The Plainedge Council of PTA's hosted a "Meet the Candidates" Night at the Plainedge High School May 2. Candidates for election to the Plainedge School Board of Education made statements and answered questions from residents present at the meeting. The candidates seeking election are incumbent Tom Dolise, and Ralph J. Raymond, Dan Yuengling, Michael J. Cimino, and Dominic DiPrisco.
There are three seats open on the board. In the past, the three candidates who received the most votes won the seats. This year, candidates chose to run for specific seats. Mr. DiPrisco is running unopposed for a three-year seat. Mr. Yuengling and Mr. Raymond are running against each other for the two-year seat currently held by Dr. Don Risucci. Mr. Cimino and Mr. Dolise are running against each other for the third seat.
All of the candidates possess unique skills and experiences that could potentially benefit Plainedge Schools. Here are each of their statements, followed by their responses to select questions posed by residents.
Tom Dolise holds 60 credits above his Master's Degree in Adolescent Behavior and Problems. His professional experience includes 22 years as a certified social worker. He is currently a child advocate, and sits on the district's committee for special education. He has run numerous parent workshops on suicide and child abuse. As a member of the board, he pushed for Medicaid reimbursement for the Special Education population, which has resulted in thousands of additional dollars for the district.
Dolise said he is "not quite satisfied" with student test scores, even though they have gone up. "Last year, all of our eighth grade honor students passed the math regents, there was a 20 percent increase in the fourth grade ELA scores, and the number of students graduating with Regents Diplomas has gone up, but we need to do much more.
"I am running on my merit, my knowledge, and my commitment to children," Dolise concluded. "I am a professional, kind, compassionate and spiritual individual. I want to continue the cultural change this district is involved in, and I ask you to join me in this adventure."
Dan Yuengling has been a resident in the district for 15 years. He has two children, a 10-year-old who currently attends Plainedge Schools, and a 3-year-old who will attend. His wife is also active in the district.
Mr. Yuengling has earned a Bachelor's Degree in Business Government and Criminal Justice from NYIT, and a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice from CW Post. He is a retired detective from the Nassau County Narcotics Bureau. He is presently serving on the district wellness councils, the ribbon committee, the health and safety committee, and the scholarship committee. In the past, he also served on the assessment committee. He currently teaches a drug awareness course and a child safety course to Plainedge grammar school students. He is also a child advocate and a member of many national organizations and honor societies.
"I think the education our kids get will benefit everyone in the community," Mr. Yuengling said. "I believe that a board member should be the voice of the community, and I promise I will be open minded about all the issues, and do everything I can to get our kids the best education."
Michael Cimino has been a resident of Plainedge for 41 years. His son and daughter graduated from Plainedge High School, and he has a grandson currently attending elementary school in Plainedge. He is a former member of the Plainedge Board of Education from Jan. 1972 to June 1975. He is also the former president of Taxpayers of Plainedge Schools (TOPS).
Mr. Cimino said that he is highly critical of the wasteful spending practices by the board, and one of his goals is to see the children get the best education possible at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer. He is also concerned about the lack of communication he perceives between the board and the public. If elected, Mr. Cimino said the business meeting agenda would be in "plain English," and there would be more dialogue between the board members and those attending the meeting.
"Because my methods are different, there are those who think I am only interested in the tax rate, but I am also dedicated to the teaching and learning process," Cimino said. "I am also interested in making sure the money we spend is spent wisely. Wasted money does not help our children. It just means less is available for their education."
Ralph Raymond is a 20-year resident of Plainedge, and he has three children attending Plainedge Schools. He is a self-employed Long Island business owner for the past 22 years. He is also the former chief of the North Massapequa Fire Department. He is currently a member of the board of fire commissioners serving as district clerk. He has served the district in conducting numerous fire prevention educational programs for students. He has also volunteered for many sports programs in the coaching capacity.
"My family and myself all share the same vision," Mr. Raymond said. "That is to have available to all of the children of Plainedge the best educational program possible. I am a believer of putting our children's education first and foremost. To make this possible, I believe we have to enhance the communication process between the children and us, the educational providers. I am also a firm believer that no one person can do this alone. Together, all of us can achieve the goals of higher educational standards. If elected, I will listen to every concern about our children's education and will try to come up with a viable solution that is in our children's best interest."
Dominic DiPrisco has lived in the district since 1984. He has two sons, one who currently attends Packard Middle School. His second son has autism and attends a private school in Plainview, although he may return to the district on a part-time basis next year. He is an attorney with a private practice in Mineola. He has done some pro bono work on behalf of special education students.
Mr. DiPrisco currently sits on the board of a school in Staten Island devoted to the education of children with autism. He has been a board member there for five years volunteering his services, and has spent the last two years as vice chairman of the board. "This has been a great experience for me," Mr. DiPrisco said. "I've learned what it means to be a board member, I've learned what it means to act in the best interest of the children, and I've learned the importance of the relationship that has to exist between the board, the administration and the teachers. Without that relationship, things just don't work."
"I am running now because I think it is an exciting time in the district to be on the board. I feel that for the first time in a long time, a positive relationship exists between the board, teachers and administration, and I think I can help that relationship to continue," he concluded.
Two major concerns of residents who attended the meeting were improving test scores and ensuring student safety in the schools. One question that was asked was, "What do you plan to do to bring up test scores and put Plainedge back in the running for one of the best school districts in Nassau County?"
Mr. Raymond mentioned the new full day kindergarten program as a first step in building a better foundation for students. He also said one main goal of the board would be to concentrate on the budget as far as putting more funding toward the education of the children. "Preparing them ahead of time will help build up their scores in the long run," he said.
Mr. DiPrisco said that the role of a board member is to ask the superintendent what he needs to make Plaindege a better school district. "I am not an educator," Mr. DiPrisco said. "That is why we hire a superintendent. We have to have confidence in him to be able to attain what we are all striving for."
Mr. Dolise said, "I would also support our staff and make sure they are provided with the necessary tools to make sure they carry out our goals."
Mr. Yuengling stressed the importance of making sure teachers received proper instruction so they would know how to present programs correctly. "I think the program constantly has to be reassessed for its effectiveness, and appropriate changes have to be made when we find out that something is not working."
Mr. Cimino stated that he thought board members getting involved in education was a big mistake. "The educators are the ones doing the educating," he said. "They have a tough task ahead of them and they know their job far better than we do."
Another question raised by residents in light of several violent tragedies that have recently occurred in schools throughout the Nation is how to keep kids safe in school. "The district has undertaken several initiatives in the past year to ensure a safe school environment. Specifically, do you support what has been done and do you have any thoughts on specific additional steps that we could take to keep kids safe?" was one question posed to the candidates.
Mr. DiPrisco said he would always support any initiative that had to do with the safety of the children, and he hesitated to make any further suggestions, not knowing at the time what the options were.
Mr. Dolise suggested that board members, administrators and teachers need to look at all the conflicts going on in this country and ask why they are happening. "We have psychologists, guidance counselors and social workers in the district, maybe not enough, maybe just enough, who knows," he said, "but I think that's where we should start looking for solutions."
Mr. Yuengling pointed to the certain schools in the district that do not have a school psychologist on the premises. "I think we need immediate intervention when any problem arises, and without addressing the question of whether or not it can be fit into the budget, I think every step should be taken to get a school psychologist in each school."
Mr. Cimino said he is a firm believer in not gambling with the health and welfare of the children. "Our children have a constitutional right to be safe," he said. "I will not hesitate to implement anything that puts the children first in safety."
Mr. Raymond agreed with Mr. Yuengling that immediate intervention is key. "Bullying in schools needs to be addressed and taken very seriously," he said. "Serious consequences should result from any threat of harm to our children."
Residents are urged to come out for the school board candidates and the 2001-2002 school budget May 15.