Written by Denise Nash Friday, 15 May 2009 09:40Three candidates, incumbent Mark Basile, William Ferro and incumbent Shawn Gladstone are all running for two seats on the Jericho School Board, a three-year term. Information on the candidates is included here in alphabetical order. Voting will take place in the Jericho Middle/High School gymnasium on Tuesday, May 19 between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Mark Basile is seeking his second term on the board after being elected to his first term three years ago. Basile has lived in Jericho since 1992 with his wife Donna, and two children, Christopher, a Jericho High School graduate and student at Hofstra University, and Eric, currently an eighth-grader at the Middle School getting ready to enter the high school in September. Jericho, Basile said, is his home both personally and professionally as he maintained a law office in Jericho until he went into private business, and both of his technology companies are headquartered in Jericho.
Basile has been attending school board meetings as a community member since 1995 and he was a member of the committee that was instrumental in re-opening the Seaman School. He was also on the interview committee that supported the hiring of Jeffrey Ratner as the school’s first principal.
Since being elected to the board in 2006, Basile said he has attended almost all regular and special meetings, as well as required and voluntary meetings and seminars hosted by the New York State School Board’s Association.
Basile said that he hopes to be re-elected to continue his work on behalf of the community. “While I have been a community member for 17 years, I have remained active, yet independent in community affairs affecting this district,” he said. “I have been an active member of St. Paul’s The Apostle RC Church, as well as a member of the White Birch Civic Association. I have brought a level of impartiality to this board. I did not come up through the ranks of PTA or the JAA. It is often very difficult to put aside your emotions when you are a parent of district children especially when decisions have to be made that will affect all children, not just your own. I have demonstrated this several times over the last three years and have voted based purely on an objective business assessment of whether such direction benefits our children and community. There is still more work to be done to continue to maintain and improve the highest level of education in Jericho and I would like to continue my efforts.”
Basile said that as an attorney who concentrated in restructurings and reorganizations of struggling corporate entities, as well as a corporate executive with years of boardroom experience, he knows what an important topic the economy and the district’s spending is.
“There is a delicate balance between the demands placed upon our tax base, and the amounts needed to maintain the educational excellence our district is known for,” said Basile. “Our school board oversees the management of more than $100 million dollars annually. We need to develop and instill a culture of attrition in order to continue excellence in education for the next several years while riding out tough economic times. Constant review of systems and practices needs to be increased. The current budget is one of the first budgets presented and approved by the board that slashed school tax increases by more than 50 percent. This is yet but a first step to heightened fiscal responsibility that has a meaningful savings impact on our community and steers the district in the direction of a new cost savings/reduction culture.”
There is still more that Basile hopes to accomplish if re-elected. He said that he would like to see an expanded use of technology in education and administration.
“I was a proponent of, and voted to move our district to an electronic educational community wherein our children can access school work from home computers,” said Basile. “We were successful in working with the Teachers’ Association in order to gain the participation in this program by all teachers in the district. Increased involvement by district residents who are professionals or who own businesses. My technology companies have participated in High School Career Day for the last two years. I have been a guest lecturer several times at the high school addressing both forensic science classes, as well as business classes. I would also like to see greater communication efforts and outreach by the district to the community. While Jericho is one of the pioneers in community outreach and is well-known for its transparency, we need to continue to find ways to improve it.”
According to Basile, the top three issues facing the school district are technology, the class of 2020 student profile, and student transportation.
“Technology is rapidly expanding and our children are right in the middle of it. The use of technology can be used to streamline the educational process from the boardroom to the classroom and is proven to be a positive tool in education,” he said.
Along those lines, Basile said that the 2020 graduate will need a new set of complementary tools and skills to compete in life. “They will need every advantage available to them and it is our responsibility to provide it to them,” he said. “We need to keep adding real life integrated educational programs such as the Senior Experience, wherein students embark on supervised internships with local business tied directly into curriculum. We also need to continue to work with our great faculty to come up with new and enriching programs, such as the new engineering program now being offered at the High School.”
Basile said that busing is, and has been, a “thorn in my side ever since the district voted to provide 100 percent busing to all students.”
“We spend way too much money providing a seat for every student, while we have buses that remained mostly empty. The district can save millions of dollars over several years by trying to change how we bus kids,” he said. “We must work with local legislators to get the state to allow school districts to manage their own busing needs. This will be an uphill battle because the decision does not rest in our hands at this time, but we need to make a districtwide effort to address this.”
In closing, Basile said that, “district residents should vote for me because I lead by example, not just words that sound good. I have personally shared my business and legal experiences with students directly in class, as well as at special events such as Career Day. When it comes to education, I approach and make decisions on issues that impact all children as if they were my own. I have made tough decisions that have not always been popular with certain groups, but from my perspective, have been in the best interest of the community and all of its children. I am not beholden to, nor do I favor any one community group, which makes me a truly independent candidate. The board election should not be a popularity contest based on special interests. I am the only board member, and now candidate, in several years who had started with a stated vision as to our future graduates, and I have worked diligently, and made decisions to achieve that profile for our children while being overall and evenhandedly, fiscally responsible.”
William Ferro has lived in the Jericho community for 13 years with his wife Barbara and children Dylan, a Jericho senior who will be attending the University of Wisconsin this fall; Max, a Jericho sophomore and Sophie Jo, a seventh-grader in the middle school.
Ferro, who has attended Jericho School Board meetings in the past, said he is running for a seat on the board after being approached “by a number of very prominent and active parents” in the community.
“While I was certainly flattered, I had not given serious thought of running prior to those conversations,” said Ferro. “ I immediately went on line and read minutes of every school board meeting and resolution available from the past three years. What I noticed was somewhat interesting. Almost every vote of the school board during that time has been unanimous. As a volunteer in the community for 13 years and as president of the Jericho Soccer Club I have had the opportunity to work with and on behalf of so many wonderful people in our community. What makes our programs work is the diversity of opinions that are brought to the table. We may not always agree but we do respect the opinions of all our members. However, in these community organizations similar to my law practice, when we do not agree on an issue the votes we take are reflective of that diversity. This board needs objectivity and a voice that will speak for the community it is bound to represent.”
The school district’s spending is always a big topic during the election, and Ferro said that Jericho will have tough budget choices to make in the next few years.
“Dr. Colvin does a terrific job of managing our budget and presenting real facts to the board,” said Ferro. “The board, now more than ever, must come to the table free of personal agendas, so that it can objectively listen to the issues and passionately represent our children. We can all say that we are fiscally responsible but that phrase is truly self-serving. I believe I am fiscally objective, which is very important in tough economic times.”
Ferro would like to see more interaction between the board and the community and hopes to improve that relationship if he is elected next week.
“A monthly board of education meeting with a full agenda is often not the best forum,” said Ferro. “I think forums or meetings with representatives of each school and interest when necessary, while certainly time consuming would do a great deal in helping the elected board members understand the concerns of the people who elected us.”
The top three issues facing the school district, according to Ferro, are the budget, the busing issues and class size.
“Naturally the number one issue is going to be the budget and how the economy affects Albany and subsequently the individual districts,” said Ferro.
When speaking about Jericho’s busing situation, Ferro said, “Jericho, as we should, provides a seat for every student. However our buses are mostly sparsely filled. This is a tremendous cost to the district. Our board recently sent a letter to Albany asking for some relief from the law. The board must pursue this on a more personal level. Visits to our assemblyman, congressman and senators would be a great start. We must be proactive in our approach and guarantee that we can provide a seat for every student yet save hundreds of thousands of dollars in efficiency.”
With regard to class size, Ferro said, “we have a practice, which dictates based upon enrollment numbers a specific grade’s classroom size. Our teachers are the best in the state and our district is one of the top in the country. I believe issues such as class size must be reviewed individually when the situation necessitates it. I am not suggesting that we change or make exceptions on a whim but we do need to provide parents a better venue to fully discuss these issues so that they have sufficient recourse to truly express their concerns.”
In closing, Ferro said, “I truly believe that I can be a voice for the community. In my past volunteer work, whether it involved coaching kids, mediating a dispute between coaches or parents, lobbying the Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor for our own athletic community park or assisting the Jericho Athletic association AED program place a defibrillator on every district field, I have approached each endeavor with an open mind and an eye toward fairness. That is what our community expects and deserves from its board members and that is what I intend to deliver.”
Shawn Gladstone is seeking her second term on Jericho’s School Board after being elected three years ago. She has lived in the Jericho School District for 13 years and has actively attended school board meetings, first in her role as a SEPTA and PTA leader for 10 years and then as a board member for past three years.
Gladstone, who lives in Jericho with her husband Robert and sons, Max, a Jericho graduate and student at Syracuse University, Ben and Sam, both students in the high school, said that she is running for re-election to give back to the community that she said has done so much for her.
“The Jericho parents, staff, administration and our wonderful students have given so much to my family, especially my autistic son, Sam,” said Gladstone. “When I see students giving Sam a high-five or taking time during their free period to play a game with him, or when the parents make sure he is invited to every party, or when teachers seek and find new ways to teach Sam, I am so grateful. I welcome the opportunity to give back to this community. I wish I could do more.
Knowing that one of the most important issues to voters right now is the district’s spending in the current economy, Gladstone said that “with the exception of academics and student safety, there are very few things that are off the table when it comes to looking for cost efficiencies. We will continue to look for ways to expand our participation in cooperative purchasing, tighten contract negotiations, improve lobbying against additional state taxation (MTA payroll tax), unfunded mandates and equitable distribution of state and federal education funds. We will continue our work with other school districts to change the state law that is costing us millions of dollars in transportation costs to send empty buses out every day.”
Gladstone said that the board has successfully implemented many cost saving efficiencies over the past three years. “We are constantly working to find additional savings without compromising the quality of our school district,” she said.
Gladstone said there are some ways that the district can improve and she would like to see the curriculum continue to evolve toward “problem-based learning to develop 21st century skills, such as, innovation, self-direction, information and communications technology, adaptability, and cross-cultural skills to give our students the foundation skills for the new demands of our technological, global marketplace,” she said. “I would like to see the increased use of technology and creative management to effect additional cost savings in the district. I would like to add state and federal lobbying efforts to our monthly board worksessions, as I feel Nassau County school districts are being abused in Albany. I would also like to see the continued improvement of IEP goals with databased results for our special education students. We have a wonderful school district, but there is always room for improvement without increasing costs.”
The most pressing issue facing the school district right now, according to Gladstone, is taxes.
“The economy has had an effect on everyone; whether through losses in stock accounts, employment issues or a decreased property value, everyone is impacted,” she said. “We must continue our efforts to reduce our budget, especially now that Albany has taxed school districts for the first time in history. The MTA payroll tax they applied toward all NY school districts will take effect this year and once they have their foot in the door, we must fight with everything we have to prevent them from increasing that burden year by year and fight to amend this bill to say the funds to refund the districts will be appropriated rather than the current “promise” of a refund. With regard to our immediate budgetary needs we must make some tough choices while working to maintain our educational standards. I am well versed in our budget and the current needs of our students. I know this district well and I have the experience and fortitude to make the necessary choices in the best interest of this community.”
In closing, Gladstone said, “through my current role as a Jericho School Board member and through my past roles as president of Joint Council of PTA’s, Special Ed (SEPTA) co-president, and other PTA leadership roles, I have been working to address the issues of this district for 13 years. I have an intricate knowledge of the workings of this district and the experience necessary to continue the difficult process of refining our budget and shaping the academic future of our students. I have been and will continue to be committed to the best interests of this community. I welcome the opportunity to give my time and my heartfelt best efforts to the people who make up this incredible school district.”