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Four vye for three spots on Potsdam School Board


POTSDAM - One of the few contested races for school board seats in the region is in Potsdam, where voters will be electing three board members from a field of four that includes a former board of education member, two newcomers and only one incumbent.

Voters will be deciding between Ralph L. Fuller, Ann M. Carvill, Judith M. Hinman and Rachel H. Wallace. The three seats on the ballot are full, three-year terms.

Ralph L. Fuller

Mr. Fuller, who has been on the board since 1998, said it is his desire to leave the district in a better spot than it was in when he first joined the board, a goal that he said would not be fulfilled if her were to leave the board now.

“I kind of feel like when you start something you want to leave it better than it was when you started,” he said. “Within the first couple months of being elected to the board, we found out we were about $1.5 million in debt. We got through that and added some stuff back, but then over the last few years, we’re right back where we were with having make cuts, due to unfunded mandates and cuts in school aid.”

Mr. Fuller said given those mandates and the decrease in aid over the years he’s happy with the budget the board was able to put together.

“We used fund balance and reserves and stayed under the cap. We kept programs intact. I think given what we had to work with we did a good job. I don’t think we could have done any better,” he said.

As for the next three years, Mr. Fuller said there are a few things he’s looking forward to dealing with.

“I was the chairman of the buildings and grounds committee during the last capital project,” he said. “I hope I can help with that.”

Mr. Fuller also currently serves on the personnel and negotiations committee.

“As chairman of the personnel and negotiations committee, we have just started negotiations with the administrators, one-year support staff and CSEA employees. I know we’re still in tight times, but I hope we came come up with a contract that is fair to the employees and the taxpayers.”

While Mr. Fuller is hoping to secure his sixth term on the board, even if things don’t go his way on Tuesda, he said the school will be in good shape.

“I think it’s a good group of people to work with and whoever gets on the board will do a good job,” he said.

Mr. Fuller is employed as a senior control operator for the New York Power Authority. He graduated from Potsdam Central School in 1976. He also attended SUNY Cobleskill and graduated from SUNY Canton.

He lives in Potsdam with his wife and is the father of two children, who both graduated from Potsdam Central School.

Ann M. Carvill

Ms. Carvill is a former board of education president looking to join the board for the third time, after having served from 1991 through 1997 and 2005 through 2011.

When asked why she’s running, Ms. Carvill said it’s simple; she has a passion for education.

“My background is in teaching. I have taught in the elementary, middle school and high school, and I’m passionate about education,” she said. “The other major reason I’m running is Potsdam Central is at a critical juncture, facing both educational and fiscal insolvency and the poor health of the public school system will have a negative impact on the colleges, hospital and Potsdam economy unless things are turned around quickly.”

As for this year’s budget, Ms. Carvill said in her eyes nothing shows what a district’s priorities are like how they spend their money.

“I think obviously a budget signifies your priorities,” she said. “In my estimation, what I would of rather seen is the grown-ups taking on the issue of health insurance costs, because that’s close to $6 million. That is the thing really breaking the back of the school district, and I would think they would address that issue instead of cutting so many teaching positions, CSEA positions and student programs.”

With the district’s fiscal problems not expected to be solved in the immediate future, Ms. Carvill said she would like to see the district exploring others ways to save money and increase revenues.

“I would like to see the school quickly look into the possibility of merging or becoming a magnet school, because then we could draw students from outside district boundaries,” she said. “Broadly put, we need to stabilize the school so they are fiscally and educationally viable, and I think anyone looking at the school would have the same priorities.”

Ms. Carvill is a former teacher, who has taught on Long Island, as well as in Syracuse and the north country.

She graduated from SUNY Potsdam with a master’s degree in reading and also attended Adelphi and Syracuse universities.

She lives in Potsdam with her husband and one of their sons. She has three sons, all of whom graduated from Potsdam Central School.

Judith M. Hinman

As the mother of three children, two of whom are currently enrolled in the district, Ms. Hinman said she fears her two young daughters may not have the same opportunities as her son.

“I have a daughter who is a freshman in the high school and a daughter who is in the third grade and the next few years are going to be critical,” she said. I want to have a say in their education.”

Given the critical juncture the district is in, Ms. Hinman said she realizes things are going to change; she just wants to make sure they change for the better and not for the worse.

“There are going to be a lot of changes, and I want to make informed decisions that would be best for all our students.”

While she said she would look out for all students, Ms. Hinman, who works as a special education teacher, also said she would be an advocate for the district’s special education students.

“I’m a strong advocate for special education programs,” she said. “I would like to be more involved in the district’s special education programs.”

When asked for her thoughts on this year’s budget, Ms. Hinman said she wasn’t in a position to comment on whether she would have made changes, but she said she feels like the district is doing the best they can.

“I don’t feel like I’m in a position at this point to make that determination, because I wasn’t involved in the process,” she said. “I think considering what they’re working with they’re doing the best they can. It’s not perfect, but given the state funding and the circumstance they’re working with they’re doing the best they can.”

Ms. Hinman lives in Potsdam with her husband and two daughters. She is also the mother of a son, who graduated from Potsdam Central School.

Ms. Hinman also graduated from Potsdam Central School as well as SUNY Potsdam. “Both my husband and I have lived here our whole lives,” she said. “I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready to give this 100 percent of my time and energy,” she said. “I’m ready to listen and learn. I think it’s a very strong board with a lot of experience, and I’m ready to learn from their experience. I just want to be a part of the decision-making process.”

Rachel H. Wallace

Ms. Wallace, who has two students currently enrolled at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School, said through no fault of its own the district is in the midst of some trying times and she would like to be a part of the solution.

“I’ve felt like our district is facing a lot of challenges,” she said, “I feel like I’m uniquely positioned to walk them through. I feel like I’ve got a good relationship with the school, but I’m not employed by the school.”

And while Ms. Wallace may be a newcomer to the board, should she be electe, she’s not a newcomer for advocating on behalf of the district.

“I’ve been very active in the school equity movement, so I have a good grasp on the issues we’re facing,” she said.

And given that understanding, Ms. Wallace said she thinks the district did a good job with this year’s budget, noting there isn’t anything she would change - for this year.

“The biggest problem is there is such a disconnect with how school funding works,” she said. “Going forward I think we need to stop being reactionary, because I don’t think our funding issues are going away any time soon.”

That being said, Ms. Wallace said she would like to see the district come up with a way to not be so dependent on the state.

“I’m only one person, but I’m hoping we can do a few things,” she said. “One is to work in the community and to start looking forward in terms of strengthening Potsdam Central and trying to do more on our own instead of relying so much on the state.”

She also said she would take a stand on testing and evaluations for teachers and administrators.

“I want to make sure everything is fair. I don’t feel like what the state is doing right now is fair.”

Ms. Wallace also said she’s currently involved in the PTSA and would like to see the lines of communication between the district and the community become more open.

“As a parent, in my current role I’m the VP for the PTSA. One of the biggest issues we’re having is making sure the information flow is getting where it is supposed to. I think it’s getting better, however, at this point in time we need the families in our district and the community to fully understand how things work and conversely the district neds to understand how families in the community feel about issues.”

Ms. Wallace is employed as a research technician in the biology department at Clarkson University. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Skidmore College and a master’s degree in plant biology from The Ohio State University. She graduated from Whethersfield High School in Whethersfield, Conn.

She lives in Potsdam with her husband and two children, both fourth graders.

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