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Four Candidates Vie for Two OB-EN Board Seats

Residents will have to choose two candidates out of four running for the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Board of Education: incumbents Keith Kowalsky and Donald Zoeller; and Maryann Santos and Stephen Zbodula. The candidates were asked four questions to give a view of where they stand in relation to the budget and school education.
The four candiates were asked to provide a short bio, and answer the following questions:
1- Why are you running for the board?
2- What is your view of the 3.94 percent budget increase?
3- What is your view of Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2 percent budget cap?
4- And, how you believe excellence is achieved in the schools?
The election vote takes place on Tuesday, May 17 in the foyer of the OBHS gymnasium. The OB-EN Budget increase is 3.94 Percent and the budget figure for the 2011-2012 is $50,659,664. 

Candidate Keith Kowalsky

Keith Kowalsky is president of a Long Island company, Flame-Spray Industries, Inc, which is in the business of surface coating technologies. He is an engineer who has a B.S. in Physics from SUNY college at Buffalo, B.E. in Mechanical engineering from SUNY Stony Brook and an M.S. in Materials Engineering from SUNY Stony Brook. He holds over 18 patents worldwide. He was named the 2009 National Inventor of the Year, which is one of this country’s most prestigious awards for inventors. He has also been awarded the 2011 Distinguished Alumni award from his alma mater SUNY Stony Brook.

1. I have been very fortunate to have had wonderful parents, and a community with a public education system that provided me with excellent education opportunities. I believe strongly in our kids and the important role they will play in the future of our community and our country. Given our current system, it is vital that we provide our kids with the best possible education, while being fiscally responsible. I believe my involvement on the school board, has positively affected the lives of many children, parents and community members.

2. The state mandates school districts to fund many expenses and increases, which the state controls and the school districts cannot cut or reduce. This results in a “roll over budget” requiring an increase in taxes. When I started on the board our budget to budget increases were in the 7-8 percent range. Since my tenure on the board, I have made a commitment to reducing the budget to budget increases while providing the best possible education for our children. This past year, as an example, we have negotiated a 0 percent salary increase for our teachers and the administrators unit. Now our average budget to budget increase over the last 6 years in Oyster Bay has slowed to 3.86 percent. I support the 3.94 percent budget, because the 3.94 percent budget includes cuts to our budget, but preserves the core of our great school programs.

3. This answer requires more of a big picture discussion. A tax cap in theory can be good if this means that utility costs will only increase by 2 percent, pension fund funding is capped at a 2 percent increase even if the stock market plummets by 18 percent, current union contracts provide for a 2 percent or less increase including “step” increases. What many people do not realize is that so much of our budget has state restrictions, state mandates or union constraints. As a school board, there is a relatively small percentage of our budget that we can reduce without cutting teachers, increasing class sizes, reducing programs and reducing after school activities. So in answer to the question about a 2 percent cap, sure it is a great idea as long as the State provides us with controls for the other increases, or provides us with a commensurate amount of mandate relief.

4. Excellence in education requires quality teaching, parental involvement, community support and varied opportunities for students to learn, create and grow. Running a school district is different than running a company. We have expenses we can’t control. Budget cuts don’t just cut into profit—they directly impact the quality and or diversity of education. By investing in our kids we are investing in the future of our community and country. My commitment, as it has been for the last 8 years, is to provide the necessary policy and governance to ensure that we spend our taxpayer money wisely and provide our kids with the tools they need to be successful in life while minimizing the tax burden to the community. Remember results matter… please get out and vote!

Candidate Maryann Santos

Maryann Santos has been an Oyster Bay resident for 15 years. Two of her children are currently in the district and two went through district. Ms. Santos has a BS in Accounting, JD, and MBA. She is employed as a tax attorney with a focus on municipal finance.

1- The most important issue facing our district is our ability to continue to improve, or at least maintain, the level of education and services we provide our children, while being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers, in a time when we are faced with lower revenues plus state mandates and costs which we have no control over.

2- The community has spoken out loud and clear; we do not want above average increases in the budget and we can no longer continue to cut from the same line items of the budget that we take away from every time we are faced with reducing our expenses – the services we provide for our children. These cuts are not only putting our children’s education and academic environment at risk, they do not solve the long-term problem. 

When faced with budget constraints in the past, we cut costs by eliminating many of the services we provide our students. Once again, at this year’s budget forum it was proposed that we continue to eliminate services. This is no longer acceptable!

I am witnessing, this year, a very united community who understands that we must make cuts to put forth a fiscally responsible budget at an increase that will not negatively impact the students and members of our community. However, I also heard from our united community that we have had enough of only cutting from services to our children when balancing the budget. A budget, in which less than 15 percent is available that can be cut due to the remaining 85 percent-plus that is tied up in state mandates, pensions and contractual obligations that are no longer appropriate for this day and age; especially under the current and near future economic conditions.

3 - Our district will need to re-assess the way we provide education and services our children receive plus analyze the revenues and costs to deliver them. This detailed analysis must include a review of each budget line item along with a cost-benefit evaluation of all administrative and supervisory positions, as well as, programs currently offered so that tomorrow we are prepared to offer the budgets and programs that make the most sense and provide the largest return on investment for everyone in our district.

4 - The Board should work closely with the Superintendent and be an integral part of this process. My career of over 25 years in finance and tax will be a tremendous asset to this process in assisting to achieve our goals. I am not an educator by trade and understand that those trained in education must lead our schools since they are the ones responsible for the day to day activities. However, I do have extensive background and experience with budgets and financial matters which will be as vital to the stability and growth of our district going forward.

Candidate  Steve Zbodula

Candidate Steve Zbodula said, “I’ve lived in Oyster Bay for 21 years and have four kids in Oyster Bay schools with my oldest graduating this year. I was a Short Term Government Bond Trader for 19 years. I went on to work in contracting for eight years and currently work at Allstate. I can talk to you about finance, sell you car insurance and hang your kitchen cabinets.”

1- We spend too much money running our schools. Our budget affects every taxpayer in the community and should be considered with that in mind. We all want our kids to have a good education but at the same time we don’t want the cost of that education preventing them from returning to OBEN to raise their own families.

In the past, our school boards have cut programs to reduce the budget while teacher and administrator salaries continued to increase.

It’s time our teachers gave salary concessions to control budget costs while leaving programs for our kids intact. This needs to be a shared sacrifice and our kids have given back enough.

2- The 3.94 percent increase with no direct benefits to our children is too high. Our teachers make too much money and their benefits and pensions are too generous. This year’s budget is a direct result of that.

3- I think this opinion piece in Newsday says it pretty well, “Pass a property tax cap. Limiting property tax increases is a last-ditch attempt to rein in local taxing entities and school districts that appear completely incapable of controlling spending.”

4 - Excellence in education will be achieved when we provide an exceptional cost effective education for our kids. Excellence in education is not continually increasing our budget millions while reducing programs for our children.

Our school district needs to learn to do more with less while maintaining high academic standards. Our teachers are at a pay level that demands this.

Candidate Donald J. Zoeller

I was raised and attended grammar school in Woodhaven, Queens; high school in Brooklyn; and Fordham College in the Bronx. At Fordham I joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps and, at graduation, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. A month later I was ordered to active duty and sent to Korea where I spent 13 months, first as an assistant platoon leader and then platoon leader supporting the infantry at the front during the Korean War.

About one year after returning to the states I became a night student at Fordham Law School, while working full time during the day. After graduation from law school, I served one year as a federal judge’s law clerk, after which I was hired by a Wall Street law firm. My practice area was complex commercial litigation throughout the United States and, for several years, in Canada. I became head of my firm’s litigation department and a member of its governing committee. I later spent several years at another Wall Street firm before retiring from the practice of law at the end of 2003.

I married my wife, Susan, at the end of my first year in night law school. We have three children and eight grandchildren. We have lived in the Oyster Bay/East Norwich School District for 35 years.

1 - I have served as a trustee on the Oyster Bay/East Norwich School Board for approximately six years. For the first two years I filled the unexpired term of a trustee whose job commitment required him to step down. Four years ago I was elected to serve a full term. I wish to remain on the Board because of my strong commitment to education, coupled with my concern for those in the community who do not have children in any of our District’s schools but are burdened with same school tax obligations as those who do.

As someone who does not have, and never had children in any of the District’s schools, and who has had a different professional and educational background from other Board members, I feel I am able to add a beneficial perspective to the Board’s deliberations.

2 - I believe the Board and Administration must work as hard as they can to bring budget increases down as far as possible, consistent with the District’s basic obligation to do a truly effective job of providing students with a very high level of education.

My first involvement with School District matters was when I engaged in a successful campaign against a proposed budget increase of close to 8 percent. There has never again been so high a proposed increase. During this year’s budget discussions by the School Board I publicly stated that I was not happy with the 3.9 percent increase. But when all other Board members voted in favor of that proposed increased I voted to accept it as a compromise between proposed higher increases and my desired lower increase.

3- I believe that the proposed 2 percent budget cap is a very bad idea, especially when the state continues to impose unfunded mandates on school districts and lowers the amount of state financial support.

4 - I believe that most important in achieving excellence in the schools are very high quality teachers and principals, and an effective administration, capable of attracting and holding high quality teachers and principals and with very high tenure standards. Great focus needs to be made on the tools which make students proficient in logic, speaking and writing and with a strong knowledge and understanding of history and the other subjects that are the hallmarks of an educated person.

There are many other things of true value to students, such as sports, music and theater, which may need to be cut back to some degree because of budgetary limitations — not because cutting back is desirable, but because budgetary restrictions may require it.