Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 13 May 2011 00:00
(Editor’s note: As of press time, Gerard Magaldi has withdrawn from the race. His comments will still be presented in this story.)
The Mineola School District Council of PTA’s held Meet the Candidates Night last Monday. Cindy Velez and Robin Bischoff hosted the event. Village trustee Paul Cusato moderated the panel.
Incumbent president Terence Hale, incumbent trustee Will Hornberger, candidates Gerard Magaldi, Veronica Levitan and Joseph Manopella are vying for two open spots on next year’s board of education. Election day is May 17.
Hale and Hornberger have been on the board for the last three years. During Hale’s term, Hale proposed the “Hale motion” which made Dr. Michael Nagler the district superintendent.
Hornberger served as board president last year, and has worked with Hale and the board to set a 2.5 tax levy increase over the last four years.
Manopella, Levitan, and Magaldi are from Albertson and Williston Park, respectively. Manopella serves as an executive director for North Shore LIJ in Franklin Square/Valley Stream.
Levitan is a seven-year resident and was raised in New York City. She taught in New York City and presently teaches Spanish, ESL and Social Studies at the Long Island Conservatory of Music.
Levitan has volunteered at numerous events, like the Meadow Drive Regatta. She serves as the treasurer of Meadow Drive and the Den mother of Pack 246.
“The reconfiguration has resulted in a multitude of strong, sometimes conflicting opinions among the community members,” Levitan said. “The board and Dr. Nagler have put in countless hours deliberating on the current configuration and many members of the community look forward to the change coming.
“It is very important to come up with a decision to fully consider every aspect of reconfiguration and support which seems to be the most educationally and financially sound move,” she stated.
Magaldi has lived in the district for 14 years. He’s been a banker for 31 years.
In terms of the budget, candidates were asked if they supported the budget as it was adopted. President Hale said it’s a sound budget and a continuation of a goal of the board.
“It’s a sound budget,” he said, highlighting that the district has not lost program. “We’ve imposed a tax levy increase of 2.5 percent for four consecutive years, which is one of the goals to have next year.”
Manopella said this budget clearly has a small tax increase, which is commendable and maintains programs. However, he’s for a different configuration.
“Schools need to close,” he said. “They have to close. You have to maintain the financial viability of the district. I am supportive of having fifth and eighth graders staying where they are. Yes, I support the particular budget, but when looking at the budget, we need to make sure we’re responsible.”
Levitan stated that a budget needs to be supported by board members and the community, as long as it’s a fair budget. Magaldi disliked the 5.1 budget-to-budget percent increase, and like Manopella, does not agree with a fifth and eighth grade move to the middle school and high school respectively.
Hornberger commented that from a cut perspective, “it’s not why we’re closing schools, it’s not why we’re challenging administration. We did not so we can enhance and not lose program.”
Audience questions flocked to the podium, mostly concerning the budget, reconfiguration and the future of the district. Levitan responded to a question on a blog post by trustee John McGrath commenting on reconfiguration.
“There has been a division within our community and I hope that when they come out and vote, they keep in mind that we are here for the education and finances of our children,” she stated.
Magaldi feels that people need to know what it represents for the children. He is not for reconfiguration.
“I wish we didn’t have to, but we do need to close schools,” Magaldi said. “You have to decide what’s right for your children.”
Hornberger mentioned the first bond vote, which would’ve closed three buildings. “We moved onto the next one, and was defeated as well; not as bad as the first one. The second bond was failed, which kept the fifth and eighth grade as is. This budget is about the future of Mineola. It’s about what we as a district can provide to our students,” he said.
The 2 percent property tax cap, which was passed in the Senate and awaits Assembly approval, could hinder districts across Long Island and has been met with the ire of many county school administrations. If this cap is passed without mandate relief, the mainstay of Mineola’s budget (preserving program) would suffer.
“I see we’re making cuts,” Magaldi said. “We have to come to grips with the unions in how we negotiate. What else can we do?”
Hornberger said “no mandate relief” affects everyone.
“It has tremendous impact on how we deliver our program and the ability to conduct the program. The only way to rectify that situation in any way, shape or form would be to hold the line when it relates to contracts and labor negotiations,” he said.
The inevitable question on the Cross Street School lease, which has been the subject of much controversy in terms of traffic conditions and lease components surfaced. Hale would not answer the questions because of the ongoing traffic study.
Manopella said the school has to be leased, for revenue purposes but is not sure the method of negotiations has worked. “When you engage in a lease, you need to make sure all the correct professionals are involved. I am fully in favor of the lease,” he said.
Levitan agreed with Manopella’s comments, however she said that the school district should maintain a “good neighbor policy” and not impact an area adversely. She’s satisfied a traffic study will be done.
“The final traffic study is essential to the process,” Hornberger said.