Written by Jane Lawrence Thursday, 09 May 2013 00:00
A variety of predictions, promises and plans were put forward at a Meet the Candidates night for the North Shore School District, where six people are vying for three open seats on the board of education.
Some of the issues that took center stage included budgets (olf course), the closing of the LIPA plant, and the challenging overall financial climate. George Pombar, the only incumbent candidate, said, “I believe we have very difficult years ahead.”
The event was sponsored by the district’s coordinating council and moderated by Judy Jacobson, a representative of the League of Women Voters from outside the district. She first read bios of each candidate, and then the candidates made an opening statement.
Timothy Madden said he has had prior experience being a school board member as he was previously on the School Board for the Northport-East Northport UFSD. He is also a high school social studies teacher at Great Neck South High School. He said he feels his experience would bring a “well rounded and unique perspective” to the board. He noted that he is concerned about the rapidly increasing level of state mandates, the impact of the closing of the LIPA plant, the negative impact for state testing and new teacher assessments. He would like to see less emphasis on exam preparation and more emphasis on creative and critical thinking.
Marianne Manning Russo is currently treasurer of the Coordinating Council and said she is concerned about the closing of the LIPA plant, the increased emphasis on state exams and the rising costs of pension contributions. Russo said she feels the board needs to work together to make both “small and large changes” and noted that her background as a labor law attorney would be beneficial in contract negotiations.
James O’Sullivan remarked how special the district is and said he feels it is on the “right track.” He said he would like to see more local control of school policies instead of state mandates, feels the budget must be kept affordable and would like to see improvements in facilities, safety and security. He also noted he would like to see more emphasis put on American History at the elementary school level.
Sara Jones said that, with her many years as a successful business owner she will bring her business and financial experience to the board. “School districts are at a critical point,” she said. “The LIPA situation brings on a challenging and changing financial climate.” Jones said she feels that the standardized testing situation is “out of control... the cost is too high both financially and on the toll it takes on the kids.” She said she would aim to provide the best education that can be provided in a reasonable budget.
Michael Nightingale stated he would bring about “positive change.” He has already been involved in the organizing the LIPA meeting with our legislators and has initiated a letter writing campaign regarding the situation with the LIPA plant closing. He said he sees himself as “pro-budget,” but that the budget making process should involve an informed decision based on line-by-line expenses. He said he believes that state mandated testing stunts critical thinking, and that he would like to see term limits on trustee positions for the school board.
Pombar said that he feels his financial experience as well as his current experience as an incumbent would be of continued benefit at this crucial time. He feels the board should have a mixture of experienced trustees and new trustees who can bring new ideas to the table. There is a “transparency issue that need to be fixed,” he said. He cited the high costs of mandated retirement, pension and health plans and feels that the District has maintained responsible budgets despite this.
Laura Gonzalez of Sea Cliff asked the candidates what specifically they would do to “minimize the detrimental effects of mandated state testing on our students.”
Madden responded that since testing is now a “reality” we should work to minimize their importance by creating a culture that does not use the results for placement purposes, but only to “satisfy the state requirements.” Russo said,
“Although testing is out of the district’s control, the community should make use of such groups as the Legislative Action Committee to try to influence the state to make changes in the testing requirements.” Said Pombar, “We now have no choice but to deal with it.”
Elizabeth DeSimone of Glen Head asked, “In light of the impending tax loss from LIPA how can you justify spending money on the iPad Program and the World Languages Program?”
Pombar responsed, “Actually, the iPads have already cut down on the costs of textbooks and there will be even further reductions in textbook costs as the program continues.”
Madden and Jones both said they saw value in the iPads as a learning tool, while Russo and Nightingale said they thought both programs are too costly.
“I’m old-fashioned,” said O’Sullivan, adding he prefers more face-to-face teaching as opposed to iPads.
Cheryl Brown asked, “If it were necessary to balance the budget would you increase class size or cut programs and, if so, what program would you cut first?”
Russo and O’Sullivan both said they would not increase class size and would cut administration before cutting teachers. Jones noted there is always a “trade off” and the board would have to carefully evaluate what that would be.
Nightingale said, “An increase in class size of one or two students would not be a big deal, but anything larger would be a big deal.” He said he would look to cut in other places citing “we have six school psychologists for five schools and could cut one of them.”
Pombar said, “It would not be necessary to raise class size or to cut programs. We have $90 million in the budget and could find someplace else to make cuts.”
“Class size is important to preserve,” said Madden. “Any decisions to cut programs should be made in consultation with teachers, administrators and the board.”
Full bios for all candidates are on the district’s website. The election and budget vote will be held on May 21.