This year's annual BOE election sees two empty trustee seats vacated by Board President Richard Sussman and Jon Zimmerman, whose three year terms expire at the end of June. Four gentlemen have announced their candidacies for the two available positions. They are James Ansel, Roger Lifson, Mark Marcellus and Robert Seiden.
As we do each year, the Port News asked the candidates to submit bios and platforms.
This year, however, with all the turbulence of the past few years and some unusual issues that have come or will before the board, we also compiled a list of questions for each candidate to answer. These range from questions about the budget to whether or not the district should pay for Board President Sussman's legal bills related to his altercations with board member Jon Zimmerman. These questions and the candidates' answers are on pages 42 and 43.
The election will be held Tuesday, May 21, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the Weber Middle School All-Purpose Room.
I am originally from a small community near Syracuse, New York. I moved to New York City after college. I currently live in North Salem with my wife, Marsha Appel, and my two children. My first association with Port Washington came when I started working for a local company in 1980. I fell in love with the town right from the start. The library, the schools, the diversity of the community, the small town feel, and most especially the pride that everyone took in their community; all these things made me decide that Port was the place I would like to live. We finally managed to move to Port Washington in 1991 when our oldest child was entering first grade. Our children attended elementary school at Guggenheim, and are currently in 8th grade at Weber and 11th grade at Schreiber.
Once in Port, I got involved in community activities. I joined the PTA at my child's elementary school, joined a local temple, became a founding member of PWIG (a local investment education group), and joined the Great Books discussion group at the library. And, from the time I first moved to Port, I began attending school board meetings. My father was a school board member and my mother was a teacher, so I know the important role the school board plays in the educational system and in the community as a whole. From the beginning, I have been actively engaged in issues facing our district, most notably through my membership in AGATE, a local support group for gifted and talented education. I strongly believe that educating our children is the most important thing we do as a community.
I have been a computer programmer and systems manager for more than 20 years. I have worked for small and large companies, including Air Tariffs Corp. here in Port Washington, and Schieffelin & Somerset and TIAA-CREF in New York. For the past few years I have been self employed as a systems consultant. I received my BA from SUNY Albany in 1974.
Why I am running.
I am passionate about education. I believe it is the most important thing we do as a community. It has always made Port Washington a unique place to live and to learn. In the past few years, I have seen more and more people lose faith in the ability of our school system to educate our children in an academically and fiscally responsible manner. This distresses me greatly. From years of involvement, I know we have the talented teachers, dedicated parents and tireless administrators to make our schools all they can be-for all of our children.
I am running for the Board of Education to re-affirm the values and commitment to the community that made our schools outstanding in achievement, stability and well-deserved pride. We can regain our shared purpose. We can meet the educational and fiscal challenges. We can move ahead.
The board should lead and unite. The board sets the tone and policy for the school district. The board-process has too often degenerated into a battle between different constituencies and personalities. This must change. I believe we can have a board that balances the competing needs of all groups, promotes compromise where appropriate, and emphasizes the complementary nature of diverse needs to build a stronger, more vibrant school district.
Regaining community confidence. Part of our loss of confidence comes from the way the board conducts its business. Committees that are responsible for developing policies, budgets and programs rarely meet. For example, the Finance Committee, with budget responsibility, has not met all year. The result: an overflow of agenda items, confusion regarding goals and policies, and ad hoc decision-making. Financial, educational and program decisions must be made as part of an overall plan-and with community involvement.
Balancing educational quality and fiscal responsibility. Our plate is very full, and there are limits to our resources. The board must change the way it operates if we are to make the most effective use of these resources in educating our children. For example, we should:
* Institute a year-round budget process. This is the only way we can make fundamental changes in how we spend money.
* Let board committees do more work. The full board meeting should mark the end of the deliberative process, not the beginning.
* Create class size policies based on sound educational practice and then adhere to them.
* Initiate a community-based process for developing a redistricting plan.
* Stop micromanaging. The role of the board is to set objectives and assess outcomes. It is the job of our professionals to achieve them, and to be held accountable for the results.
The challenges are complex, but not insurmountable. They require creative problem solving. As a professional computer systems manager, I am accustomed to working with complex systems and organizations. I am also a parent who has been actively involved with my children's education. I began attending board meetings when we first moved to the district over 10 years ago and I have been present at every board meeting this year. I have long been an advocate for change within the system. I am a fresh face who is not starting fresh. I am also a consensus builder who is interested in reaching a solution that benefits everybody. If I am elected, I will work to help the board regain the community's confidence and maintain our school system as a source of pride for us all.
There are three areas that our school district must emphasize; they are educational excellence, financial accountability, and a return to civility.
This next board will tackle issues as vital as hiring a new superintendent, management of unprecedented districtwide construction, and finally, redistricting. These extraordinary tasks must be managed while we continue to provide quality education and enhance our curriculum. We also must be wary of increasing the tax burden on the community at a time when other local taxes will be increasing substantially.
As a senior technology manager for a major international financial institution, I have the tools to help the next board analyze these issues and put processes in place to both tackle these issues and to provide oversight on the day-to-day operations of the district. We need to enhance our curriculum while providing our teachers with the resources and training to deliver that curriculum.
Identifying, hiring, and working with a new superintendent will create many challenges for our district. This is a unique opportunity for the board to work with the new superintendent to develop procedures that will help the district run more efficiently. First and foremost is an open and public dialogue. The board needs to provide the public a channel to air their concerns. The board needs to take this public dialogue and translate it into specific and measurable tasks for the administration. The administration is then responsible for developing actionable plans based on direction from the board. The administration must be prepared to defend its plans to the board and then to the community.
At the same time our district will be going through unprecedented construction projects totaling $66 million. In my position as a senior technology project manager, I have been involved in planning and managing all aspects of the construction process. In addition to working with architects, engineers, electricians, and cable plant personnel, I have also been responsible for financial oversight. Working with the construction manager, the board has a huge challenge to make sure that we are on time and on budget. By setting the framework within which the construction will be managed and honoring that framework, the board can supervise the construction process without impeding progress. It is critical that the money that the taxpayers approved be spent wisely to achieve the goals of improving education, meeting the needs of a growing student body and avoiding waste and overruns.
Redistricting is a critical task. The board has asked for community input on how we should redistrict after the Salem School comes on line. The board needs to provide a charge to the redistricting committee. After the committee has formed its report, the board should share the report with the administration. The administration should then be asked to develop a redistricting plan that will continue to provide the best educational opportunity for all the children in the district.
We must provide an excellent education to all our children. However, it is important to understand what the costs for this are and we must manage to spend every dollar wisely. The board is responsible for setting a district wide curriculum with an appropriate budget. Although I am not an educator, I will make sure that questions regarding our curriculum are addressed to the appropriate administration personnel and that we as a community understand the answers and the associated costs.
My wife and I have 3 children, the oldest is at Weber Middle School, one at Manorhaven Elementary School and one who will be entering kindergarten at Manorhaven in the fall of 2003. I am a graduate of the Port Schools, and I have an MBA in Finance. My wife and I moved back to Port Washington in 1994. Since moving back to Port Washington I have been a member of the General Council of Homeowners and Treasurer of the General Council for the past three years. The General Council is a community advocacy and watchdog group formed in 1988 which meets once a month and discusses operating and fiscal issues for each of the Special Taxing Districts of Port Washington including the school district. The experience of having spent several years working with the General Council has given me an understanding of municipal budgeting and the governance of our school district. I have attended school board meetings for many years.
As we face these critical issues, I believe that my background, my experience, and my desire to help the board communicate the vision for the school district can help the next board tackle these issues and achieve the goals of educational excellence, financial accountability and a return to civility that Port Washington deserves.
The greatest task faced by our schools is the continuance of the thrust to provide all of our children with the best possible education. That thrust presently involves the search for a new superintendent, the passage of the budget, the implementation of the $67 million construction program and the continued updating of curriculum.
Our family moved to Port Washington eleven years ago. My wife and I have three children enrolled in the schools. Our youngest doesn't like homework, that's normal. Our middle child has benefited from special education and is a miracle. Our eldest in advanced placement and honors classes is on the fast track. My occupation is that of a construction manager. I have regularly attended board of education meetings. I have been a president of the Port Washington Park Civic Association for two years. I recently joined our local Elks lodge and in June I will assume the chair of the Men's Group at the Unitarian-Universalistic Congregation of Shelter Rock.
I support the continued establishment and implementation of a districtwide standardized curriculum for each subject at each grade level. Subject matter and instruction would thereby be unified from the start of each class and succeeding class. Voids and repetition of subject content could then be minimized. The lack of continuity has been of particular concern at the transition from the elementary schools to the middle school. Unification would improve both instruction and learning by lending efficiency to the process.
Recently the math program was revised to require all students to start math previously programmed for the ninth grade at the eighth grade level. This requires all students to compress math which was previously taught in the seventh and eight grades into the seventh grade alone to make the transition. This revision in programming is overdue as math students generally have gone unchallenged in the preceding grades. However, this immediate transition is not suitable for everyone. For some, the option to continue with the pre-existing program should remain open. Conversely, other more able students should proceed directly into the compressed program.
I welcome new ideas for consideration. However, with regard to implementation I support only those methods that have been proven to be effective. Children should not suffer the effect of unproven methods as previously occurred with the misuse of the whole language program.
I am an advocate of differentiated instruction supported by enrichment programs. Students should be permitted to move along at their own pace. I favor the implementation of what I have termed "Early ready, early learn." Any student of demonstrated ability should be permitted to enroll for any required courses at earlier grade levels.
Regarding special education, I favor appropriate support, inclusion and mainstreaming. Students should not be placed into special education simply because they do not know English or else are disruptive. Appropriate alternative programs exist and must be utilized.
As a construction manager I will provide oversight to promote a safe work environment. When plans for construction with insufficient emphasis on safety and school needs were being rushed through, I became involved and corrections were made. I will continue that involvement. With 16 years of experience in supervising and managing school construction, I will expect costs for construction to be reasonable and valid. I will be there to watch over that large gray area of expense that communities normally lose through default.
The opening of another elementary school in the Salem area will require redistricting. I am for neighborhood schools. It is a given that the parents of young children should not want them far from home or suffer unnecessary travel. Children should want to remain with their friends and neighborhoods should remain intact. The clustered geographic location of the existing elementary schools will continue as in the past to pose a problem. The best solution is to compassionately balance the parameters of diversity with the integrity of neighborhoods. The use of cold exact division to determine each district will only yield the greatest unhappiness.
I will expect that, in every instance, civility, honesty, manners and respect for diversity be maintained and promoted. Board meetings must be conducted procedurally with the goal being to take care of business. The chairperson should guard against tangents and distractions.
My reasons for seeking this office are my affection for Port Washington and its people. I have regularly attended and participated at school board meetings. I am familiar with the issues and an experienced in construction. I am prepared to apply myself to obtain the best educational system for our children and our town.
Rob Seiden, an eight-year resident of Port Washington, is a business owner, lawyer, former prosecutor and father of three.
Seiden currently serves as the President of Safety Solvers, Inc., a safety and security company based on Long Island. Seiden works with retired FBI agents, and technologists who, among other things, conduct safety and security audits and investigations for businesses and facilities in the New York region. From this work, he has experience with budgets, conflict resolution, hiring and firing, and overseeing large, expensive and complicated projects. Before that, he engaged in the general practice of law for a short while, and before that served as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for 11 years. As an Assistant District Attorney, he prosecuted a variety of crimes, including gang-related cases, homicides, child abuse, domestic violence and fraud. This experience has given me insights into human relationships and respect for other person's views and opinions. It has given me an understanding of the unique dynamics of individuals and how to work with people to accomplish a specific goal.
Seiden is very active in a variety of community organizations. Seiden has served on the Board of the Port Washington Senior Citizens, Inc. for six years, where he works closely with a diverse group of community people on the board to bring the best services to seniors of our town. Seiden also recently became involved in the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce and is a volunteer along with his daughter at Harborfest. Seiden has been an active member of Temple Beth Israel, and has been an advisor to the temple's ad hoc safety committee during the recent construction project. Seiden has been a volunteer coach in soccer, basketball and softball for the Port Youth Activities (PYA). He has also been a volunteer coordinator and moderator at the North Shore University Hospital Perinatal Loss Awareness Seminar for the past four years. These experiences are a reflection of my commitment to being a child advocate and my sincerity in helping the community.
Committed to civic duty and the concerns of youth, Seiden volunteered as a counselor and coordinator with the New York Youth at Risk organization in Manhattan serving the underprivileged youth by going into the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods and assisting the kids to get help. Seiden felt this work was important as a prosecutor putting criminals in jail at the D.A.'s Office, in order to try and help some of the kids before they became involved in the criminal justice system. He also served as an advisor and counselor to the Working Organization for Retarded Children (WORC) Board in redrafting their bylaws several years ago. He has been an instructor on criminal justice and trial advocacy to young junior high and high school students while at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office as part of their outreach program.
Seiden is a graduate of New York University where he paid his tuition by working nights and weekends as a waiter in a Brooklyn restaurant and as a cook in the Brighton Beach Baths. Seiden is a graduate of Yeshiva University's Benjamin Cardozo School Of Law, where he was a trial advocacy competition semi-finalist, and where he worked for a federal judge. A native of Brooklyn, NY, he attended Mark Twain Junior High School for the Gifted and Talented in Coney Island and Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.
Seiden serves as the chairman of the Long Island Software and Technology Network Security Committee, is a member of the New York State Bar and a member of the American Society of Industrial Security.
He has three children, a girl in second grade at Guggenheim, twin boys in preschool, and lives in the New Salem section of Port Washington. Seiden's wife is a Brownie Troop Leader, coordinator of the father-daughter square dance and a class mother.
Seiden and his wife are supporters of Diabetes Research Institute, Hadassah, Community Chest of Port Washington, the Avon Run Breast Cancer Research and St. Mary's Hospital for Children.
Why am I Running?
I am a genuinely concerned parent and resident who has the time, energy and desire to help. I have no hidden agenda and have no ties to anyone or any group. My aim is to help resolve issues and build consensus at this critical time. I believe my experiences will allow me to be a consensus builder. I am committed to working with the other board members to set realistic and achievable priorities and goals that reflect community views. I am committed to watching the budget carefully and ensuring that we get our every dollar's worth. I believe I have experience and skills to contribute that are somewhat different from others running for the board.
What Skills do I Bring to the Job?
Consensus Builder My experience as a lawyer, in negotiating contracts, conflict resolution and understanding of complex issues. As a board member with Port Washington Senior Citizens, Inc. in dealing with a diverse and committed organization. As a business owner in negotiating and finding common ground with contractors, clients and employees. As a prosecutor by being a reasonable and fair watchdog with experience rooting out corruption, fraud and gangs.
Business Owner I have extensive budget and fiscal experience with large projects, as well as management experience including hiring/staff management. I also have knowledge in current safety and security issues from my business.
Board Experience My experience on the Port Washington Senior Citizens, Inc. Board Member (six years) and providing counsel and advice to the board of WORC (the Working Organization for Retarded Children), will give me an added head start in working with fellow board members on pressing issues.
Teaching I taught Junior High and High School students while at D.A.'s office and was a counselor for NY Youth At Risk (organization for disadvantaged kids)