OSWEGO — Voters in the Oswego City School District will elect at least one new member to the board of education this year following the announcement by incumbent Heather DelConte that she will not seek another term.
DelConte, who co-owns and operates Black Creek Farms with her husband in Volney, was elected to the board in 2013. She said her decision to not run again was reached after "careful consideration and prayer." "It has been an incredible privilege to work with Superintendent (Dean) Goewey and board of education members past and present over the last three years," DelConte said. "I have learned a great deal through the process and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve our community in this capacity." DelConte was elected in November to serve the Oswego County Legislature's 18th district, which she says will give her an opportunity to continue advocating for Oswego schools.
"My passion for education and dedication to being a positive force in Oswego have not faltered," DelConte said. "I have had multiple opportunities to assist the district and the county in collaborative efforts. I plan to continue facilitating this powerfully effective, cooperative work. I maintain that the city, county and school district are intricately connected and have to work in unison if we are going to turn this economic Titanic around." Whoever seeks DelConte's board seat will indeed have to face a challenging fiscal situation.
Last week, OCSD announced a series of deep budget cuts, heavily affecting personnel and athletics. Officials have said it will likely take years for the district to remedy its financial situation.
District officials roundly praised DelConte's work on the board.
"The district was very fortunate to have Heather on the board for the past three years," said board President Kathleen Allen, who is also up for reelection in May but has not yet made a decision. "The knowledge and experience she brought to the table was a great asset to the board." Goewey said DelConte's contribution to the board was greatly appreciated and described her demeanor as "100 percent professional and supportive." "Her legacy as a board member will be for advocating for children who are less able, not only educationally but financially as well," said Goewey. "If you look back at board meeting minutes, she's the board members who is always advocating for someone who can't afford a field trip or an athletic activity – she looks out for the underserved in our district." According to Goewey, the district has not yet received nominating petitions from any candidates, but it's not unusual for candidates to wait until nearer the April 27 deadline.
Former Oswego city councilor Michael Todd said he was considering a run but was still undecided as of Monday.
Former board member Fran Hoefer, who unsuccessfully ran for a board seat last year, said he was also undecided, but had harsh criticism for past and current administrations, saying if elected he would "fight like hell." Hoefer served on the board from 1998 and was removed by his fellow board members in 2004, but subsequently reelected.
"I think about running [for the board] every year," Hoefer said. "Since I have not been on the board, we've had a crisis every single year. The reality is that Oswego County has been tapped out for 20 years and with every tax increase, more businesses die and homeowners leave." Hoefer said tax increases — which he vociferously opposed during his tenure on the board — were "hurting and destroying" the Oswego economy and put much of the onus on collective bargaining agreements with district labor unions.
"There's no more money to take and the fat cats won't give up their raises," Hoefer said.
Despite his strong opinions, Hoefer said he wasn't sure if he had the "willpower and strength" to mount another campaign for the board of education, citing poor voter turnout in 2015.
"I dread the idea of serving on the school board, but I will do it if this community wants someone to represent them," he said. "For me to be elected, people actually have to step up and get involved. The last time I ran, no one voted. We can change things and fix this mess, but if people are so apathetic, they deserve what happens." Voters will decide on board members and passage of the 2016-2017 budget on Tuesday, May 17. Nominating petitions for candidates are available at the district education center at 120 East First Street.