BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Suffern Central School District is one race to watch next Tuesday, May 15 when school board elections are held around Rockland County. Three Suffern seats are up for grabs. Current Board President Theresa DiFalco is running for reelection and three newcomers are running as a team – something not always seen in school board elections.
The “ticket” of Melissa Reimer, Don Cairns and Angus MacKenzie has labeled itself Kids First and enjoyed a tide of community support, including the nod from several area mayors like Carl Wright, Phil Gigante and Ed Markunas and current school board member and Suffern PD Chief Clarke Osborne.
Reimer and Cairns are fairly well-known names in the community. A former Town of Ramapo finance officer, Reimer’s whistleblowing testimony was key to federal prosecutors case against deposed former town supervisor, Christopher St. Lawrence, and Cairns ran the Rockland Community College Alumni Foundation for the past two decades, retiring in 2017. Prior to that he was a teacher in the Ramapo Central School District.
Some supporters of DiFalco feel the campaign has become a bit high octane for a school board election. They cite the fact that the Kids First ticket hired a lawyer to file a complaint about signature protocol on Ms. DiFalco’s petitions as evidence of “politics.”
DiFalco, a former special victims prosecutor in the Rockland County DA’s Office, said, “This year it seems to be probably more political. I have never received a challenge to my petitions as a school board member. In the past we had opposition but never seemed to be this much political maneuvering.”
Her opponents don’t see it that way.
“I thought I could keep my hand in municipal finance and help kids; the most important thing. I did not think of this as a political move at all,” Reimer said.
Cairns expressed the sentiment of those who want new leadership on the board as such: “Maybe it’s time for a new set of people, set of eyes, set of ideas.”A big sore point for much of the community is the dismissal of 49-year cross country coach Joe Biddy without – in their opinion – a proper hearing, due to unknown personnel issues. DiFalco’s critics said the dismissal of Biddy – particulary the board’s demeanor in public – was emblematic of a stale leadership that had begun to shut the people out.
The Kids First ticket and their supporters say, time for new blood. DiFalco and her supporters say, if it is not broken, don’t fix it. DiFalco says she has been a good financial steward, with taxes going up 1.3 percent annually during her tenure on the board. The district’s fiscal stress report card has been at or near zero.
However, the opposition sees storm clouds on the horizon due to decreasing enrollment. They come to the table with some “out-of-the-box” ideas. Cairns want to enhance the school’s alumni fundraising, to make it a source of reliable revenue.
Reimer said she intends to use her experience as a finance officer to benefit the school district. Cairns is also interested in opening up the high school to more out of school projects and programs, while Reimer believes the school could attract new special needs students and state/federal funding if special needs programs are developed.
Angus MacKenzie is a former NYC detective and says he brings expertise in security to the table as a potential board member. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, student safety has been paramount on all parents and students’ minds, he said. “Suffern has been a great district for many years and I want to make sure it’s great going forward,” he said. “I want my kids to share the same experience that I had.”