On Tuesday, May 18th, the community will vote on the Rye City school district’s annual budget for the 2021-22 school year and will vote to elect three Board of Education members. The vote is in the RMS Gym; polling hours are 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (used to be 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.). The District is not mailing out ballots as it did last year during COVID. Voters can still request an absentee ballot.
There will be a candidates forum moderated by the League of Women Voters on Thursday, May 6, at 7:00 p.m. (zoom link).
Current Board members Callie Erickson and Chris Repetto have announced they will seek reelection; Kelly Smith-Powers will not. Eight candidates are on the ballot – we have shared their bios and now we will be introducing you to each candidate in a Q&A style interview: Callie Erickson, Megan Escherich Evans, Kelsey Johnson, Bozidar Jovanovic, Laura Labriola, John D. Leonard, John Moschetti, and Chris Repetto.
Today we introduce you to Kelsey Johnson:
MyRye.com: Why are you running for school board?
Johnson: As a parent of four children who will directly benefit from the quality of our schools over the next 14 years, I am heavily invested in the Rye City School District and its continued excellence. My professional financial background and community service experience uniquely qualify me to apply a solutions-oriented approach to the existing board. As co-chair of the Rye Traffic and Pedestrian Safety (TPS) committee, I collaborate with Rye residents, the City of Rye Police Department, Rye elected officials and Rye city staff. In this role I also work to improve processes. For instance, I coordinated with the police department to gather, standardize and analyze over ten years of historical motor vehicle accident data. I believe data improves decision-making and the TPS committee now relies on this accident data to help prioritize residents’ requests. As a member of the school board, I would collaborate with the community, prioritize processes, and advocate for the success of every student.
Why are you running for school board now?
Johnson: This year, I was incredibly inspired by the tireless commitment of our Administration and Board to our students during the COVID crisis. I am compelled to step in and do my part to continue this journey. I have always hoped to serve on the school board, and I am motivated in this moment to come in ready, willing and energized.
Yes or No: did you support and vote for the $80 million school bond that passed in 2019?
Yes or No: do you support and plan to vote in favor of the current as-proposed Superintendent’s Recommended Budget presented February 23rd of $94,237,421 million going to vote on vote on Tuesday, May 18th? [Note: This question was asked prior to the budget hearing on Tuesday, May 4th due to time constraints.]
Please Answer the following questions Yes or No:
|Question||Johnson: Yes or No|
|Does the quality of Rye schools contribute materially to the value of homes in Rye?||Yes|
|Do you, have you or will you have children in the Rye City School District?||Yes|
|Have you been, or will you be in the next six weeks, fully vaccinated against COVID-19?||Yes|
|Do you believe the school district has done a responsible and an effective job of navigating the Coronavirus pandemic?||Yes|
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last year concerning stories about bias in our schools and community came out. Do you acknowledge these stories and believe we should actively address issues of bias? Yes, or No?
Johnson: Yes. Evolving into a more inclusive school community will allow each student to be fully supported and reach their highest potential.
Are you supportive of school district’s Race, Community and Inclusivity Task Force, Yes, or No?
Johnson: Yes. As a volunteer member of the Race, Inclusivity and Community Task Force, I have been fortunate to work side-by-side with fellow parents, students, teachers and administrators on this important topic. I am excited for the community to hear our well-considered recommendations and collaborate with us on solutions. It is clear that our community cares deeply about this topic and has a range of ideas and perspectives, and we will continue to work together to improve and become more inclusive for all of our students.
What are the three biggest opportunities / challenges facing the Rye schools over the next 3-5 years?
- Recovering as a community from COVID will be both the biggest opportunity and challenge. I have seen firsthand the impact of this pandemic on students and we, as a community, have a chance to create possibility from adversity. We can facilitate post-traumatic growth in our children and in our community. The RCSD has already worked so hard in this regard with their Covid Recovery Plan, including a Social-Emotional Learning survey, frequent student assessments, curriculum adaptations, and increased mental health support. I will continue to prioritize this important initiative as a member of the Board.
- Successfully executing the varying projects in the bond offers great opportunity for our students as their physical plant adapts to prioritize their safety and needs. Further, the Board and Administration have an opportunity to deliver projects on time and on budget while efficiently managing the allocation of capital.
- As the co-chair of the Rye Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee, I must include our opportunity to improve the walkability of our schools. When we diminish traffic around the schools by increasing walkability, the positive impact to our students is exponential, including increased opportunities for exercise and neighborhood connectivity, and decreased exposure to exhaust fumes and stressful driving experiences. For six years, I worked diligently with community members to get a sidewalk on Forest Avenue between Apawamis and Manursing. Thanks to the sustained efforts of residents, elected officials and, most importantly, skilled city staff, Rye won a grant to fund this project in 2022. This will allow close to 200 school children to safely access Midland, RMS and RHS off the feeder roads of Forest. The more we can do to encourage and improve walkability, the better off we are as a community.
What are the three biggest areas for cost containment with the Rye schools over the next 3-5 years?
Johnson: The RCSD budget is fiscally conservative; using the 2019-20 budget, RCSD has the lowest cost per pupil when compared to neighboring schools of excellence (e.g. Chappaqua, Bronxville and Scarsdale). Additionally, the annual budget has automatic cost constraints due to the New York State tax cap, which does not allow logical exemptions for pension costs or enrollment growth, along with fluctuating, and this year declining, state aid. However, there is always an opportunity to optimize efficiencies. In that regard, I will focus on reviewing legal costs and analyzing contract services to evaluate potential conversion to full salary positions.
Where did you go to grade school?
Johnson: I was born in Texas and attended public elementary school there until 3rd grade at which point I moved to Massachusetts and continued to attend local public schools.
Who was your favorite teacher in grade school and why?
Johnson: My favorite teacher in grade school was “the toughest” fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. McGovern. She set the bar high for all of her students and laid out goals for our year that seemed unachievable (…how would I ever memorize all fifty states in alphabetical order?!). Once we got to the end of that ambitious year, I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. This laid the groundwork for my intrinsic motivation and perspective on the importance of setting high standards.
What is your favorite book?
Johnson: I don’t have a favorite book, but one book I love, and give away to others most is Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg. Right now I am reading Becoming A Better Board Member: A Guide to Effective School Board Service, a National School Boards Association publication.
What are you watching these days?
Johnson: Ted Lasso on AppleTV – more than ever, we need a good belly laugh!
How many years have you lived in Rye?
Johnson: We moved to Rye over 9 years ago. We have loved our friendships, volunteer opportunities, and school experience. We appreciate how lucky we are to live in such a uniquely special community.
Please provide links to:
Your LinkedIn: N/A
Your Twitter: N/A
Your Facebook: N/A
Kelsey Johnson has lived in Rye since 2012 and has three children at Midland School and one child at Rye Presbyterian Nursery School. She has been an active volunteer for a number of school and community organizations, including Midland Chair of Walk to School Week, Midland Auction Chair, Midland Fair Booth Chair, class parent and weekly Carver Center food pantry volunteer. Kelsey is also Co-Chair of the Rye Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee. Kelsey’s prior work experience was as a buyside equity analyst at Lombardia Capital Partners and MacKay Shields. She has a BA in Mathematics from the College of the Holy Cross and earned her CFA charter.