Rachel Gilliar, an incumbent member of the Port Washington Board of Education, and challenger Julie Epstein were elected to the board on Tuesday in a four-way race.
Voters also approved the district’s $163.2 million budget, with 4,756 in favor and 1,901 opposed. The budget is a $2.7 million increase from the previous year, or 1.66 percent.
The budget passed despite the uncertain status of state aid for every district. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said school districts across New York should brace for up to 20 percent cuts to their funding from the state.
All district elections were conducted by absentee ballot because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Epstein received the most votes out of any candidate in the at-large election, with 4,068, while Gilliar came in second with 3,697. Challenger Adam Block and former Trustee Christina Nadolne received 2,921 and 1,782 votes, respectively.
Gilliar, a mother of four, received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth before attending the University of Michigan law school. Gilliar’s work in the legal field led her to receive the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association, she said.
“I’ve spent the past three years speaking to various parents, groups, stakeholders and educators, and tried to make them all realize that we are all on the same team here,” Gilliar said. “At the end of the day, we want to provide the best curriculum and education for our students. When all of the moving pieces come together, I am confident there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Epstein, a mother of two, touted her experience volunteering in Port Washington as the co-president of both the Salem Elementary School Home School Association and the Parents’ Council, and a member of the Weber Middle School’s Executive Board.
“In each of these roles I consistently questioned, evaluated and implemented new ideas to streamline initiatives,” Epstein said. “Parents’ Council has given me the opportunity to gain an understanding of the scope of the board’s responsibilities and the limitations put on school districts by the state of New York. I know that it is not a curricular board but rather one of governance, policy, budget, and oversight.”
Epstein also addressed several changes that were necessary for a successful in-person return to classes in the fall, including the introduction of additional mental health resources for students and teachers, during a virtual forum in May.
“I think that school in the fall needs to have a serious mental health component,” Epstein said. “It cannot just be about masks, temperatures and technology. It has to include mental health education as part of the curriculum, or as part of the check-in. Not just for the students, but also for our teachers.”
Gilliar expressed support for the initiative, saying the pandemic “exacerbated an issue that was already there.”
Gilliar also said that the budget allows for the hiring of additional guidance counselors due to a growing need for counselors before the pandemic.
Trustee Dave Kerpen had announced he was not running for re-election and endorsed Gilliar and Epstein.