League of Women Voters Hosts School Board Candidate Forum for North Salem Central School District

The League of Women Voters of Northern Westchester introduced voters in the North Salem school district to three candidates for two open seats on the Board of Education: Paul Giamundo (incumbent), Brian Lange and Jaime Roche. Eileen Nadelson, President of the League of Women Voters, encouraged voters to get involved wherever decisions are made that matter. She remarked that for most of us, the school board is that place. In the opening commentary, Nadelson said, “do not be casual about voting for your school board candidates.” The ensuing discussion was designed to get to know the candidates prior to the May 18 vote.

The discussion was moderated by Katherine Dering, VP and voter service for The League of Women voters. The candidates delivered opening and closing statements and answered nine questions, some of which were sent in by community members. All three candidates emphasized their connection to the community. Jaime Roche said, “I get it now. I get what is so special about this place.” Paul Giamundo described North Salem as a “gem of a school district'' and candidate Brian Lange, an alumni of North Salem Schools, described North Salem as “small but mighty with that small nature, we are tight knit. It’s a loving and welcoming community.”

There was overlap with the candidates in their discussion of mental health awareness. Giamundo, who has been on the Board for 16 years, remarked that 15 months ago he might have agreed with communication as being a primary issue, but now “communication has taken a back seat to mental health.” Roche, who has a social work background, also emphasized mental health as a priority, saying, “identifying all these diverse needs. Identifying and working together to try and meet some of these needs. It will take us longer than a year to undo this.” While candidate Brian Lange focused on the idea of North Salem facing a “facilities crisis within a communications crisis,” he too emphasized concern for the mental health of North Salem students. Lange’s solution is a greater emphasis on extracurricular activities to re-engage the student body.

Questions were raised on issues of racial and gender diversity and the role that North Salem trustees should take in facilitating this growth process. Lange explained that in a survey he created to collect information on the most pressing issues facing our community, he cited discrimination and diversity as a top issue.

“This is an absolutely necessary discussion,” Lange said. “It reflects the progressive politics of our student body.” With similar energy, Roche called on her experience in social work to explain why diversity is such a pressing issue for our community. “As someone in the field of social work, this is very important to me. Other schools are becoming more culturally responsive and the Board is responsible for creating a more culturally responsive climate. We are headed in the right direction.” Giamundo agreed, lending support to the path that the Board is currently on, in hiring outside consultants and developing a path forward. He reminded the viewer that “this topic is not one that will be addressed by one or two meetings. It is study and long range for all the students to be part of.”

Lange, a former student liaison to the Board of Education (2015-2017) heavily emphasized the idea of grant writing and not leaving “money on the table” so that the Board is making North Salem as desirable as it can be to “staunch the bleeding of decreasing enrollment.” Giamundo explained that decreasing enrollment was something all districts were facing and he believed that things would improve. “People will move into a house and have children. K enrollment is up. I hope the housing market picks up and more people move into a town.” In a rebuttal to Lange, Giamundo said that “there is no success in school districts that merge. Merging is not an option.”

In response to a question about the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the district, both Roche and Lange commented on the district’s size. Roche said of the district’s small size, “everyone knows everyone really well. That is a strength for us.” Roche went on to describe how communication and transparency were things North Salem had to improve upon. In a similar way, Lange characterized the district’s smallness as both a strength and a weakness. “The smallness can be seen as a weakness. They [larger districts] can have more diversity of extra curricular.” Giamundo, however, focused on the strength of the district as being one that “hires good people." He went on to say that the Board has one employee and that one employee is the superintendent of the schools. He described Superintendent Ken Freeston as “top notch.”

All three candidates closed with a different message and emphasis. Roche closed with the statement “We all kind of agree on the issues that we have. We can all work on changing things. If you weigh them, our district has so many strengths.” Giamundo closed by thanking both Roche and Lange, remarking that, “we need more people like them who are willing to do it positively.” Lastly, Lange noted that, “a board is accountable to its constituents” and made a final request for increased transparency and improved communication.

To access the full recording of the meeting, visit the North Salem Board of Education archived videos and locate May 10, Meet the Candidates recording. Candidates will be voted on during the May 18 vote. If you wish to learn more about how to become a voter, please visit the NSCSD website.

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