Four run for Lake Placid school board
May 17 ballot includes district’s first contested race in a decade
LAKE PLACID — Four candidates are running for two seats on the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education in the district’s first contested race in 10 years.
Ron Briggs, Beth Brunner, Douglas Lansing and Colleen Skufca are this year’s set of candidates. Current school board President Rick Preston and board member Bryan Liam Kennelly, whose terms are up this year, are not running for reelection.
People can vote for two of the four candidates from 2 to 9 p.m. on May 17 at the Lake Placid Elementary School or the Wilmington Community Center. Also on the ballot is the district’s proposed budget.
Briggs, 73, raised three children in the district and now has two grandchildren in the district.
Briggs was the village attorney for 15 years, the town of North Elba attorney for 12 years and a district attorney for 12 years. He said he feels like he has something to contribute to the district.
Originally from New Orleans, Briggs came to Lake Placid to work during the 1980 Olympics. He received his undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University in 1971 and graduated from Tulane Law School in 1975. Briggs was involved with the Lake Placid Visitor’s Bureau — now the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism — and worked with an organization called Connecting Youth in Communities.
Briggs said that his top priority on the school board would be analyzing every situation with a perspective that prioritizes students and their education.
“Anything that achieves a higher objective of doing the best we possibly can to educate our kids for now, and for the real world they’re going to be getting into, is, I think, what we should be doing,” he said.
Briggs said he wants to “dig into everything” if he’s elected to the school board to understand exactly what the board does. He wants to evaluate how the school spends its money and whether that spending is completely focused on students’ education. He also wants to compare the district’s salaries for teachers with other districts — he thought LPCSD teachers might get paid less than teachers in some other districts, and if that’s true, he said he wants to find out why.
Briggs also wants to see a “fuller discussion” of agenda items during board meetings. He said that unless people come to board meetings with all of the meeting materials under their belt, it can be hard to follow what the board is voting on or discussing. He thought improving that communication might help district stakeholders feel more inclined to attend meetings.
Brunner, 44, has three children in the school district. She believes her broad background and desire to give back make her a strong candidate for school board.
Brunner’s husband, Frank, is a teacher in the district. Between his perspective as a teacher and her perspective as a parent and taxpayer, Brunner said she thinks she could represent everyone in the district.
Brunner grew up in the suburbs of New York City, where she said she attended a high school that “wasn’t the best.” She moved on the get an associate’s degree before graduating from Cornell in 1998. She moved on to the Temple School of Dentistry and later to the oral and maxillofacial surgery residency program at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Brunner is now an oral surgeon at Lake Placid Oral Surgery.
Brunner said her experiences in school — from attending a high school that gave her misinformed financial advice, to fulfilling her residency in poverty-stricken neighborhoods — have helped her to understand that everyone is different and has needs that deserve to be paid attention to.
“We need to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of all of society, not just one small sector,” she said.
Brunner shares Briggs’ perspective that kids should come first when the board is making decisions. And that doesn’t always look like pushing kids to seek a four-year degree, she said. The four-year college experience doesn’t fit everyone, and she wants to help out kids who want to seek professional trades or other paths after high school. She believes school districts in general should better prepare kids to function in society and do day-to-day things like write a check or pay their mortgage.
To address shrinking enrollment in LPCSD, Brunner said she’d like to approach families who are leaving the district and gather information about why they’re going as a way to assess core problems in the district.
Brunner said she’d bring an open mind to the board. She said she thinks there are more things that bring people together than separate them, and she said she’d bring civility to the board.
Lansing, 58, has two students in the district, and he’s been looking for an outlet for civic duty. Over the last month, he said, a series of events on Facebook drove him to consider the school board as the best place to start. Lansing said he saw some Facebook friends posting about their issues with the school district, and he said many of the comments were negative and “right-leaning.” One of the commenters was being encouraged to run for school board.
“I think school boards should be very nonpartisan,” Lansing said. “The politicization of education leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
Lansing graduated from Lake Placid High School in 1981. He received an undergraduate degree in computer science and math from Clarkson University in 1985 and a master’s degree in education — with a concentration in secondary math — from the University of Massachusets at Amherst in 1986.
Lansing taught briefly in a Massachusetts school district as part of his graduate program. He moved back to Lake Placid, where he owned and operated the Lakeshore Food and Beverage Company for five years.
Lansing later got involved with the Community Theatre Players, a nonprofit theater group in Lake Placid, which led to him becoming the technical director at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts from 1997 to 2016. Lansing served on the Community Theater Players board for three years, acting as president for one of those years. Lansing has also served on the Sinfionetta board in the past, and he’s currently on the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society board.
Lansing said that in his first year on school board, he’d want to learn how to be an effective member of the board by getting involved in the district as much as he could. Lansing said he’s a good listener and evaluator.
“I’d like to think that I can see the heart of a matter and be able to communicate the nitty gritty of issues,” he said.
Lansing does want to see driver education return to the school district. He’s also interested in learning more about how to “attack” the problem of switching gasoline schoolbuses over to electric buses, a switch mandated to take place across New York state by 2035 as part of the 2022-2023 state budget.
He’s also prepared to learn more about the district’s dropping enrollment, which he said is a “complicated problem.” He said that a shift in the community’s makeup, which he believes has gone from mostly local families to including a number of second home owners and short-term vacation rentals, has contributed to the housing crisis that also affects the district’s teacher base.
Skufca, 58, was the Lake Placid Central School District speech pathologist for 33 years before retiring in 2019. Now that she’s working part time, she’s been looking for ways to contribute to the community. Her two daughters went through the Lake Placid school system, and since she’s most familiar with the education field, Skufca said she thought serving on the school board would be a good way to give back.
Skufca is a Wilmington resident, and she said it’s important to her and other Wilmington residents who are in the LPCSD district that the town be represented on the school board. She said she’s lived in Wilmington for around 35 years.
Skufca’s now-part-time speech pathology work also keeps her in touch with Lake Placid’s school-age families, she said. Between her work and her decades of experience in the district, Skufca said she’s paid attention to kids who have special needs, and she has experience with obtaining grants and financing for services that help those kids.
“I’m making sure that each kid gets the best quality education,” she said. “That’s my goal whether they have special needs or not.”
Skufca received her higher education at SUNY Plattsburgh, where she got an undergraduate degree in Speech and Hearing Handicapped Education in 1986 and a master’s in Speech Pathology in 1988. That’s also where she met her husband, who brought her to the North Country from her birthplace in Yonkers.
Skufca also noted enrollment as an issue facing the district right now that’s important to her. Distributing taxes evenly and fairly across the district is another challenge she’s willing to face. Skufca added that communication between the district and the general public has become a greater challenge, and she wants to address mutual respect within the district.
For students, she said, it’s important to set a tone of respect when a child is young.
Skufca said she’s not one to shy away from a responsibility that she’s signed up for — whether it’s running for school board or running a race — even if there’s a learning curve.
“I’m a person who won’t give up,” she said.