UPDATE: This article has been updated with candidate responses to questions submitted from the public. Scroll to the bottom to read them.
Voters will be asked to choose two candidates for the Nanuet board of education on May 15. There are three that are running for the two seats: Incumbents Sarah Chauncey and Ed Dingman and Challenger Scott Walters.
Walters has not been on the board, but has run six times, including last year. The proposed 2012-13 will also be voted on at the May 15 election as well.
The PTA Council is hosting its Annual School Board Candidates Night at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 7 at Barr Middle School. Patch asked the candidates a few questions about the upcoming election and ask why they're running for the board. Here are their replies:
Why are you seeking a seat on the board and why should people vote for you?
For the past 15 years, I’ve been a vocal advocate for public education. As noted below, my numerous years of board service, strong yet collaborative voice, professional experience, and educational background qualify me to hold a seat on the board.
Collaborative service highlights:
- Prudent stewardship of finances and facilities
- Purchase of St. Agatha’s property; currently our outdoor education center
- Focus on student achievement
- Innovative programming which addresses 21st century skills, college and career ready
- Safe environment – academics and extra-curricular
- Integration of technology to support teaching and learning
- Respect and support for all community members – Family Resource Center, Seniors
I believe in the potential of every child to realize his or her learning goals. And finally, I value and respect the input of parents and guardians. They are the most important advocates for their children.
My family and I have lived in the district for 12 years. We have two young children enrolled in the district. I am seeking a seat on the board because I believe strongly in the public education system and that all children deserve an equal and quality education. I will put the needs of the children first and continue to strive for excellence, while maximizing the use of our tax dollars. I also represent the parents of the district and offer a common sense approach to the issues. Most board members have children that have either graduated or are near graduation. Since my two children are currently in the elementary schools, if I am elected, I would round out the membership on the Board with my direct connect to the concerns in the schools at the elementary level.
I am running for school board due to the passion I have for education and what it means to the whole of society. It is important that all children receive a quality education, regardless of the source. As a parent, educator, taxpayer and community member, I believe that by not being the status quo, one can help bring reforms that are necessary to continue educational excellence. People should vote for me because of my out of the box thinking and ability to bring ideas to the table no one else has really considered, at least publically.
What qualifications do you bring to the board?
I am a parent of two children who graduated from Nanuet—attended K-12.
I have been a member of the Nanuet Board for 15 years chairing and serving on several committees. I held positions of vice president and president. I have an historical understanding of our district’s strengths and challenges.
I am Nanuet’s representative to the Rockland County School Boards Association (10 years) serving as treasurer and president. I chaired the legislative breakfast for six years. Monthly meetings bring board members from districts together to discuss common issues, to plan and present shared information sessions, and to advocate for education at the local, state, and federal levels. I received the Eddy Award for my service to the Association.
My professional experience and educational background allow me to intelligently participate in collaborative planning, decision-making, and fiscal oversight. I was a computer consultant for over twenty years. I was vice president and co-owner of a software development company. I returned to education as a library media specialist for the East Ramapo School District from 2005-2010. I am currently the Director of Information Resources and Learning Technologies for Rockland BOCES.
I have served on the school board since January 2011. It has been and will continue to be a great learning experience. My involvement in community activities like the Little League, cub scouts and the building of the Highview Playground has increased my connections to members of the community.
I believe that I have gained the trust of many community members, which is exhibited by their comfort in approaching me about school matters or asking questions that I can bring to either the Board or school administration. As a retired NYPD Detective, I have a great deal of experience with decision making under sometimes difficult situations and how to keep an open mind.
My current job as an instructor teaching first responders and investigators worldwide how to deal with terrorist incidents has given me the insight on how difficult, but rewarding the job of teaching is and how dedicated educators can make a difference.
Besides those as constituted by state law, I have a background in both the private and public sector, am a taxpayer and concerned community member. Having children in the district may be a qualifier to some, but I have run when I had no children in the district as well.
Ideas and the fact that I have put myself out there six times (as well as applied for the seat Mr. Dingman was initially appointed to over a year ago) should be qualifying unto itself.
What are the top issues facing the board and how do you plan to address them?
Key issues include:
- Maintaining quality, innovative programs in the face of financial challenges – tax levy cap, tax certs, healthcare and pension costs, and mandates.
- Supporting administration and teaching staff as they implement common core standards, develop new district assessments, administer state assessments, and maintain safe learning environments (Dignity For All Students Act, Anti-Bullying Programs, etc.)
- Identifying sources of outside funding – i.e. grants, education foundation -- to implement innovative programs – an example would be STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs at our outdoor education center.
The role of the Board is to set policy and to work with administration to collaboratively develop a district level strategic plan which prioritizes goals and defines criteria to measure achievement against those goals. Our current priorities include: financial solvency, student achievement, school safety, innovation, quality curriculum aligned to the common core, use of data to inform instruction, and accountability.
In my opinion, the top issue is fiscal stability while still maintaining an academically excellent district. With the 2 percent tax levy cap imposed by the state, our district had to come up with some constructive measures this year to fall within the parameters. Unfortunately, we retired debt this year from an old bond, which is usually a good thing, but under the new formulas it actually hurt us and reduced our cap to below the 2 percent. This year is just the tip of the iceberg, with ever increasing costs, staying at or under the 2 percent will be very difficult to say the least.
- Continued pressure of Pfizer settlement on the district – This situation isn’t going away and will continue to fester. It is hoped that Pfizer will not downsize and phase out their operations at their facility here.
- What is going to happen with the ‘Shops at Nanuet’? – Personally, I am a doubting Thomas in regards to the ‘Shops of Nanuet’. I have personally not heard from Simon even though I have inquired often to them about the status of the Mall. If the ‘Shops’ open as Simon says, then I’ll be there to shop and will hopefully enjoy the experience. This won’t have an effect on tax rolls for a year or two, so it is hoped it will be finished and create a positive result.
- Continuing educational excellence with the tax caps without having mandate caps – The district, given its small size, has always had a challenge regarding this balance, and the tax cap makes it worse. We have been lucky to be able to continue providing the best education possible, but cuts are getting more difficult to make as time has gone on. An infusion of money and materials from sources other than government and property taxes is needed in order for Nanuet not to lose important programming.
- The testing conundrum—Testing is important, but not everyone tests well. Teachers and students are under a lot of pressure to perform well. I would be in favor of an 'opt out' for parents, but the children would still be required to take the test, only the scores would not be reported. I am also in favor of complete transparency in test results so that parents can see how their children fared, and so that the community can see how the teacher's fared as well. It's not an indictment on the teacher if s/he doesn't have their students test well, but it is one of the indicators administration and community have to help gauge effectiveness.
Given the talk of a proposed annual cap on property tax increases, in relation to state mandates such as employee pension contributions, would you be willing to go with a cap that does not address the mandates, or do you believe tackling both at once are needed?
Let’s first consider the difficult predicament districts are facing as a result of the tax levy cap. The cap does not take mandates into account and gives no relief for tax certs. Furthermore, the formula used to calculate a district’s cap dictates a budget to budget increase which penalizes those who are fiscally prudent.
Nanuet was penalized for paying off debt—a responsible act which set our tax levy cap at .64 percent, the lowest in the county. Some districts are making draconian cuts in staffing and programs today and all others will be doing the same in the near future. Clearly, mandates must be addressed in conjunction with any cap.
It is understandable why the state has imposed the tax cap, but I do not think it was well thought out. A survey done for the 2007-2008 school year in Westchester County uncovered the fact that almost 16.5 percent of a district budget was due to State and Federal Mandates. Many of these mandates have nothing to with the education of our children. Without mandate relief it will become increasingly more difficult to come in with a budget to stay within the 2 percent cap.
Given the fact that mandates aren't being capped, it is like doing a job that requires two hands with only one hand. Shortsightedness on this legislation is really hamstringing many school districts, and I would wish to work with elected officials to remake the law in order to insure fairness in all ways. I think that the tax burden for many is significant, and so any ways, even legislated, to help keep costs down, is welcome.
What is your position on the current "last in, first out" system in place that gives priority to retaining teachers with more seniority, in situations of job cuts?
I agree with the “last in, first out” system that is currently in place. Teachers in Nanuet have dedicated their lives to the profession (calling) of teaching. Our senior teachers are masters in our district and are mentors for our new teachers. Their commitment to district goals and their impact on student achievement is recognized and valued. Replacing excellent, experienced teachers as a way to address financial challenges is, to my mind, a disservice to our community.
There are definitely two sides of the coin with the "last in, first out" law. While I understand the opposition to it, I do support this law. In these difficult financial times and seeing what the future could bring us, districts will be desperate to cut spending in any way possible. While I do not see it ever happening in Nanuet, there could be districts that would let senior staff go to save more money regardless of performance. Also, there is no proven non-subjective way to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness. Without that in place, districts would open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits concerning anything from age, race, religion, etc. Ineffective teachers should be let go when it can be proven that their continued employment would be harmful to the education of the students.
I can speak to this personally as a teacher who has been laid off three times due to budgetary concerns and who was one of the last in and therefore first out. In my experience, I have seen great teachers who have been shown the door because of this and seen teachers who might have been great who have lost their fire and passion. Teachers often talk about which teachers are good and which are not. Parents hear from other parents. There are demonstratable ways to determine who is and who isn't a good teacher, and in my experience, I have never received a bad observation or evaluation, yet I was laid off three times. Does this seem fair given what can happen in the private sector?
Is there anything we haven’t asked that you would like the public to know about you or your candidacy?
Family: Married to Steve, my high school sweetheart, for 35 years. Steve is a technical director and video engineer from All Mobile Communications. Charlie attends SUNY Fredonia—Environmental Studies. Juliana attends SUNY Oswego – double major in graphic design and broadcasting. Gizmo, the cat, is my four-legged companion.
District and Community Service: Received the PTA lifetime membership award. Participation in community initiatives including: Highview playground build; chaperone for Project Graduation; past Nanuet Rotary member; sat on the first Rockland 21C committee which crafted a vision for Family Resource Centers in our county; co-founder of the Hudson Valley Piano Club (2002) – raised $17,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project; active member of the Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church.
Education: BS in Elementary Education, SUNY Oneonta
Masters of Library Science and Information Management, Syracuse University
Masters of Business Administration, Stern School of Business, New York University
Doctoral Candidate in Information Management, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University – planned completion, September 2012.
I have been a member of the PTA for five years and served as class parent for both of my children. My children have been actively involved in cub scouts and the Nanuet Little League. Last year I was involved as a Steering Committee member, Build Captain and Equipment Chairperson for the Highview Playground build.
I would like to see more community involvement in the schools, perhaps in the Nanuet School Foundation, and not just from parents who have children in the district. A superior school district translates to a community where people want to live and raise a family and Nanuet is definitely one of those communities.
What I'd like to see in our schools now and in the near future is more technology education. Technology is the future for our children in all their endeavors from their education to the job market. Not only that, but it is what are children are in tune with now. I'd like to see Nanuet push ahead in Technology rather than wait to see how other districts do it.
The imitative that I have been pitching for years is to have a Director of Development be hired – on a commission basis – to bring in money and materials to the district through grant writing and solicitation of businesses of all sizes and scope, and to canvass alumni in order to determine if there are business or personal connections available to pursue revenue.
This model will allow the district to have one person, not individual teachers and administrators, write grants, do the research and apply for monies and materials that are missed due to having teachers and administrators do the work on top of their workloads. By paying the Director of Development on a commission basis, he or she will remain sharp and will not cost the taxpayers of the district any money. The Director of Development will also be able to pursue businesses for donations of money and materials, and to be the alumni liaison, assisting in networking alumni not only for possible revenue, but also for better alumni relations.
This is a model being used by public and private colleges and universities, as well as private schools all across New York. In fact, the wife of the superintendent of schools in Nanuet works for the office of Development at SUNY Rockland. There are currently two revenue streams available for school districts, those being governmental and property taxes. We need to positively exploit this third available revenue stream and we must find ways to increase revenue. No one on the school board has brought this up for true consideration, and last year, Peter Whalen indicated it was a great idea, but not for now. My question becomes, if not now, then when?
Also... Nanuet has done a fine job in making sure that there is programming and high levels of educational options for the students here. Overall, the offerings are excellent for a district of this size, but, of course, some fine tuning would be helpful.
1) There is decided need to have gifted and talented programming for students begin much sooner than it is being done now. Often a student can be gifted, but become bored if they are not motivated. I was one of those students when I was a child (though not in Nanuet). I know that being challenged is a key to continuing educational success and it must start as early as a gifted child is found.
2) We need to add keyboarding classes at the middle school level to insure than students can work their way around the new technology that is keyboard dependent. It will also help insure that student don’t fall into he modern day syndrome of not being able to properly spell words and phrases.
3) All research has indicated that older the student is, the later their school day should be in order to maximize academic success. As well, the same research indicates that the younger the student is, the earlier he or she can go to achieve optimal results. As the Nanuet Schools have made the schedules so that bus use is maximized, I would go that one step further and ‘flip’ the bus and school schedules so that the younger children (elementary) would go early and the older students (high school) would go later. As the job of the school board is to maximize curricular achievement, this is the best means possible to do so with no further costs to taxpayers, and t would also allow parents of younger students to be able to report to their work without having to worry about being late in the morning or about where to have their child go in the morning to wait for their bus.
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Voter registration will take place in the on May 9 from 1-7 p.m. Voting on the and as well as the candidates running for and library boards is on May 15 from 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. at the Nanuet High School gym.
Here are questions Patch received from the public (through comments or email):
Why can't a new tax rate be calculated now using last year's equalization rate and assessment valuation (which will probably be less now) and the Pfizer tax reduction which will impact the assessment valuation drastically? I suspect the increase in tax rate will be over 10% and the tax payers should be made aware of this now instead of next September.
The Nanuet Schools Budget Booklet includes an historical chart which shows tax rates against budgets over the past several years. You will note that our budget increases are rarely predicative of final tax rates. We have two towns and four classes of taxpayers. The variables used by the state to calculate the tax rate are not within the District's control. A prediction would mislead rather than provide accurate information for our taxpayers.
There are many variables that come into play when calculating what the tax rate will be for the upcoming tax year. I don't believe it is good practice to project an approximate rate only to find that our calculations were incorrect. This would lead the taxpayers to be under the impression that the school district was misleading them, rather than just making a mistake.
As someone who is currently not on the board, I hold no sway in when calculations are to be done. However, if elected, I would defintely be on the frontlines in making sure that tax calculations were done as soon as all of the numbers to perform the calculation were in, then I would make sure that information was made public, even if it was between school board meetings, in order to give the people as much information as possible before making informed decisions about budget and the ramifications of their vote.
One must remember, however, that an austerity budget often isn't much different than the proposed budget in terms of money, but in terms of what is taken out, it can have a huge effect on overall educational quality. Due to the mandates that have to be paid, the austerity budget can be a few dollars but many programs smaller
I do not remember any School Board candidates attending a Nanuet Civic Association meeting. Why?
All members of the Nanuet School Board have attended Civic Association meetings in the past. As a Nanuet Board Member, Rockland County School Board Member, and Director for Rockland BOCES, I am sometimes out three nights a week. I look forward to attending Civic Association meetings when my schedule permits.
I recently attended my first civic association meeting and found it to be very informative. I plan on attending more in the future.
I would love to attend Civic Association meeting, but with my wife working late on THursdays and haveing three young children, the schedule is hectic.
(Editor's Note: This question was directed to Scott Walters) I've gone to school board meetings, but don't remember ever seeing Scott Walters at one of them. Why is he running for the board if he has not attended their board meetings?
This is a valid question which deserves a response. I have three small children ages 4, 5, and 8. My wife works late on Tuesdays (as well as Thursdays above). Her schedule will be changing soon, so my availability on Tuesday nights wil not be in question.
Attending school board meetings in not a pre-requisite to being on the school board. My guess is that others people from time to time weren't frequent attendees of the meetings before being elected in Nanuet or elsewhere. My family of course comes first, and this is why my wife will be making a schedule change if I am elected, so that I can devote the energy that the Tuesday night meetings demand.
I have a great deal of fire and passion for what I would like to see happen to the Nanuet Schools, including the addition of a Director of Development to bring money and materials to the district at no cost to the taxpayers, the switching of the bus schedules to that the younger children go to school earlier and the older children go later (in accordance with the research on student age and classroom achievement), the addition ofmore gifted and telented programming to lower grades, the addition of keyboarding in the middle school for students to properly use technology and word proccessing capabiltiies), and insuring that students get the best education possible. Would my attendance have made these things occur? I don't believe so.