By CHRIS EBERHART
Nearly half of Harrison’s Board of Education will be comprised of new faces come the start of the 2014-2015 school year after three incumbents have decided not to run for re-election.
Three seats will be vacated by current school board trustees Paul Curtis, Philip Silano and David Singer.
In Harrison, candidates for the Board of Education run for a specific seat. In this case, Kelly Mulvoy Mangan, 44, is looking to fill Curtis’ seat, Melinda Wolverton, 45, is seeking to fill Silano’s seat and Robert Sullivan, Jr., 53, will look to succeed Singer.
The candidates applauded the departing board members’ body of work and said they want to build on the foundation they laid.
“I have been supportive of the current board and the three board members who are now stepping down,” Sullivan, a patent attorney for Fish & Richardson P.C. and a married father of two Harrison school district students and a Harrison high school graduate, said. “Over the last 10 years, the board has maintained and improved that quality of education in all six of our schools while finding cost efficiencies to minimize tax increase.”
Sullivan said he has familiarity with the budget and the budget process having served as a member of the citizens budget advisory committee for the past 10 years. He believes that knowledge coupled with his experience as an attorney makes him an ideal candidate for the board.
If elected, Sullivan said his first priority will be school maintenance and capital improvements, which he said has been “a looming issue for the district.”
“We need to work on improving our structural facilities in a cost-efficient manner,” Sullivan said. “As time goes by, we will face increased maintenance and repair costs. Addressing these issues now in a targeted fashion will save money in the long run while providing the district with the facilities we need for the future.”
Funds dedicated toward capital repairs and maintenance work saw a reduction of $650,000 in the 2014-2015 budget to keep the school district in-line with the state mandated 3.42 percent tax levy cap.
Sullivan said the cap, along with unfunded state mandates, is the board’s biggest challenge in its quest to provide Harrison students with a quality education.
That sentiment was echoed by Mangan, who said the state constraints are “impacting the district’s ability to execute the vision and goals it has of providing the children of Harrison with the best education possible.”
“The state seems to be trying to remove local control of school districts by tying the hands of school boards and impairing their ability to do what they think is right for their community and their children,” said Mangan, a retired lawyer and stay-at-home mom.
With a student in the fifth grade and twins in the second grade, all three of which attend Harrison Avenue Sc-hool, Mangan said she feels she can bring the perspective of parents of younger children to the board. She said she hopes to create a “community voice” to lobby lawmakers to do away with the gap elimination adjustment, which is anticipated state aid that is withheld by the state to balance its budget.
“I think we need to do a better job of making the community—in Harrison and beyond—aware of the successes and improvements in the school district,” Mangan said. “I also think we need to make the community understand the enormous difficulties created by the state government and create a voice letting Albany know we deserve the money that they have taken for our schools.”
Wolverton has been involved in the Harrison school district for the past eight years as a volunteer, serving as the treasurer of the PTA and class parent. She currently serves as the co-chair of the 5th Grade Committee for the Harrison Avenue School.
She believes her background in finance and operations as a small-business consultant will be an asset to the board.
“The biggest challenge is how to maintain our instructional programs while working within the tax cap and state mandates,” Wolverton said. “My focus in the beginning will be to gain a deeper understanding of budget challenges and the constraints of achieving long-term fiscal stability in the face of the tax cap.”
The school board election and budget vote will be held on May 20.