Batavia school board likely to have three newcomers; district’s referendum fails in Tuesday’s election

Election 2024
Louise White Elementary School in Batavia is one of two schools that would be replaced if voters approve borrowing $140 million for construction projects.

Three newcomers likely will join the Batavia District 101 School Board after a close election April 4.

Raquel Gonzalez-Thomas, Danielle Sligar and Jeffery Robert Arulandu, who were the three leading candidates as of April 6, went from motivated parents to likely school board members overnight. The results won’t be official until two weeks after Election Day.

“We had put in quite a bit of effort leading up to Election Day, so it was nice to see that our message was received well by the community and they returned their feedback through voting for us,” Arulandu said.

All three candidates cited district communication and diversity, equity and inclusion as motivators for choosing to run.

“The No. 1 thing would probably be communication, making sure that things are communicated properly, there’s more transparency,” Gonzalez-Thomas said.

“I feel that collaboration and transparency will resolve some of the communication and trust issues our community members have vocalized,” Sligar said. “I want my presence to represent groups in our community who haven’t really had a place in board matters before.”

Gonzalez-Thomas has received the most votes – 3,061 – out of the seven candidates running for the three contested seats. Sligar has received 2,946 votes and Arulandu received 2,734 votes, according to unofficial results.

School board president Cathy Dremel was not reelected to her position, and board members Chris Lowe and Erin Meitzler did not seek reelection.

Gonzalez-Thomas said the district should consider working closer with DEI experts.

“That’s something else I’d like to tackle is getting someone,” she said. “Whether it’s hiring someone full-time in the district or if we just have training workshops with DEI experts, just to get everybody trained. And by everybody, I mean everybody. I would like custodians, secretaries, the nurses, administration, teachers. Depending on the program, I wouldn’t mind opening it up to the actual Batavia community. Like, ‘Hey, we’re opening up this workshop on DEI,’ so you’re not mislead on what it is and what it isn’t.”

Arulandu said his personal upbringing will bring a unique perspective to the board.

“Having that experience as a first-generation American working through that public education school system,” he said. “From professional experience and skill side, I’m an engineer of 25-plus years’ experience, so I’ve worked with unions [and] have a lot of business skills, project planning, meeting resource constraints and allocations. So I think all those experiences on the professional side will also benefit the school district.”

Gonzalez-Thomas and Sligar are Batavia residents. Arulandu lives in Geneva. All have students who are in or have gone through the Batavia education system.

“My campaign and reason for running was never solely focused around my own family’s needs,” Sligar said. “I have a lot of work to dive into and I know it won’t be easy, but I know there’s a whole support system rallying behind me.”

The election saw the district’s $140 million facilities referendum fail for the second time after being voted down in November, which leaves the future of aging district facilities, such as H.C. Storm and Louise White elementary schools, unknown. Had the referendum passed, the funds would have been used to replace those two schools and improve the district’s other six schools.

The measure failed by only 24 votes in the November election. It failed by a larger margin in this election, with 3,444 “yes” votes and 4,102 “no” votes.