An Unusual Year Calls for an Unusual School Board Election


. While the practice of the SBNC nominees running unopposed has been the norm for decades, in recent years, more candidates have challenged the SBNC-nominated candidates.

Daniel Rublin

In general, Scarsdale School Board elections consist of a process where candidates apply to be nominated by the School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC), which consists of people elected to vet and select candidates for the school board election. While the practice of the SBNC nominees running unopposed has been the norm for decades, in recent years, more candidates have begun to challenge the SBNC-nominated candidates.

This year, the SBNC nominated Scarsdale mom and journalist Jessica Resnick-Ault and Scarsdale dad and attorney Jim Dugan to fill the seats of two school board members whose terms end this year. “I consider the SBNC to be like a job interview… You go in, you say what you’re thinking, and then they check your references,” said Resnick-Ault. “I think that that’s a valuable tool as a voter. Most voters don’t go out and check the references of each candidate. But I know that SBNC vetted at least four of my references,” she added.

Notably, the SBNC did not re-nominate Alison Singer, the current Scarsdale School Board vice president. Singer is running for re-election, so she is challenging the candidates nominated by the SBNC. Singer recognized that the SBNC nomination is important but explained that when she was on the SBNC, the amount of experience each candidate had was important, and she has significant experience on the school board. “I actually served on the SBNC.. one of the qualifications by which we evaluated potential candidates was whether or not we thought they would serve two terms. That’s how important it was… we recognized how important it was to have that experience and that leadership on the board,” said Singer.

The fourth candidate running for the school board is Irin Israel, a Scarsdale parent who has been outspoken at school board meetings in recent months. Israel joined the race as a challenger to the SBNC candidates because he is disappointed with the school board’s performance in handling the pandemic. Israel cited a slow reopening as a frustration. “There were opportunities to increase safe in-person and synchronous learning this year for vulnerable children… the board had said they wanted more kids in school as quickly as possible, according to the safety regulations, and it was possible,” explained Israel. Israel also mentioned that a lack of communication and transparency angered many Scarsdale residents.“When the community tried to give more input, whether it was public comment or other ways, unfortunately the board would shut it down… they decided to reject a volunteer medical advisory committee from the community during the pandemic when parents were willing to help out,” Israel said. “And then there was the issue of transparency where… people were asking these questions and wanted answers and things just weren’t revealed,” Israel added.

While a large number of candidates presents voters with more options to choose from, the options also make the decision to vote more confusing. Dugan explained that voters should trust that he and Resnick-Ault, who are running together as a slate, are the best candidates because of their selection by the SBNC. “We are uniquely qualified among the four candidates, Jessica, and I,  because we have been vetted and selected by the School Board Nominating Committee, and it is their job to do that kind of due diligence and choose among the different applicants who they think the best candidates would be,” said Dugan. Resnick-Ault referenced her selection by the SBNC and her career as a journalist who is good at asking questions as reasons why voters should trust her as a candidate to vote for.

Israel explained that he sees mental health as a major issue for the coming year. “I think mental health is going to be a big issue this next year. What happened really affected a lot of kids,” Israel stated. Similarly, Singer sees mental health as the largest issue for the coming year and feels she has the prospects to handle the issue. “In addition to having served as vice president of the board, I run a global nonprofit organization that focuses on children’s mental health… Student and faculty mental health and wellness is the most important issue facing the board in the coming year,” Singer said. “I know you guys went through a lot of social isolation and experienced loneliness and had zoom fatigue, technology overload… A focus of the board in the next year is to make sure that we are proactive in addressing any mental health issues… this is an area in which I have a lot of experience,” Singer added. 

Resnick-Ault also referenced mental health as a vital issue. “We should make sure that there’s sufficient mental health and academic support in place for students who need them at all levels next year,” stated Resnick-Ault, referencing the difficult transition back to a more normal school environment after a year of isolation.

Dugan explained that if elected, one of his main priorities would be to rebuild community trust in the school board after a year of chaos. “I would call it building faith in the community in the institution of the board as a representative of the community in light of the negative feelings that came about during this COVID situation… rebuilding trust and rebuilding communication with the community,” stated Dugan.

Some SHS seniors are eligible to register to vote in the election, which is on Tuesday, May 18. Whoever you support, you should make your voice heard in this crucial and heavily contested election.