There are three seats available on the Rochester school board this year, and incumbents Van White, Cynthia Elliott, and Jose Cruz are asking voters to return them to office. Our profiles of the candidates who ran in the September Democratic primary appeared in the August 21 issue.
Though all three of the incumbents were able to fend off their primary challengers, some of the challengers are still in the race and will appear on the ballot in the November 5 general election. Candice Lucas is running on the Working Families Party line. And both Howard Eagle and Ronald Hall are running on the Freedom line. All are registered Democrats.
Lori Thomas is a Green Party candidate and Republican Mia Hodgins will also be on the ballot. Their profiles are below.
Lori Thomas is a retired teacher in the city school district and a Green Party candidate for school board. She spends much of her time writing blogs about education and advocating for changes in local, state, and national education policies.
Teaching is a second career for Thomas, who was born in Batavia, raised in Rochester, and graduated from James Madison High School. She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees after working for the City of Rochester for 18 years as an environmental services operator.
Thomas is an outspoken critic of the district and the school board. She regularly attends school board and community meetings armed with a battalion of questions and comments that often challenge central office administrators.
Thomas says that her biggest concern with the district is the lack of accountability, particularly at the administrative level.
"Failure fuels funding," she says. "You don't get money [in urban education] unless you fail."
The near total absence of parental engagement and oversight has allowed the oversight problem to become systemic and system-wide, Thomas says. She says that her first priorities as a board member would be to cut the number of cabinet-level positions that the superintendent can hire, and to dissolve the administrator-level union contract.
Giving management cover through a union contract doesn't make sense, she says.
"Everyone talks about how teachers can't be fired," Thomas says. "No, no, no; administrators can't be fired. They mess up and they just move them to a different school."
Thomas says that she is bothered when people say that 85 percent of the district's budget goes to salaries, because that assumes that the money is going to pay teachers. But the district is top-heavy with highly paid administrators, she says. And she says that many never have meaningful contact with students, teachers, or parents — something she finds preposterous.
"That's why we have to change the system," Thomas says. "We can't reform it."
Mia Hodgins is assistant director of alumni relations at Rochester Institute of Technology. This is her second run for school board, but this time she's running as a Republican.
Hodgins has a 10-point plan to improve student performance and raise the district's graduation rate: increasing parental involvement, improving reading proficiency, and providing more arts, music, and sports to help feed students' interests and keep them from dropping out.
She says that she supports Superintendent Bolgen Vargas's efforts to give students more instruction time through expanded learning programs, and that she wants to help provide more training and development for teachers.
One of Hodgins' biggest concerns is making the best use of the district's resources, she says, and maximizing the district's $780 million budget to the fullest extent.
"Without drastic cuts in the budget, huge tax increases, or a dramatic increase in state aid, the way we manage funding of our schools is unsustainable," she says.
Grants, partnerships, sponsorships, and collaboration with other organizations offer innovative opportunities for developing new funding, she says.
Bright, young, and congenial, Hodgins clearly wants to help city students and her community. She says that she strongly believes in the value of community service.
Even though the city is heavily Democratic, Hodgins says that her values are not confined to one party. And she says that she doesn't believe that running on the Republican Party line will hurt her chances of winning a seat on the school board, though clearly there are limitations given the city's current political landscape.