BOE Candidates Address Top Issues

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With several crucial issues facing the Westbury School District, including a proposed bond, growing enrollment and overcrowded buildings, this year’s election on Tuesday, May 17, is especially significant. We asked the nine candidates running for the Westbury School District board of education what they thought the three most important issues were and how they would address them.

Stanton Brown

BOE__Stanton

1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the board?
I am well-qualified to serve the Westbury community on our school board. I have the educational management expertise to support our transformation to an academic performance-centric governance team. For the past 10 years my career has been in leadership positions that required strategic thinking to make critical business decisions to support student achievement. As a COO and former finance director I have the financial acumen to help lead the Board through a thorough review of our finances and understand how to make tradeoffs that yield academic improvement yet stay within our financial constraints.

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the district? How would you address these challenges? 
Our students’ academic performance is the most important issue facing the district. Far too few of our students are not proficient in ELA, Math, nor are they prepared for postsecondary education. Over 60% of the students that are not proficient are students that have been in our district since they entered our Pre-K program! We have the ability to do better. To dramatically improve performance requires a cultural shift towards accountability and innovation. I plan to aid this transformation by using my expertise in strategic management consulting and education management to design a Board Accountability System that focuses our effort on intense management of district’s activities that drive academic performance. First we’ll set goals then we will measure our work against these goals and make staff accountable for results that we desire.
Another critical issue for the district is how we structure our collective bargaining agreements with our eight union partners. These contracts dictate how we spend our $130M+ annual budget year after year. This year, most of these contracts are up for renegotiation, including ones for our teachers and administrator. It is vitally important that we change key aspects of these contracts to better reflect the needs of students and their families. It’s not just about what the contracts cost but what we ask our employees to do to deliver the educational process. Some of the work rules that govern their efforts to support the community are outdated and do not reflect what is evident in high-performing school district. The incumbents lack understanding of how these rules either support or impair our ability to best serve students. This will only change with having board members that are committed and tough enough to negotiate for their community. Unfortunately, with board members that are former employees of the district or current teacher union members they are unable to take the perspective of community members and execute their fiduciary responsibility.
Lastly, the lack of positive engagement with the community is a problem. Board members blame “parents for not engaging with their school system” as the main issue for our poor performance. They absolve themselves from the responsibility to create the pathways for parents to successfully engage with their district. Whether it is making parents wait five hours to speak at the board meeting or not effectively communicating dramatic scheduling changes or not engaging the entire community in discovering options for expanding our infrastructure. This changes with electing new leadership. We will have parent education centers, paid parent advocates/community associates, and a communication policy that mandates effective communication to all residents about their school district.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond?
I am for investing in our infrastructure. However, I am not for this proposal as it is flawed in its structure and will eventually do irreversible harm to our community. In September 2015, the incumbents voted on a $173M bond, now it’s $191M (they did not factor in all of the cost estimates!). The Board called this proposal our “best option”! Last month, new lower cost options have been proposed. We can’t trust their judgement about such a critical issue. This board has not done a thorough analysis of all of our options. We can’t afford to get this wrong and that’s exactly what the incumbents have done.

4. Anything else you’d like the community to know?
I believe we can be an outstanding school district for the entire community. I envision families moving to our wonderful community not just for its location and beauty but for its school system. Yes, I can see our schools being a sought after privilege for the community once again. But this will take a dramatic change in the type of people that lead our schools. I ask that you vote for Pedro Quintanilla (#1), Sherley Cadet (#5), and myself, Stanton Brown (#8) to be part of this team that has the vision to make us a desirable option for our community.

Pedro A. Quintanilla

BOE__PedroQuintanilla1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the board?
I can be an asset to the School board in the field of Finance, with outreach and communication to the Spanish speaking community which now comprises over 70% of our School population; and by building support for our Schools amongst the broader political, religious and ethnic Westbury communities. My professional background in the Finance field has equipped me with the skills and resources to conduct due diligence on Financial transactions i.e. bond issuance, financing structures and best practices. For many years I have worked with a very large portion of the Hispanic community at St. Brigid Parish as head of the Hispanic Committee. Across Westbury and the County, I have developed broad and deep relationships through civic, political and religious participation and will leverage them for the benefit our children.

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the district? How would you address these challenges?
The biggest challenge we face is the continuous lack of accountability by successive School Boards. We as a community have not held them accountable for the lack of improvements in academic performance year after year. Community apathy and lack of participation has enabled school Board after school Board to explain away why improvements in performance are elusive. As a Board member I will demand that the School Board set realistic academic achievements for the coming school year and hold our School administrators and ourselves as School Board members accountable for those results. Educating our children is a collaborative effort involving parents, teachers and the community. The community is doing its part by continually funding proposed budgets, yet school administration continually fails in its primary mission. I will continue to promote and encourage parent’s participation in their children’s education and as a Board member I will look to reallocate resources to equip parents with the tools and instruction needed to help their children.
The second biggest challenge faced is the lack of transparency from our current School Board. In order to enjoy full community support and trust the School Board must be more open about how it arrives and makes decisions. Whether to end the Dual Language program grant or deny access by the community to school facilities, etc. As a board member I will demand that School Board proposals are made available via the School Website in order to give the community notice and access to information.
The third challenge we face is denial by most of our current school board members that we have not made improvements in academic achievement across our schools over the years. We face the potential state takeover of our middle school. When we consistently rank near the bottom when compared to our peers across Long Island year after year we have to face the hard truth.
As Board Member I will propose that we commission a thorough and objective analysis of our challenges to help us devise a long term plan of excellence.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond? 
I am in favor of investing to improve the infrastructure in our School District and to provide adequate learning facilities to our children. As a board member I will propose looking immediately at all short term options to alleviate overcrowding. At the same time with input from the entire community and stake holders, work towards a permanent affordable solution. I am not in favor of the current proposed Bond for the following reasons: The entire community was not consulted or involved in determining what we can realistically afford and secure support for the bond. The School Board has not demonstrated that due diligence was conducted in understanding the bond structure and potential financial risk to taxpayers failing in its fiduciary responsibility. The School Board continually fails to link academic performance to increased funding.

4. Anything else you’d like the community to know? 
We must demand accountability, transparency and performance improvements from Our School Board, Administration, and teachers and our students and parents. As a community we must take responsibility, overcome our apathy and perform our civic duty to participate in order to produce a better outcome. I pledge to do my part, to be held accountable to be transparent, to deliver results. Short of that you are welcome to take my place. Thank you

Tania Stamp

BOE__TaniaStap1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the board? 
I have five years experience in the education system, I am a parent who has children who have gone through this district and I am a viable member of this community

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the district? How would you address these challenges?
One important issues facing our district is ensuring financial stability. For many years we have relied on reserve accounts and fund balances to help offset pensions, health insurance and contractual salary increases these reserves will not last forever. I will work with our administration to identify what is effective and what is not and help them with the tools they need to run an effective building.
Another important issue is our school census and the effect that it is having on our tax payers. While many of our surrounding districts have seen census decreases we have seen a steady rise in attendance. I will pursue grants to fund the things our students desperately need as well as state and federal funding that accurately accounts for our continuously increasing school population. We must carefully plan and execute how money is being spent to provide opportunities in STEAM that will provide the best education for our children.
Lastly transparency and community support. I find that the board is very good at reaching out to the community for its support when they need it. however when the community reaches out to the board for answers to questions, for support of community and school groups, that’s when the ball is dropped. Questions are often deferred, tabled or answered after a 3 hour executive session. Due to this the communities and students perception of our board is tainted. This disconnect is hindering the effectiveness of our board. We are a working community and I will work to regulate the time of the board meetings by scheduling executive sessions prior to the public meeting. This will allow the community to be present when decision are being made.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond?
We are a district in crisis. We have an increasing student population and the obligation to accommodate all of our students. We can meet this need with increased staffing but we must also give a quality education by lowering class size. One example to accomplished this has been going to a split session day, on the middle and high school levels the other is adding space. The bond is an opportunity to take advantage of a 76.6 % state funded loan. The issue with the bond is 76.6% is not 100% leaving an already financially strained taxpayer to pick up the other 23.4%. All other avenues must be thoroughly exhausted before putting a 23.4%, approximately 40 million dollar burden on the taxpayers.

4. Anything else you’d like the community to know?
I am not a political person. I have been called angry, disgruntled, abrasive and I am sure a few other things behind my back. I embrace them all! Should I not be angry when students are telling me they have no school pride because they feel the school doesn’t care about them? Should I not be disgruntled when a student is being bullied and following all the channels have gotten them no where? Don’t I have the right to come off a bit abrasive when community groups are being denied use of buildings their tax dollars pay for? I am not here to political I am here to advocate for our students, for our tax payers and for all our community members.

Sherley Cadet

BOE__Sherley1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the board?
I will be a great asset to the School Board due to my expertise in education and special education.The Westbury school district does not provide in-house special education. They spend thousands of dollars by contracting with outside agencies as well as sending our children else where to be cared for. Special education should be provided in house and with my professional background in the field for 16 years I will develop individualized plans for students, therefore saving the school and the tax payers thousands of dollars that can go towards other programs our children can benefit from.

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the strict? How would you address these challenges?
Academic performance is a vital challenge the Westbury District is faced with. It has been for over a decade. Educating children is a collaborative effort involving parents, teachers, administrators, board members, and the community. The community is divided! The lack of parent involvement working hand in hand with educators has been a challenge. As board member, I will work closely with administrators in order to provide proper learning tools to teachers to increase academic achievement for all children in district. I will implement realistic goals for academic improvement and measure such goals continuously.
Another challenge is community involvement. Setting up community centers/outreach is vital. Obtaining full community support and trusting the school board is essential. Encouraging the community to get involved, to participate, and to contribute to activities within the community is very important. As a board member, I will demand that school board proposals are made available to the community. I will also demand for the board not to enter into executive sessions for the majority of board meetings, only to return for public disclosure at odd hours, excluding the community. This has been the reality of board meetings in the Westbury school district. It needs to end.
Lastly, past board and current board members are not being held accountable for the failure of our district. The scores prove that the school is failing. Sixty percent of the students that are not proficient are students that have been in our district since they entered pre-kindergarten. As a school board member I will propose a long term plan that will increase academic achievement for all children.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond?
Due to the unstable proposals by the board, the first one in September 2015 for $173 million, and now the amount has increased to $191 million, I am afraid I can’t trust the judgment of the current board. They have not made the right decisions on behalf of our children.

4. Anything else you would like the community to know.
I believe the students of the school district can be successful. With the proper learning tools, this community can and will become one of the best schools on Long Island. Let’s make Westbury great again!

Laura Pierce

BOE__LauraPierce1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the Board?
I am seeking your support for re-election to the board to continue helping make a difference in the areas I have strength. To be an ear and a voice for children and parents and to make sure that every child receives an opportunity for a decent education. I will continue to support the board with my expertise in Human Resources and Cultural Diversity district wide. I will work on creating programs that will support and help our district grow and engage all parents through outreach in the community and places of worship. As a doctoral student I have been exposed to educational research and findings that have given me more insight into the importance of data and the ability to correlate and segregate it for application. I consistently review National Educational Reports on the graduation rate and academic achievement. I understand the importance of career and college readiness for our children. I recognize form my own daughter’s accomplishments the value in teaching them to become independent critical thinkers and emotionally prepared for leaving home and attending college. The generations are so much more savvy with technology and globalization and the environment we have to help them by equipping them with appropriate technology and creating programs for more involvement for girls in STEM AND STEAM on the elementary level. Creating programs that will give them exposure and strengthen their confidence levels so they will excel.

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the district? How would you address these challenges?
The first biggest challenge is growth and while it has created over crowdedness it also says that for good reasons people want to make Westbury their home. While other communities on Long Island are seeing a drop in enrollment we are experiencing rapid growth. This has lead to buildings that are overcrowded and a need for more physical classroom space. More students mean more teaching and support staff. Our budget for 2016-17 clearly shows the increase in numbers to over 6,000 students currently in our district. Enrollment does not end after school begins in the fall it’s an ongoing process. A solution is not that simple and while space alone is an issue in crisis we as a board have placed many proposals on the table and must do something to alleviate this challenge. We have sought additional funding from Albany to the extent of traveling there earlier this year and rallying them in person. We have considered different alternatives such as building portables, applying for appropriate grants for funding and as a member of the Bond subcommittee we met with the stakeholders and discussed the pros and cons of floating a Bond. We have a responsibility while pursuing these alternatives to also look out for the interests of the taxpayers while we must educate our children.
The second biggest challenge is to continue to follow-up and evaluate the progress of reorganization of all three elementary schools in the fall 2015 now having them all incorporate grades 1-5. This was a huge undertaking and of course change always takes us out of our comfort zone. However, due to studies it’s been proven that continuous education in the same building for these age group aides in their adapting and development. With the restraints of the enrollment growth maintaining a comprehensive curriculum includes academics as well as fine arts.
The final biggest challenge we face is coming up with creative ways to get parents more involved on all levels with their children education. While this is not just in Westbury but according to studies is occurring across the United States. This is attributable to many factors. I have researched other communities across the country and found out that it’s fairly prevalent. Many parents have a demanding work life and have to make certain that the family is provided for and struggle with the thought of not being able to be present at daytime activities or even evening events. I plan to open the schools to the community for events. I plan to sponsor ongoing programs and encourage and seek parents to oversee them. We have to make our community schools inviting to families on the weekends as well as the weekdays. Educating the parents to the processes involved in their child’s education. Areas such as building services and the School Board should be made more understandable as not to intimidate parents. Introducing Programs for new parents to help them work with their pre-school aged children. I have reached out to many of the community places of worship.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond?
As a board we must be proactive in order to address the needs of our enrollment growth. We have to execute diligence in exhausting every conceivable possibility offered to the public schools. We are still facing a crisis and any governmental municipal agency has the option of floating a bond in order to get monies to build. In our case it is crucial that we are able to create space for our students. Currently we don’t have common areas to accommodate lunch rooms and sufficient lockers for our children let alone teaching space. The state Education Department makes provisions for reimbursing districts for the building of new facilities and renovations. For our district it is calculated at approximately 76 percent for every dollar spent due to our poverty level. We are in the process of analyzing exactly what are the cost saving alternatives prior to floating a bond. This is a cost saving measure which can accommodate the needs of our expanding enrollment growth. Floating a bond is a proposal at this point and no final decisions have been made regarding floating a bond.

4. Anything else you’d like the community to know?
I am seeking re-election for the Westbury board to continue being of service to the children and families of this community. I believe in a public school education. Due to issues my daughter had in Westbury Middle School in the 6th grade, I removed her from the district for 7th and 8th grades. These issues were the things that encouraged me to run for the board. I was raised by a family of public school educators. My grandmother was born in 1900 and she was the first Black person in her community to become a teacher. I only understood that they worked hard as teachers and were very proud of educating the whole child. I grew up with a very positive impression of public schools. Like all things in life in order to get a dividend you must deposit. Our trials perfect us. I believed in investing my time into my daughter at her various developmental stages.
In order for me to be re-elected I need your vote and for you to encourage someone else to vote for me. I would like to close with this quote, ”We live life on levels and arrive in stages. Each stage takes us to a new level of Relationships, Knowledge, Understanding, Authority and Responsibility”.

Leslie Davis

BOE___LeslieDavis1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the board?
My qualifications to hold a seat on The Westbury School Board is my two years as Vice President of the Westbury School board and my six years as a board member. My educational background, my teaching occupation, and my knowledge of the working in an educational environment. My knowledge and business experience which allows me to understand the expense any institution may be faced with. I have the ability to communicate honestly, respectfully and efficiently responsibly, I have been able to foster good ideas with positive outcomes. I represent our children, advocate for their needs and keep current school laws and policies in place. I have changed policy to meet the needs of our growing population, making solid decisions concerning the staff, support staff and administration, and advocate on behalf of a Public School Education.

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the district? How would you address these challenges?
I would like to continue my representation of the Westbury School District and addressing community issues and concerns is of paramount importance to me. Working diligently to search for funding concerning our overcrowded population and our over used district buildings. We have been working with the state to better understand our growing population and understand the current guidelines sanctioned by the State of New York Education Department. I have been working in collaboration with the entire administrative staff to develop enhancement pieces to strengthen our current strategic plan. These new ideas and incentives will enhance the current academic status, continue to work towards the raising of our test scores are my goals. Along with the direction I have taken, I pledge to continue to foster good decisions and maintain positive relationships with the administrative staff, teacher’s, and support staff while continuing the implementation of new programs to develop 21st century learners.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond?
The principal issue in our district is the conditions of our overcrowded schools. No space to accommodate the needs of our children, the staff, the support staff and administration. This is our greatest dilemma and requires immediate attention. While contributing in several meetings with the stockholders in the community, the state, and local government, my desire is to experience a more meaningful dialog that targets the issues at hand. As a homeowner and tax paper for the last 25 years in the Westbury community, we will need to approach the situation collectively and try to receive a better outcome not solely relying on the shoulders of the Westbury Residence and taxpayers.
The residence of our Westbury community partnering with our religious leaders and local politicians can collaboratively come to a resolution that could be presented to New York State agencies who provide funding to over populated public school system. The most important aspect of theses discussion need to focus on the children of this community and their existing needs.

4. Anything else you’d like the community to know?
I would like to thank the community for their continual support. If allowed, I would like to continue to serve as a board member representing the children of the Westbury School District and the residence of our Westbury Community.

Rodney Caines

  1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the board?

BOE__RodneyThere are a number of things that I feel make me qualified for a seat on the board: Experience: I have sat on the board for two consecutive terms; this has given me the opportunity to experience the entrance of a new superintendent, the reconfiguration of our 1 – 5 grades and see the impact the 2% tax cap has had on planning our school district budget. Education: I have learned a lot about the public school system and the inner working of Westbury and have a lot of ideas on how we can improve.
Career: I am a Certified Energy Manager and have some great ideas in cost effective ways to save money in our district through energy savings. Passion: I am Westbury and would love the opportunity to continue to serve.

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the district? How would you address these challenges?
The 2% tax cap—We have to continue to find ways to fund our programs and initiatives through energy savings, grants and lobbying state and even federal government.
Overcrowding in our schools—We need to continue the discussion of the proposed bond referendum as a solution to the overcrowding of our schools.
Poor test scores—We need to continue to evaluate the data in regards to our performance on testing and make innovative adjustments to our curriculum and teaching styles if necessary.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond?
I believe the proposed bond is the answer to addressing the limited space constraints at all of our schools. I feel the process has gone well so far, we have had multiple community forums to discuss the issue, along with daytime and evening building tours to afford our community the opportunity to see the schools for themselves. In addition our bond committee has been instrumental in providing questions and concerns that we will continue to research. We will continue to have these discussions and tours until we feel that all facets of our community have been heard.

4. Anything else you would like the community to know?
I want Westbury to know that I am here to listen and work hard to achieve the dreams of everyone here and that is a better life and level of success for each upcoming generation. I know the Westbury School District and Westbury Community is better with me involved in this capacity! Go Westbury Dragons!

Jan R. Figueira

BOE__Jan1. What makes you qualified for a seat on the Board?
I am a connector and am excellent at creating partnerships which I believe will be helpful as we address some of the needs of the district. I have a masters in social work which has trained me to be a good listener. I have great assessment skills and I am an excellent problem solver. I understand the psycho-social, physical and emotional needs of our students which we help me to establish policies that will enable them to achieve academically at the highest level. Lastly, I have the ability to bring people together and work cooperatively.

2. What are the three biggest challenges you see facing the district? How would you address these challenges?
The three biggest challenges are being able to fulfill the National Education Standards with no extra funding, the crumbling infrastructure and addressing the needs of such a diverse student population in a comprehensive, consistent manner. To be honest, there is no easy fix. While I know it is not popular, the proposed bond would address some of the infrastructure problems. The administration and board would have to work together to look for additional funding and partners to address how to meet the Common Core and to work closely with the PTA and the community to determine how we are all going to work together to address the last challenge.

3. What are your thoughts on the proposed bond?
I am for the proposed bond. When I attended, the then Westbury Junior High School, in the 1970s, the school needed to be renovated…now some 40 years later, I am sure a new building is needed. From what I understand a subsidy would allow the District to get the funds at a deep discount. If we keep waiting it will cost even more at a later time because costs will continue to rise, the subsidy may be less or not at all and the buildings will continue to deteriorate.

4. Anything else you’d like the community to know?
I have the skills and temperament to do the job well and I would be honored to serve the children and the entire community in this very important position.

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Betsy Abraham is the former senior managing editor at Anton Media Group and editor of The Westbury Times and Massapequa Observer. She also wrote for Long Island Weekly.

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