By LIZ BUTTON
Rye City School District parents Jason Mehler and Blake Jines-Storey will join current board member Karen Belanger in this year’s contest to capture two vacancies on the Board of Education.
Mehler, the veteran of two unsuccessful attempts to win a seat on the City Council, has been a vociferous critic of the school board and a regular presence at board meetings since his wife, Osborn School fourth grade teacher Carin Mehler, was reassigned to home along with three other teachers after allegations of “improper coaching” on state tests surfaced last May.
“The situation with the reassigned teachers opened my eyes to the mistreatment of the teachers, the abuse of power and the complete waste of taxpayers’ money that are the hallmarks of the current board,” Mehler said.
Mehler, a 48-year-old real estate broker at William Raveis, lost out in an effort to capture one of four open seats in last year’s City Council election. He also vied in 2012 to be appointed to an open seat when former Republican Councilwoman Suzanna Keith left town; the seat ultimately went to current Republican Councilwoman Julie Killian.
Mehler and his wife have lived in Rye since 2000 and have two daughters, Rachel and Emily, who attend Rye schools. His past jobs include work as an accountant for three different financial firms and as a tax manager at Axium Payroll Services.
A plain lack of fiscal responsibility during Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez’s tenure and the board’s current leadership has served to compound the district’s recent problems related to teacher treatment, Mehler said.
“While resources for many necessary programs and services have been cut, the board continues to make irrational decisions about where to spend our money,” he said.
Over the past year, the board has voted to hire short term leave replacement teachers on salary to fill in for the reassigned teachers and has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees to investigate the allegations of improper coaching.
He added that the district’s treatment of teachers in the schools has reached an all-time low.
“I believe we must repair the damaged relationship between teachers and the board,” he said.
Mehler said he made sure to check with his wife’s lawyer, Manhattan-based civil rights attorney Arthur Schwartz, as to whether there was a conflict of interest inherent in his candidacy due to the lawsuit his wife filed in late March against six members of the Board of Education, the superintendent, the board’s attorney and several school administrators.
In comparison, Jines-Storey’s motivations behind his candidacy differ widely.
He said he was approached to run by board member Nancy Pasquale, whom his family knows through Milton School.
“I had been toying with the idea of running for school board,” Jines-Storey, the chief technology officer of Zachys Wine International in Scarsdale for the past four years, said.
“I have been looking at the makeup of the board and, currently, we have lawyers, we have teachers, but we don’t have anyone with a technology background. I think I can add a different voice to the board,” he said. Over the past two years, Jines-Storey, 39, has volunteered his time on the Board of Education’s curriculum council and its instructional technology committee. In fact, Belanger, his opponent, was Jines-Storey’s colleague on the technology and curriculum committees.
Jines-Storey and his wife Kelly, an attorney, also have two daughters, Nola, an eighth grade student at the middle school, and Marra, who is in second grade at Milton School.
“I know that people come to Rye for the schools. My wife and I looked at several areas before moving here four years ago from Columbus, Ohio, and we ultimately chose Rye for its reputation as a top-notch, very high-performing district,” he said.
Jines-Storey has worked as a technology consultant for most of his career, including work with companies and government agencies like the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Education, BMW Financial, Nationwide Insurance and, most recently, 10 years at Zachys before becoming chief technology officer of the company.
Jines-Storey has a Bachelors of Science degree in software engineering from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, although he started out his education in Ohio State University’s engineering program. He said he is strongly interested in furthering the development of STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—curriculum in Rye schools.
“Both of my daughters are very interested in technology,” he said. “I see my eighth grade daughter, my oldest, who is really interested, so I kind of want to promote that a bit within the school board.”
To prepare for the work he hopes is ahead, Jines-Storey said he is working on expanding his focus within the school district from the issues a typical involved school parent would know to a broader view, like learning more about the tax levy cap and the utility tax the district is currently considering.
“Right now, I am really digging into the budget and, over the next several days, I plan to meet with as many people as I can,” he said, referring to PTO presidents and board members.
One issue that has been on board members’ plates this year is that of the four re-assigned teachers, but Jines-Storey said, while he has heard rumors, he cannot make any kind of a judgment since he is not part of the board.
Petitions to run for school board were due by April 30, after press time.
A veteran of the Board of Education, board member Edward Fox will vacate his seat this year, concluding nine years of service. He announced at the March 11 board meeting he would not seek another term. First-term board member Karen Belanger announced she would run for re-election after three years on the board.