School Board Election '09 has four candidates running for three seats. Incumbents Larry Greenstein and Dr. Roy Nelson are seeking re-election to another three-year term. Sandy Ehrlich, who successfully ran last year to fill the unexpired term of Rocco Andreoli, is now also seeking a three-year term. Bill Hohauser is the challenger.
In addition to asking the candidates for bios and mission statements, we have posed some questions to all four candidates, which they all responded to.
Here's what they wrote.
My husband Mike and I fell in love with Port Washington on first sight 18 years ago. My three children, David, Daniel and Alison, have all attended Manorhaven, Weber and Schreiber high schools. I have been a leader in the Port Washington Community for 17 years. My service started with the Parent Resource Center Board, where I was president in 1993 and 1994. I was a member of the Landmark on Main Street Board at the opening of the building as I am again today. I have been president of Port Jewish Center and a member of the Sands Point Board of Zoning and Appeals. I served on the Board of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County. After six years experience as a technology manager in the financial industry, I partnered with my husband in a successful small business which provided document production and management solutions to business clients for over nine years and where I served as chief technology officer. For the past three years, I have enjoyed the satisfaction of working as executive director of the Parent Resource Center, where I combine my management and financial skills with my love of children and the Port Washington community.
The proposed budget is extremely lean, especially in light of the fact that the district under-budgeted in two prior years. It is a product of the current economic climate and was developed with understanding and respect for the financial difficulties in which many of our taxpayers find themselves. I am proud that we have included money ($650,000) to maintain our buildings for the first time in five years. I am also pleased that we have included $450,000 to replace computers six years old and older. We will have to rely upon the creativity of our teachers and administrators to move the district forward while keeping costs low, but I am sure they are equal to the task.
There is too much absenteeism in our school district. Teacher absence is not just a fiscal issue, but an educational one. The instructional time students lose when their teacher is absent damages their education. The number of sick days is a function of collective bargaining and can only be changed in the context of a negotiation. There are, however, policies and procedures in place that are designed to give our principals tools to ensure that absences are due to legitimate illness. These tools are not always used effectively. The district needs to do a better job to reduce absenteeism with the means at their disposal.
I have a unique combination of skills that come from years of business and not-for-profit management experience. I have the respect of parents, teachers and administrators who know that I am a consistent advocate for the students of Port Washington. No matter the issue, I approach it with objectivity, independence and a passion for learning that often clears obstacles and helps to define the best path for the future. I value my role as a representative of the Port Washington community and stand out in my ability to articulate the needs and hopes of its members.
I hate empty buses! They are expensive, bad for the environment and add to the already brutal traffic we experience every day. I would work to eliminate the mandate that says we cannot offer our families an option to decline bus transportation. If we were permitted to provide buses only for the students that use them we could save many thousands of dollars. The state and federal mandates to test every child in every subject from third to eighth grades are expensive and distort learning. These tests do not serve students well and should be drastically reduced in number.
I would prefer not to fill Dr. Gordon's position while he is still occupying it. When and if we need to fill his position, the board should do a thorough and extensive search, interviewing qualified candidates within and outside the district. The most important role of a school board is to hire and evaluate the superintendent. I take that responsibility extremely seriously. The three most important qualities for a superintendent is that he be an educator first, last and always; that he always put the needs of the students first; that he is always an advocate for excellence in our educational program.
I believe that we are not sufficiently critical of our new hires. We need to better assess our probationary teachers and have better techniques to be able to say with certainty that they have the skills we need in the positions they are occupying. More frequent observations, peer review, and the input of parents, and where appropriate, students should all be part of the process. The district has only three years to decide whether a teacher will be tenured. We need to have better procedures in place so that we don't make mistakes in this area.
A school board member is a representative of the community in all decisions impacting the school district. I consider it an important part of the role of a board of education member to maintain a dialogue with all community members who wish to engage him/her in discussion of district issues. It is the responsibility of a board member to speak clearly, directly and publicly to the school administration on issues of educational excellence and to hold the managers of our school district accountable for both fiscal responsibility and educational outcomes.
As a child I was a disaffected student, and although I lived in a well-regarded and well-funded school district, I don't feel that I was well-served. When I saw many of those same issues confronting my children and my neighbors' children, I got involved -- first through parent organizations in Port Washington and as an outside advocate for children. For 12 years now, I have worked with and learned from many parents, board members, administrators, teachers, and other community members, to make education in Port Washington an even more rewarding and meaningful experience for all students. To be as effective as possible, I routinely read many educational and business publications and keep abreast of what is happening in education at the state and national levels. I think I share my vision and philosophy for the future of education with many of our current administrators. However, we are not done yet. We need to make the reality of opportunity for every child equal to that vision. I intend to keep pushing for that reality as long as I am able.
I have lived in Port Washington since 1986 and have been happily married to Star Anthony for 25 years. We are the proud parents of two children, Kevin, a 10th-grader at Schreiber, and Tom, an eighth-grader at Weber. I graduated from New York University with a degree in accounting and now own my own business. As a CPA working with individuals and small businesses, I have a lot of experience navigating the ever-changing and complex economy and its effect on real people.
In July of 2008, I was elected by the current board as its president. Under my leadership, the board established its Legislative Task Force which has helped increase community-wide awareness of some of the systemic long term funding and mandate issues that we face. The task force has also provided the board with valuable insight and data that have been used in our conversations with our lawmakers. I served with former BOE President Rob Seiden as vice president during his presidency, and also as chair of the curriculum committee. During this period, we adopted some of the lowest budgets in the region and met with great community support.
This is my fourth year of board service. I am a past president of SEPTA and the co-founder of The League of Special Education Voters, which works with legislators on issues concerning people with disabilities on the national and state levels.
In 2004 I was invited to participate in Partners in Policy Making, an international advocacy training program from which I graduated in 2005. Partners learn the ins and outs of the legislative and advocacy process, culminating in final projects. My class, for example, was able to propose and get New York State to pass a bill that requires 'people first' language in all newly created bills, laws and regulations.
I have a strong commitment to the environment. I am a longtime member of the Board of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, which I served as treasurer for many years, and I sit on the school district's newly created Alternative Energy Committee.
This is the lowest budget increase in 15 years. I wish that we could have found a way to reduce the cost for the taxpayers even further. However, with numerous unfunded and inefficient mandates from the state and federal governments, such as inflexible busing rules and the over-testing of our children, it wasn't possible.
Creating a budget is a balancing act. The adopted budget with an increase in expenditures of 2.29 percent -- resulting in a projected tax increase of 2.05 percent -- strikes a balance between meeting the educational needs of our students and respecting the tough financial times our community and our country are facing. I am proud that there are no projected layoffs in this budget and that for the first time in five years we are allocating funds to make much-needed repairs to our buildings. We are also starting to upgrade our technology so that our students will be better equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century job market.
If we do not have a sustainable budget over the longterm, both the children and the community will suffer. Therefore hard choices have to be made. There were items I would have wanted to include in the budget such as more formal collaboration time for teachers, and after-school elementary programs, as well as participation in the NYS School Boards Association. However, our job as a board is to craft a budget that reflects educational and economic realities, and I think that we have done so.
Since we are in negotiations with our teachers association and this is a contractual matter, I am, as a matter of fairness and a matter of law, prohibited from commenting specifically on what changes, if any, I would like to see in this area.
Obviously, however, our children are best-served when their teacher is in the classroom. Every day a teacher is absent, whether for illness or test scoring, or any other reason, is not in the students' best interest. On the other hand, as evidenced by the H1N1 flu outbreak, when a teacher is ill and potentially contagious, they should not be in school. We need to be vigilant that sick days are used only for illness. We lose far too many days in the classroom due to the over-testing that NYS requires of us without providing the resources to do it. The bottom line is that the students do better when the teachers are in the classroom.
"What is best for the kids" is the lens through which I view every decision. My deep understanding of school district finances, state and federal educational and fiscal requirements, along with my understanding and commitment to educating each child, sets me apart.
I am a creative and tenacious problem solver. I challenge assumptions and I consistently push the envelope. I thrive on listening to other points of view and engaging in substantive discussions as I work with my colleagues to solve problems together. With this approach, I have established a track record of real accomplishments. To be an effective board member you have to understand and be able to work from multiple perspectives and on multiple paths simultaneously. As a small-business owner, I am constantly working on many issues at the same time.
I believe that every child is unique and that if we work to meet the needs of each child we will have met the needs of all of the children. This requires a creative outlook rather than just additional expenditure. For example, we need to leverage technology, not only to improve student achievement but to control our expenses. This kind of leadership is how we have managed to propose the lowest budget increase in 15 years without any program cuts.
If we do not have a sustainable budget and funding process that meets the needs of the community we will be unable to meet the needs of the children. This is why I have worked hard and committed myself to increasing the board's legislative profile.
Under my leadership, the board invited the community to conversations about education and funding with Regent Roger Tilles and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel. Also, several of us have worked closely with Senator Craig Johnson. Both of our state legislators have sponsored legislation that can help reduce the financial burdens our district faces.
I understand the hard work and dedication of all our staff and have done my utmost to help foster an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. It is that kind of relationship that led to the custodians and maintenance workers offering to freeze their wages for one year, to help the district through these tough financial times.
Although my respect for the job that the teachers do each day for our children is second to none, I believe that as a district and community we must be mindful of our community's limited resources. We must also keep in mind the unfair funding system currently imposed on taxpayers. During the last negotiation, we were able to come to an agreement with the teachers that provided significant savings, especially in the area of health insurance. That was not an easy task and I do not expect this round of negotiations to be easy, either. However with my respect, tenacity and creative problem-solving abilities, I expect that we will have an agreement that the teachers, the community and the district can live with.
One mandate that hits our district hard is the set of transportation requirements imposed on us by the state. This has been a subject of discussion in our community for many years, but until now not much has changed. Building upon our conversations this past year with our legislators, the time may be at hand where we can take action. Senator Johnson and Assemblywoman Schimel have taken this issue on and sponsored legislation to address this issue, for which I am very grateful.
Another large and difficult mandate is the over-use of standardized testing. The expense is great, while there are no hard data that the tests created by NYS are meaningful. We risk spending far too much time 'teaching the test' and missing out on the 'teachable moments' that are the heart of the educational experience. Standards and accountability are important; but meaningless standards provide a false accountability that makes politicians happy but does little for students. I will continue to press for changes that will create true measures of how well our students are prepared for the world and how well we are educating them.
In education, one size does not fit all. Mandates, although created with the best of intentions, need to be flexible so as to provide a safety net for children without preventing creative and successful districts from operating effectively. As we discussed in the Legislative Task Force, all mandates should automatically "sunset," i.e. expire, unless reauthorized. That would force the State Education Department to review the cost and effectiveness of each mandate, on a regular basis, leading to lower costs and better results. It is time New York State imposed high standards on its own Education Department.
Having Dr. Gordon considered for such an important position says a lot about his abilities. It also says a lot about the climate that the board has created so that Dr. Gordon has the support to do the kind of work that gets noticed on a statewide basis.
As in all hiring decisions, it is best to investigate and consider all options. If Dr. Gordon were to be appointed as commissioner, I would certainly make securing the best possible next superintendent a top priority. It is impossible to know, at this point, whether that candidate is in house or would come from elsewhere.
The most important qualities for a superintendent are: always keeping the question, "What is best for kids?" first and foremost in their mind; having an educational vision and being able to articulate it; and constantly looking for creative ways to make the district even better. These are all qualities that define leadership; and the ability to implement the vision is as important as the vision itself.
We must be sensitive to comments from teachers and parents. I would also like to see student opinions taken into consideration when developing any improvement plans. By getting as much information as possible, from as many sources as possible, and using as transparent a procedure as possible, I think that we can maximize the individual and collective talents of our staff. We need to make sure that the principals and teachers have the resources to work through their difficulties and become effective. By improving staff development we can build on the strengths of our staff and make them even better.
A board member's role is to help shape the vision and direction of the school district and to carry it out in the way that is most cost-effective and sensitive to the economic climate in the community. The board is the eyes and ears of the community, and the trustee of the community's schools. Especially important is the board's fiduciary obligation to the community to make sure that proper procedures are in place to safeguard the taxpayers' money, with sufficient oversight to ensure that programs are planned in an efficient and effective manner. While I have been on the board, the district has repeatedly been praised by both its internal and external auditors for our good internal controls, our tight budgeting, and the responsiveness and openness of our business office staff. We received a complimentary and helpful report from the NYS Controller's Office after a lengthy and thorough review of our records.
A board member should always stand up for what he or she believes in while simultaneously working to reach consensus with their fellow board members. Being a team player means a board member must respect the majority's final decision and continue to work respectfully with those whose opinions differ. A board member serves as a link between the community and the schools and helps facilitate mutual understanding of each other's positions.
I know and have worked with all of my fellow candidates. Port Washington is lucky to have such talented and dedicated people willing to commit their time and effort to help the community and the children. While I wish Bill, Roy and Sandy the best of luck, I believe that of all the candidates running this year, I have the best combination of experience, tenacity and creativity. I respectfully ask that you give me the opportunity to continue to serve you and the children of Port Washington by casting a vote for me on Lever #4.
I attended SUNY-Binghamton, graduated in 1981 with high honors and degrees in economics and mathematics. I then attended Columbia University School of Law, graduating in 1984. After four years with law firms, joined Shearson Lehman Brothers in 1987, and now work for a successor firm known as Citigroup. In the last 22 years, I have resolved thousands of litigations and tried hundreds myself, and am a senior trial attorney with the firm.
I have been active in the community, serving as a PYA basketball coach for many years. I also have been honored with an appointment by the governor of the state of New York with an appointment to the College Council at SUNY-Old Westbury, where I serve on the Strategic Planning and Curriculum committees.
In addition, I have been privileged to help many of our highest caliber local officials, such as State Senator Craig Johnson and County Legislator Wayne Wink, for whom I have served as their treasurer, as well as Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman.
On a personal level, I am an avid bridge player, chess player, golfer, long distance runner and has-been baseball and basketball player.
All of the above pales in comparison with the most important part of my life: my wife Sharon, to whom I have been married for 22 years, and our two incredible daughters, Alexandra (17) and Emma (14).
Mission statement: I run for this seat to offer my services to a wonderful community that prizes educational excellence, and hope that my business background and problem-solving ability will be of assistance.
I support passage of the budget, although with reservations. Given these unprecedented economic times, I had hoped that the board would recognize that Port Washington has been hit especially hard by the current economic crisis and that a zero-increase budget would have been preferable. I appreciate that the administration understood this and attempted to reduce the increase still further. However, two of my opponents added funds to the budget for programs that the administration did not believe were necessary.
Because I feel it imperative to bring Port Washington further into the 21st century, I would have included additional funding for technology and capital improvement. We have lagged behind with respect to our computer capabilities and this cannot continue, because the cumulative effect will be detrimental to our students. Concerning capital improvements, we have facilities which are in dire need of repair, i.e., roof repair, the Weber locker rooms are just two examples and waiting will only cause the necessary expenses to rise.
The Port Washington academic professional staff deserves the utmost respect for the important work they do. However, regarding illness, in the private sector 20 paid sick days per year would not be provided to any employee, absent compelling circumstances. When so many of our neighbors are either unemployed or under-employed, it is difficult to rationalize such a policy. That said, there should be an analysis of the how intensively this sick leave policy has been utilized before making any rash decisions.
As a trial attorney, arbitrator and mediator for 25 years, I have unique insight into how a dispute arises, its framework, and how to negotiate the best possible resolution for all parties. Having negotiated thousands of settlements, I understand how to enable people to reach consensus and move forward. As a decision-maker, I have come to recognize that pragmatism should prevail over ideology. In addition, I have been honored to receive an appointment from the Governor of the State of New York to serve on the College Council at SUNY-Old Westbury, where I serve on the strategic planning and curriculum committees. In this trustee-equivalent role, I have been engaged in the process of planning for the future, in that SUNY Old Westbury is undergoing an analysis of how they can better provide educational services to this community. If Port Washington does not plan and anticipate for the future, then we will always be reacting to the past, placing us in an untenable catch-up position. That must change, and I want to be part of the team that effects that change.
At the outset, any unfunded mandate should be vetted by a complete cost-benefit accounting, such that we could determine whether it would be net positive or negative. I would advocate performing such an analysis on any mandate currently imposed as well as any proposed. This furthers my goal of turning the board's perspective toward the future rather than just the past. Some of the mandates I would question include those requiring (in effect) teachers to "teach for the standardized test" and shelve their curriculum; advocacy for pension reform including the adoption of a Tier 5 level; the ability to bargain collectively for lower-cost health benefits; and an increase in the threshold required for competitive bidding on certain projects (as of now, the district is required to have competitive bidding on contracts for relatively small amounts, this increases the cost dramatically).
If Dr. Gordon was to be appointed state education commissioner, I am confident that there are internal candidates who we could consider for the position. However, as Dr. Gordon had prior successful engagements as a school district superintendent, I believe that it would be important to conduct a full-fledged, open search for any successor. I would consider the three most important qualities for the Port Washington superintendant to be: (i) personal integrity; (ii) the fiscal sense to manage a $125 million/year enterprise; and (iii) the ability to understand the cultural diversity and history that make Port Washington a unique community.
I do not believe that it is within the board of education's purview to "identify" ineffective teachers. In that regard, board members do not perform classroom evaluations or the equivalent, rather that is properly the responsibility of the administration and its delegates. However, if a board member becomes aware of a possible problem, it is incumbent upon that board member to notify the appropriate administrator and keep apprised of any appropriate remedial action, if any was necessary. In any event, I do not believe that reliance upon mere standardized test scores would be a litmus test in this fashion.
A school board member should work closely with the rest of the board to establish a partnership with the community as a whole, the administration and the professional staff in order to define the goals for the school district and to provide a road map of how to achieve those aims, while understanding that our first duty is to provide our children with a quality education. The board as a whole sets general policies; it is not the individual board member's function to micro-manage those responsibilities properly performed by the administration and the professional staff.
Dr. Roy Nelson
Dr. Roy Nelson, a surgeon, is committed to education, serving Port Washington on the board of education and as a founding member of the Port Washington Educational Foundation. In addition, he serves the community as a board member of the Children's Center and the Community Chest. He also serves as medical director for Port's Thanksgiving Day Race. Roy has lived in Port for 29 years. He no longer has children in the school system; however, he has the perspective and an objective point of view that comes from all three of his children having gone through the district's schools and graduating from Schreiber. He is an experienced leader, schooled in public administration, management and finance and committed to using his experience and education to help the students, district and the community.
In these tough times Roy believes that an experienced responsible leader is essential; one who has shown that he can balance excellence in education with fiscal prudence. Over the last three years, there has been increased achievement for a broad spectrum of Port's children - graduating more students, graduating more with Regents' and Advanced Regents diplomas, enrolling more students in advanced and enriched courses and increasing our standardized test scores - all while holding down costs. However, he believes that there is still much more to do - more access to more courses, for example and fewer mandates. He will continue to work creatively, increasing value for money spent, improving efficiency and decreasing the costs to continue to slow the tax increases and better serve Port's children. He has already shown that he can do this.
Over the last three years he has spearheaded the board's Policy Committee and has accomplished a lot -- over 15 new or revised policies. Some examples include a new mission statement to direct the district, an anti-idling policy, the first in NY State, to keep our environment safer, Cell Phone and Credit Card Policies for fiscal responsibility and prudence and a Student Conduct and Discipline Policy documenting expectations of our students -- just to name a few. However, there are many more policies in the hopper. Port needs an up-to-date Internet Policy to keep our children safe when online, an access to accelerated courses policy to give students more opportunities to excel and a Green Policy to provide for a safe environment for our children. He believes that policies are important - they set the direction that the board wants the district to go - they are how the board leads.
Dr. Nelson's mission statement reads: I want to continue to work to improve Port schools' academic achievements while maintaining fiscal prudence. I believe that vibrant and relevant board policies function to ensure that students have the means and the environment to reach their potential while at the same time providing the structure for financial responsibility.
I recognize that times are tough for all of us and the current budget addresses that concern with Port's lowest budget increase in 15 years while at the same time maintaining programs. This budget balances the cost concerns with the need to provide for students' education. I would have liked to have an even lower budget increase while at the same time providing more for the students but I recognize that this budget is a compromise that balances excellence in education with fiscal prudence.
I believe that the real question is not the number of sick days in the contract but the number of sick days teachers take. I believe Port's teacher absences are in line with other districts. In addition, while most districts let teachers cash out their sick days when they retire, Port does not and thereby saves money. The district closely monitors absences and, for the most part, requires a doctor's note.
I have a passion for this community and its children - it is like an extended family to me. It has served my children well. I have extensive leadership experience, both on the school board and in the public sector. I have proven that I can work with my fellow board members to move the district forward. I have the objectivity that comes from not having children in the district and the perspective that comes from having had three children go through Port's schools and graduate from Schreiber. I have a degree in public administration. I have proven that I can get the job done.
A very onerous mandate is the state requirement that a school bus seat be provided for every child in the busing zone even if they do not ride the bus. It is incredibly wasteful to run empty buses through the district to meet this mandate - I estimate that Port could save almost $1 million with its elimination.
While there is the advantage of a shortened learning curve when you promote from within, Port has an assistant superintendent for personnel who is in her first year and an assistant superintendent for curriculum is not yet tenured. Also, we don't have any idea if they would be interested in the job. I believe in the process - should the position become available, let those who are interested apply and then choose the best candidate.
What a teacher accomplishes in the classroom is the best measure of success. Is the classroom a welcoming place where all students are actively engaged in the learning process and can demonstrate knowledge? If any of these things are not happening the students are not being effectively taught.
A school board member is a community representative who, with the other board members, sets the tone and direction for the district, assuring the proper environment and tools for students to learn and achieve at the highest level possible. This is done under the umbrella of careful use of resources and budgeting. In practical terms the board enacts and/or revises policy to further the district's mission. It reviews assessments and allocates funds to accomplish the district's mission - to educate its children.