Rochester City Board of Education Commissioner Natalie Sheppard is a candidate for the 137th District Assembly seat now held by Democrat David Gantt.
Gantt is one of the longest-serving members of the Assembly, having first been elected in 1982.
Sheppard, who was elected to the school board in 2017, is a licensed master social worker, and for more than 15 years has worked with individuals and families in areas that include education, mental health and criminal justice. She said her goals include improving “the mental, fiscal, physical and emotional health for every person in our community.”
Sheppard said the district needs some new blood and a different approach on the state level.
“The advocacy from decades ago is not the same advocacy we need today. The solutions that were put forth decades ago are not the same solutions we need today,” said Sheppard. “I feel like there is a disconnect between what we know [is] happening here on the local level versus what the state is willing to do or advocate for on their side.”
As for Gantt, Sheppard was complimentary of his record but said a changing of the guard is needed.
“David Gantt has a legacy of the work that he has done in his prime. What I will say is what we need from the Assembly seat itself, the powers of the Assembly seat, I do feel like over the past 10 years, we just need more,” said Sheppard. “Leadership should change with the times in regards to what it is that the community can get from the seat. If the person within the seat is willing to make those changes, fine. But if I find that we just need more, that’s when I feel like a change is supposed to occur.”
Gantt said Thursday morning that he had not decided whether he will run for another term, citing his health as a concern. He’s receiving dialysis treatments. But Gantt had stern words for Sheppard, who as a commissioner is grappling with how to close the district's estimated $65 million budget shortfall.
“If it was your money, would you be OK with them wasting it? And not knowing that you’re in a deficit position. How can you waste that much money and not know that you’re in a deficit position?” Gantt asked. “She’s a member of the board of education. She’s got a fiduciary responsibility for it. So don’t go away from that. This is not something that’s new, so they have to take on the responsibility.”
The district laid off 105 teachers mid-year and about 40 other employees to begin to close the shortfall. Superintendent Terry Dade has said that he’ll be trimming programs, instituting cost controls and appealing to the state for more than $20 million in aid to help close the gap.
Gantt said that he met with Dade last month but still has unanswered questions about the shortfall and needs answers before supporting additional state aid for the district.
The district includes the northeastern and southwestern sections of the city of Rochester and the town of Gates.
The primary date in New York for state, congressional and local seats is June 23, so that has moved up the timeline for candidates to announce their intentions and circulate petitions.