Four candidates up for three seats on Saranac Lake school board

Election and budget vote is May 17

Mark Farmer, Paul Herrmann, Zachary Randolph, Tori Thurston

SARANAC LAKE — There are four candidates running for three open board of education seats in the Saranac Lake Central School District’s May 17 election — Zachary Randolph, Mark Farmer, Tori Thurston and Paul Herrmann.

Randolph and Farmer are incumbent candidates running to keep their seats on the board. Thurston and Herrmann are running to join the board.

All of the candidates said they care deeply about having a safe school, spending taxpayer money well and fostering learning in the next generation.

Mark Farmer

Mark Farmer (Photo provided)

Farmer is running for a second term on the board, but he had never planned on serving a first term. He didn’t run for his first term, but no one was running for an open seat in 2019 — 18 people wrote Farmer’s name in on their ballots and he agreed to accept the position.

“I’m glad I’m serving,” Farmer said last week. “I enjoy it.”

He spoke highly of his fellow school board members. He sees his position on the board as a crucial way to serve his community.

Farmer was an employee with SLCSD for 30 years. In three decades, he taught history; was the athletic director and dean of students; and coached football, hockey, softball and baseball.

Paul Herrmann (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbon)

He said he always enjoyed seeing students in a different light through his changing jobs and he enjoyed students getting to see him in a different light.

Being in the district for so long, he said he brings a deep knowledge of its history and backstories to the board.

As an example, Farmer said the district is considering redoing its running track at the high school. He remembers when that was swampland. He said the track was built before the Adirondack Park Agency was founded, and thinks the district should take some samples and investigate the state of the land it is built on.

He saw this district enter the coronavirus pandemic during his term and said he wants to continue on the board as the pandemic continues. He’s also interested in overseeing the next phase of the district’s multi-year capital building project. Farmer said he enjoys preparing future generations for their lives.

He got his start at SLCSD teaching U.S. history and American government, so he said he’s interested in local government. Farmer said work on the board is more about “steady everyday work” rather than “giant one-off accomplishments.”

Zachary Randolph (Photo provided)

Zachary Randolph

The word Randolph continually used for being on the school board was “honor.” He is honored to be on the board and sees it as a serious position to hold.

He’s been on the board for a year now and said, so far, it’s been like “drinking out of a fire hose of information.” He’s consistently described himself as a “curious interrupter,” and he plans to continue that, asking plenty of questions and making sure the public has context for the board’s decisions.

Tori Thurston (Photo provided)

He said he enjoys being on a board with a diverse set of opinions.

“I think it’s great that the board is able to be constructive in its dialogue,” Randolph said. “We don’t always agree, but we also don’t take that personally.”

He said he likes that the board does business in a transparent way at public meetings and that it gives members of the public a voice. He said he gets “jazzed” to represent the school board to the community and represent the community to the school board.

Randolph said he’s proud of being on the CSEA labor union negotiation team. He said the school support staff the union represents “keep the school glued together.” He said his goal is to give them equitable employment and he wants to highlight that more often.

Randolph said there’s more work to be done on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee and in addressing socioeconomic disparities. The state is also asking schools to make energy changes to lessen their environmental impact.

Rural schools are meant to care for the community, he said, as well as preparing its future citizens for success.

Randolph is the board’s liaison to the Bloomingdale Elementary School.

Tori Thurston

Thurston said Saranac Lake has a good school district with “amazing” teachers and administrators, but that they can always do better. She feels the board has a resignation toward being static.

“I think there needs to be somebody on the board with a fresh perspective,” Thurston said.

She said she cringes while listening in to board meetings when she hears someone say “this is the way we’ve always done things.”

She said she’d bring questions like “Why have we always done it this way?”

Thurston said she is a person who, if she doesn’t know the answer to a question, she’ll find the answer. She said she’s read through the school’s policy manual and developed some ideas she wants to bring to the board.

Teachers need help, but funding for them is finite, she said. In the district’s policy manual, she said she found a section on volunteerism. The district’s volunteer policy allows the schools to work with community members to provide “more individualized and enriched opportunities in instruction.”

Thurston said there are retired professionals in the area who would love to tutor students in their fields of expertise, they just need to be asked. This would be a sort of school-facilitated tutoring, she said.

Thurston said bringing in experts to talk about careers could lead to internship opportunities. She also said if more people are involved in the schools, they have more interest in district news and voting on school budgets.

Thurston said improving special education is her primary concern.

Her daughter has dyslexia and is a good student, but has different classroom needs, she said. She says she’s had to fight with the district to advocate for her daughter a lot of the way.

Thurston said she wants to be an advocate for students and that she is confident in speaking out. She hadn’t planned on running yet this year because she worried it would be stressful for her daughter. But when she asked her, Thurston said her daughter told her said wants her to fight for others like she fights for her.

Thurston said, of course, this made her cry.

Paul Herrmann

Herrmann said he’s “a grand-uncle who wants to help kids.” He saw the district’s ad for board members in the Enterprise and decided he wanted to contribute his knowledge to the board.

His mother worked in a school lunch program in the Gates-Chili school district in western New York where Herrmann grew up. He said she always spoke highly to him of the staff there.

Herrmann said he’d like to focus on special education programs and support trades training programs. He said building trades are important, in demand and often, overlooked.

In his career as a lawyer, he had child clients in family court, so he says he is “aware of the wants and needs of troubled kids.”

Family court is a tough place, he said. The majority of cases are related to custody, neglect or abuse. He said he saw how life at home can impact children’s school lives, and how schools can offer refuge. Schools should be a safe place for children to learn, he said.

He said public schools serve children with special needs and talents, and he wants to be a part of that.

Herrmann said he has a master’s degree in business administration and he believes one of the board’s jobs is to decide how to best spend and prioritize taxpayer money.

“The thing about school districts is, most local governments spend money in the thousands. They spend money in the millions,” Herrmann said.

He said he wants to make sure important projects, like upgrading science labs, aren’t forgotten.

It is important for board member to be good listeners, he said. He said he wouldn’t talk much, and when he would, it would be to ask good questions.

Budget and ballot

The three open seats all have different term lengths — two three-year terms and one one-year term are up for grabs. The terms also have different start and end dates.

One three-year seat is for a term starting May 17 and expiring June 30, 2025. The other three-year seat is for a term starting July 1 and expiring June 30, 2025. The one-year seat is for a term starting May 17 and expiring June 30, 2023.

The candidate with the most votes will get the first seat because it has the longest term. Second in line will get the other, slightly shorter three-year seat. The third-highest vote-earner will get the one-year seat, because it is the shortest available term.

On Election Day, voters will also decide whether to approve the district’s $34.6 million proposed budget, which meets the state tax levy cap exactly. More information on the budget can be found at https://bit.ly/3l0wN8e.

The vote on the budget and elections to the school board will be held on May 17 in the high school auditorium — enter through door #5 — between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.


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