Luck o’ the Irish


Melissa Stagnaro

I’m not exactly resplendent in emerald green and shamrocks today. My concessions to the tradition of wearing green on this most Irish of days are a scarf with splotches of the color and a small shamrock pin which says, “Luck o’ the Irish.”

I’m proud of my Irish heritage, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t have a lot of kelly green in my closet these days.

And let me tell you, I’m regretting it. Because the day’s promised good fortune has definitely passed me by.

My string of bad luck started last week, when I accidentally filed a 2-year old story in place of the one I spent Friday morning slaving over.

Since then, there have been far too many other mis-steps and mistakes to count. Quite the laundry list, really. I’ll spare you the gory details.

Today takes the cake, though. Or, Irish soda bread, to be more culturally correct.

Like the industrious, proactive staff writer I aspire to be, I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon writing my column for today. I filed it in our Editorial queue before I left for the day.

This morning, I decided to give it another go over. I did a little rearranging, tightened some things up and really felt like I was able to tie it all together. The process took me about a half hour or so, and cut into the time I’d allotted for the story I was working on for today – on yesterday’s Good Morning, Chenango! breakfast.

I was further delayed by an unfortunate incident involving my hand and the bathroom door. How I managed to slam my poor little fingers in the door is beyond me. After all, I’ve successfully accomplished closing the door without pinching any appendages numerous times every day for the last 2 1/2 years. Heck, I’ve been closing doors my whole life without incident. But not today. And on deadline, no less!

I would have uttered a few choice words but, of course, I gave that up for Lent. So I made do with a bit of whingeing and wailing, and shook the whole thing off. Or at least I was trying to, when I became distracted by the swelling and discoloration. And did I mention that it really hurt?

Although not as much then as it did about an hour later, when I accidentally bumped the swollen digit against something. (I have no idea what!) That had me seeing stars.

So between that, and the column-induced time delay, I failed to meet deadline with my lengthy story about the breakfast. Lengthy because it entailed almost mini-Progress pieces for each of the four companies featured at the event. Anything less wouldn’t have done them justice.

I was still lamenting my missed deadline a little after 10, as Jeff was updating our website. That’s when I made another realization. Remember all that time I spent editing my column? It was all for naught. Because I never saved it in the editorial queue, so the unedited version ran.

That discovery cost me $1.25 to the swear jar.

Looking on the bright side, who needs leprechauns and rainbows. By the time Easter rolls around, that jar will be the Lenten equivalent of a pot of gold.

In case you’re wondering, next year I’ll be all decked out in green to make sure I get my share of that good old Irish luck.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa

Because I can’t bear the thought of my carefully edited version of today’s column never seeing the light of day, I’ve included it here with its working title.

Wanted: a few good school board candidates

Sure, I gripe about the sheer number of school board meetings I attend in the course of my duties here at Chenango County’s Hometown Daily. (Which I fully maintain is over and above what any human should be forced to endure.) But while I may moan and complain about the drudgery of attending frequent meetings in multiple districts, I don’t disdain the boards themselves.

Despite their drama and occasional dysfunction, they plan an important role in our public education system. They are an integral part of our schools, providing both policy and fiscal oversight for the district. But they also do something even more profound, because with their leadership they chart a course, not only for the district’s current and future students and our communities, but really our society as a whole.

The job isn’t without its challenges. And it can be thankless at times. Since they are the ones making tough decisions, and very much in the public eye, board members often take heat from different stakeholders.

So, why do they do it? Because they’re dedicated to the community. They care about our schools, our students. They recognize the need for committed community members, willing and able to serve, and they answer the call.

Some years not enough people – or not the right people – answer that call. Within the last three years, at least two of our local schools had fewer candidates on the ballot than they had positions open. In other cases, people may have run for the board without a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the position, or the time commitment required.

That is a scary thought when our schools are facing so many challenges. They’re getting the double whammy, really, when it comes to the budget. On the revenue side, there are staggering losses in state and federal aid to contend with, not to mention a proposed property tax cap. And on the expense side – well, lets just say pension contributions, health insurance premiums, energy costs and contractual wage increases are exacerbating those fiscal woes.

At the same time, schools are being held to even higher academic standards by the State Education Department, will need to comply with Race to the Top and dealing with myriad other issues.

Yes, these are trying times indeed. Jobs, programs, services, the tax burden born by district residents and, ultimately, students, hang in the balance. That makes it more important than ever to have qualified candidates to fill school board vacancies at each of Chenango’s nine school districts.

And let me tell you, there are a lot of seats open – 21 in all countywide.

New York State’s requirements for serving on a school board are pretty straight forward. A candidate must be over 18, able to read and write, qualified to vote and live in the district which they wish to represent. (Specific residency requirements vary from 30 days to 1 year depending on the district.) In general, they cannot be employed by the board on which they wish to serve; reside in the same household with a family member who is also a member of the same school board; nor can they simultaneously hold another incompatible public office. To be on the ballot, each prospective candidate must also collect signatures during a specified period in April. (25, with the exception of Norwich which requires 100.)

Just meeting those requirements doesn’t guarantee a person is qualified for the position, however. According to the New York State School Board Association, the best and most effective school board members are those who communicate effectively, build consensus, participate in the community, aren’t afraid to make decisions, can process information, are able to work as part of a team and exhibit leadership skills.

They should also be comfortable wearing a cape, in my opinion. Because someone with all of those skills and qualities, willing to step forward and run for school board is a hero in my book.

I’ve been told by both current and former school board members that there is one moment which makes all the time and effort of their board service worthwhile. It’s the moment when they watch a graduating senior walk across the stage to receive their diploma, and know they had a part in the process.

So, as Harry Callahan likes to say, you have to ask yourself one question: Are you up for the challenges of such an important role? If you care about our community, our schools and our students and feel you are up for the task, I hope you will consider it. Because Chenango County’s schools – and students – need you.

If you are contemplating a run for your district’s school board, I would encourage you to attend one of two forums being held this weekend.

The sessions, called “School Board Service: What community members & leaders should know,” are a program of the Chenango Foundation. They will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday at the Greene High School auditorium; and from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday at the DCMO BOCES Chenango Campus Dining Room.

The sessions are designed as a prep course of sorts for potential school board members, and will feature a panel discussion. The panel will consist of Linda Bakst from the New York State School Boards Association; William Tammaro, Superintendent, DCMO BOCES; and (fingers crossed) former Norwich City school board member and Leadership Chenango facilitator Judie Wright.

Each panelist has extensive knowledge of public education in New York State and experience working on or with school boards. During the two hour session they will discuss the roles and responsibilities of school boards, the time commitment involved, basic information on budgets and the planning process and many other topics relevant to school board service. There will also be time for questions, and packets of information from NYSSBA for participants to take home. Not to mention refreshments. What’s a forum without refreshments, right?

This is the first time the Chenango Foundation has offered the program, which is free and open to the public. If you’re considering a run for school board, it’s an opportunity you won’t want to miss. For more information, or to register, contact Jennifer Tavares at 334-5532 or via email at jtavares@chenangony.org.

Remember: Chenango County schools need you.