projects, she said.
“Everybody who gets on the board brings their own skill set to the board. For me, it’s been my background in management and finance that has been helpful walking in the door,” Belanger, who has three children in the Rye school system, said. “I also volunteered for the last 12 years and I am still there in the schools.”