Johnsburg Central School
In a ritual as old as modern public education, candidates for office stood before their peers a final time to win votes.
Were these aspirants for Johnsburg Central School student council, there would have been altruistic pledges, nervous giggles, supportive shouts by cliques and pockets of carefully cultivated boredom.
Had this been a Johnsburg school board election or budget meeting of two years ago, the building's cafetorium would have been crowded and politically charged.
But the combined board-candidate and budget meeting Monday, May 7, was neither. A small audience, still as tap water, listened to three of the four candidates vying for two open three-year board of education seats. Each recited their qualifications, pledged fealty to student achievement and made plain their oneness with struggling taxpayers.
There was no applause.
Speaking this week were Rachel DeGroat, Tony Moro and incumbent Mark Richards. Candidate Amy Sabattis was out of town and could not attend.
Though stiff at the podium, DeGroat tacked with charm: “There’s nothing special about me.” She said that like everyone in the district, she cared deeply about the school and the community.
DeGroat focused on the intimate size of Johnsburg Central and of many of its classes, a trait that increasingly harsh economics might reverse.
“I understand that the future will be different,” she said, that a great deal of effort will be needed just to maintain the aspects that DeGroat said make the school special. She said hers is a single-income home that knows the impact of tax levies. DeGroat pledged to find a balance between performance, culture and revenue.
Moro, author of several divisive and accusatory campaign ads attacking the board and administration of misleading and obfuscating, seemed to understand that he might be hampering his own efforts.
He speaks with bone-deep certitude about district spending that he says is extravagant and lacking in accountability. Citing his research, Moro says student performance is being subordinated to union and administration interests.
And yet, in a statement that hung in the whitewashed room, Moro this week reminded voters that his election could not change the direction of the district.
“You're not turning over the board to me,” he said.
His would be just one voice posing questions not being asked by the board now.
Richards has served on the board 12 years, long enough to have watched a first-grade class graduate from high school in Johnsburg. As such, he is a proxy for the board as a whole, running on the district's accomplishments.
Spending and cuts have been prudent, according to Richards, and test scores have been above average compared to the state and 31-district region.
“We're offering quality, well-rounded education,” he said, citing the district’s many language, advanced-placement, sports, civics and music programs. “That’s the great part about this little school. You can do anything.”
The budget overview that followed went much the same detached way. Superintendent Mike Markwica and district business officer Kathy Spring interrupted their presentations to ask for questions twice as often as there were questions.
Voting on both the budget and the board seats is May 15.