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Your School Board Election Preview Live From Maura’s (Plus other Rockland stories)

This week in the Villages, we take a closer look at Nyack’s school board election and more.

At Maura’s Kitchen, a group of Nyack parents watched a forum last week featuring the four school board candidates running for two open positions in a race that will be decided on Tuesday. Don’t forget to vote! (Photo by Alex Kratz)

A look at our choices for school board (from the end of the bar)

Those who only knew me in my 20s may not believe this, but it is rare that you will find me at a bar on a school night. (For one, I’m a teacher and my high school students will eat my alive if I’m off my game; and two, because I’m in my mid-40s and drinking one beer feels like the equivalent of six nowadays.)

However, as a Nyack parent, registered voter and moonlighting journalist, I made an exception last Monday to meet the four candidates vying for two Nyack school board seats (and eat some ceviche).

Maura’s, everyone’s favorite Nyack Peruvian joint, makes wonderful ceviche (and yucca fries and guacamole too!) and was a gracious host to a dozen or so Nyack parents who wanted to get a handle on who might be making decisions about their child’s educational experience as one of seven voting members of the board. The vote is Tuesday, May 21, so this amounted to a cram session.

The forum was hosted by the Nyack NAACP and Rockland Pride Center, a nonprofit combination that goes a long way toward educating our voting public. Kudos to both of these organizations for organizing these windows into candidate thinking and disposition — it is always an invaluable resource for voters.

If you really want to develop your own perspective on the candidates, you can watch the entire thing here.

If you’re not interested in doing the full research, here are my quick hit takeaways on each of the candidates (it is far from a comprehensive analysis and should be taken with a grain of salt; again, watch the full video for more details):

  • Bryan Burrell is clearly the most experienced candidate, having served on the board previously during the middle of the Montesano years, including a handful as president. On Tuesday, he was well-spoken, even eloquent at times. Recently, you may have seen him on social media posing with boilers to show his passion for all the behind-the-scenes work the board is responsible for. He stood out for referencing his wife multiple times as evidence for how crucial his appearance in this race must be. In other words, his argument implied, if his wife is agreeing to allow him to run again for school board, a position he says he needed to leave due to the toll it was taking on his well-being, then it must be important and worth all the hassle.
  • We learned a lot about Scott Nappi on Monday night. An active stay-at-home parent and long-time coach, umpire and board member with the Nyack Valley Cottage Congers Little League, Nappi freely discussed his daughter’s bisexuality as well as candid about his views on how the district is handling matters of systemic racism. In what were probably his most controversial comments, Nappi said that after speaking to his kids, both high schoolers at Nyack, as well as black people he knows who have attended or are associated with the school, he believes issues of racism might be getting overblown and emphasized too much over other important issues. We also learned Nappi survived an execution-style shooting 30 years ago as a teenager in a story that made national news. (Editor’s note: I know Nappi from our time on the little league board and he’s widely admired for his dedication to his players and the game, as well as an insane baseball card collection. In that vein, Nappi said his main concern with Nyack schools actually has to do with the decline in sports participation.)
  • Violet Merjanian, an alumnus of Nyack High School (’92), is a supply chain coordinator who has multiple nieces/nephews that attend Nyack schools. At recent board meetings, she has strongly criticized board members for their handling of recent issues, including the hiring of leadership and a lack of transparency with regards to budgeting decisions. During the forum on Monday, Merjanian came off composed and thoughtful with her answers. Merjanian said she stood behind her criticisms of the board, accusing them of “putting politics first” and asking for more transparency and accountability to the community and “to taxpayers above all.” Merjanian and Nappi both expressed skepticism about the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts over recent years.
  • Elaine Philhower, a former music teacher at Liberty elementary who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Clarkstown town council last year, came across as genuine, grandmotherly and much more supportive of the district’s DEI efforts than any of the other candidates, emphasizing her equity leadership work while at Liberty. She said she was “stepping up” because she thought the board needed someone with educational experience — Philhower, who retired in 2020, and Burrell, an educational consultant and former teacher, are the only candidates with teaching experience.
  • Every candidate talked about a lack of trust between the community and the board, with each mentioning the icy relationship between the community, teachers and Superintendent Susan Yom.
  • Special shout out to student timekeeper Jay Ortiz, who was ruthlessly efficient in keeping candidates to their allotted time, and Crystal Smith, the forum’s unflappable facilitator. Well done!

What you need to know about Tuesday school board elections?

Voting for two new board members and the 2024-2025 budget is on Tuesday, May 21, from 7 am to 9 pm at four locations (click on the site for directions and address):

Find your poll site by clicking here.

Check out how the board and administration explain the nearly $107 million budget proposal, which voters must approve in order for it be implemented. Here’s the line-by-line budget if you want to get into the nitty gritty details. Here’s the official Powerpoint presentation on the budget.

A few other highlights:

  • The budget comes out to a grand total of $106,980,788
  • That breaks down like this: most of it, about $87 million goes to the “program component” (mostly instructional staffing and resources), almost $11 million for the “administrative component” (like operations, maintenance and other administrative costs) and the other roughly $9 million goes to the “capital component” (for building and facility repairs and enhancements). See below for the pie chart breakdown that goes into more granular details.
  • The vast majority of the revenue for the budget (nearly 74%) comes from taxes, including a 2.9% hike, which is the highest allowable under the current Tax Levy Cap. Another 20% comes from the state and the other 6-ish percent comes from funding balances and other “miscellaneous” money the district brings in.
  • Aside from maintaining class size and retaining teachers, looks like there’s a focus on developing and expanding their work with literacy, including more of an emphasis on the “science of reading” and expanded literacy professional development and staffing. (Woohoo!)

In Other Local News

A cub scout takes flight from a new playground area designed for all ages at Riverhook in Upper Nyack. See more photos from Riverhook’s Arbor Day celebration here. (Photo by Andrea Swenson)

Congrats to good friend of NNV, Mario the Maker Magician and his whole family band!

  • Congressman Mike Lawler, who is up for re-election, continues to be a leading Republican voice in denouncing pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses, calling the protests antisemitic and criticizing college administrators for not doing enough to make Jewish students feel safe, according to the lohud’s Chris McKenna. A day after police raided a Columbia University building occupied by student protesters and arrested hundreds, a Lawler-sponsored bill that would set standards in American education for defining antisemitism to line up with the definition stated by the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which he says would give more guidance to administrators when attempting to punish the actions of some protesters on campus. According to the definition laid out by the HRA, it appears only some of the protests at Columbia and elsewhere would be defined as antisemitic and there is still plenty of room for interpretation. The bill passed the House with wide support that crossed aisles, 320-91. Critics, including Manhattan representative Jerry Nadler, worried the bill would stifle free speech.

ICYM NNV’s weekly features: See Andrea Swenson’s newest Photo Shoots; Bill Batson’s latest “Nyack Sketch Log”; Mike Hays’ most recent “Nyack People & Places”; and past editions of “The Villages.”

11+ Months Later: Still looking for answers in the death of Sean Harris

We continue to look into the case of Sean Harris, who died under suspicious circumstances after an hours-long standoff with police on May 30, 2023.

[Update: On October 30, 2023, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office said they were still investigating Harris’s case. There has been no update from the AG’s office as of March 8, 2024]

Watch the video from Truth 2 Power below to learn more about what activists are saying, and why family, friends and police reform advocates are demanding answers.

Here’s our breakdown of what happened.

Here’s Lohud reporter Nancy Cutler’s in-depth piece on Harris and his mother’s suspicions about her son’s death here.

Village updates

Nyack

  • Here’s the list of all upcoming meetings posted for the Village of Nyack.
  • If you could use help paying your water bills, click here.
  • Drop off humanitarian aid for victims of the war in Ukraine (including first aid, painkillers, blankets, baby food, diapers, non-perishable food, antibiotics and more, at Village Hall, 9 N. Broadway (or at the Orangetown town hall, 26 W. Orangeburg Rd.).

Upper Nyack

South Nyack

  • Thanks to reader request, we have re-added South Nyack, which dissolved as an official village earlier this year. Please send us info about what’s going on in South Nyack at info@nyacknewsandviews.com.

Orangetown

Clarkstown

  • The Technical Advisory Committee, which “evaluates the technical adequacy of land development applications and decides their readiness for Planning Board review,” meets most Wednesdays, including this Wednesday, from 10 am to noon, in the town hall’s Historic Map Room.
  • For a calendar list of all Clarkstown meetings and events, click here.

Nyack Schools

Check out our latest Nyack Schools Report, a somewhat regular feature we will post whenever possible. (Editor’s note: if you’re interested in writing about schools for Nyack News and Views, lease send us an email at info@nyacknewsandviews.com.

Find out what else is going on in Nyack-area schools at Home Page – Nyack Public Schools (nyackschools.org)

Rockland-wide

It’s now been nearly two years since polio was discovered in Rockland County wastewater, yet Rockland County has the fourth-lowest polio immunization rate in the state, according to Patch. Polio was eliminated in the U.S. starting in 1979, but it appeared again in July 2022 when a Rockland resident tested positive. The virus was subsequently found in New York wastewater, with a positive sample of concern found in Rockland last February.

Here’s some info on how to protect yourself:

  • Pre-register for a free polio vaccination here or call 845-238-1956. Walk-ins also accepted. Local health care providers, including Federally Qualified Health Centers, also provide the vaccine.
  • Learn about polio, including symptoms and spread, by visiting NYSDOH’s page here.
  • Educate yourself about the vaccine at the CDC’s page here.

Musical Outro (we’re getting there!)

Connect with Nyack News and Views

Note to readers: We want to hear from you and welcome your input! What do you think we should be covering in your Rockland County village or town or hamlet? Let us know at info@nyacknewsandviews.com. Send us story ideas, issues to investigate, letters, reviews, photos, videos, feedback and news tips. And read about our vision for delivering high-quality, hyper-local journalism and how you can help us fulfill our mission going forward.


Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.


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