Election is May 15 for two open seats
By Pamela Doan
Two seats on the five-member Haldane school board will be filled at an election on May 15, when residents also vote on the district’s proposed $24 million budget for 2018-19.
The five candidates include incumbent Margaret Parr; Evan Schwartz is not seeking re-election after serving on the board since 2007.
We asked the candidates to answer three questions each; responses were edited for clarity and length. For more on their backgrounds, click here. The Haldane PTA will host a Meet the Candidates forum at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 7, in the school auditorium.
Why are you running?
Keith Anderson: I have law-enforcement experience and believe I can provide insight and expertise that allows the board to better liaison with the Cold Spring Police Department, its school resource officer and its special patrol officers. I also am a student for life, and I love learning. My wife and I raised our children to place education in high regard. It will be my goal to cooperate and relay the board’s experiences to the administration.
John Hedlund: I want to prioritize robust communication, smart planning and meeting the long-term needs of all students. Our board can communicate better, and its long-term goals should be measurable and reported. We have a thoughtful strategic plan, but without specifically measuring our progress, we can’t adjust our direction. Haldane’s impact doesn’t end at graduation. We need to continue to work to provide all graduates with practical, social, emotional and academic skills.
Sandy McKelvey: I am passionate about making Haldane as remarkable as the community it serves. We can do better as a district by listening more, by communicating better, by being more transparent about the decision-making process with regard to the budget and the educational experiences of students. We have new elementary and middle school principals and a new superintendent. Yet the board has not earned the trust of the community. We need a board that feels the pulse of the community and pays attention to changing needs.
Laura O’Connell: Because I believe that education is the core foundation of the development of any child, I felt that it was the right time to get involved. My experience working in the not-for-profit industry allows me to understand and be respectful of long-term, ambitious goals and plans that are tied to heavy financial implications. The mission of a board member is to be a steward of the goals and mission of the institution and to guide Haldane and the community to make the right decisions for our children.
Margaret Parr: It has been an honor to serve the district for the last three years. My main reason for running for re-election is to accept my part in the hiring of the new superintendent by helping him get on board with our small but complex community. A continuation in the board that hired the superintendent will allow for a smooth transition and success for the district.
What issues need to be addressed in the budget?
Anderson: We have a rough road ahead. When we look at the rollover for 2019-20, it will be roughly 4 percent over this year’s budget. In trying to stay within the [state-mandated] 2 percent cap, we will have some tough choices and I am not sure there will be enough attrition or other restructuring to cover shortfalls. It is essential the public have information to be engaged in the budget development process.
Hedlund: The budget cannot support everything we want to do; there will always be trade-offs. To enable the community to make those trade-offs, the budget process needs to be clear, comprehensive and strategic. It must be easier to understand: which costs are mandated or manageable, the long-term challenges and the expense uncertainty. That makes smart conversations easier.
McKelvey: The budget needs to be clear, transparent and accessible. It also should reflect the No. 1 priority: education. Successful programs and instructional positions should never be considered for elimination. Should we be spending thousands of dollars sending teachers and administrators across the country for professional development when we can tap into a wealth of practical knowledge in our own community and New York City?
O’Connell: There are difficult tasks on the horizon as cost-of-living increases, the need for more capital funds required for facilities and the continued integration of technology into the curriculum have an impact. There will have to be compromises unless we accept the fact that the budget will continue to rise and our taxes will escalate to support programs for students.
Parr: During the first two years of my term, the amount of funding came in as expected and the budget was presented without much ado. This year we were faced with a significant deficit, so taxpayers showed up, got involved and shared their opinions, which is exactly how the process should work. What can sometimes be overlooked when people view the budget only during difficult budget seasons is that there are many locked expenditures (contracted salaries, health care costs, retirement funds) and unfunded mandates, so the places to shave costs are limited. The trick is to find a balance and follow the strategic plan as closely as we can.
On May 1 the board announced it had hired Philip Benante as superintendent to succeed Diana Bowers, who is retiring. What is the first thing he should address?
Anderson: Whether we will continue with the project-based learning model. And I would also like to see him work on a strategy to better prepare our middle- and high-school students for college. There are immense pressures in that first semester. Only a handful of high schools in the U.S., mostly private, adequately prepare college-bound students.
Hedlund: He needs to get out into the community and re-establish trust. In almost every conversation I’ve had in preparing to run I’ve heard something about poor communication and mistrust. We are an engaged and thoughtful community — it’s unfortunate when that energy is spent trying to understand and validate decisions, as happened during the budget process.
McKelvey: He needs to come into the district with an open mind to learn from and listen to all stakeholders. After careful consideration and evaluation from all public input, he should be able to assess whether the direction Haldane is heading is the best path for all students to develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they will need.
O’Connell: Parents like to be involved and informed. We continue to learn even as adults. As the strategic plan is being integrated and new student-teaching methodologies continue to be implemented while the curriculum evolves, there seems to be a disconnect with all the good work the school has executed and how informed the community has been. If more opportunities were created for additional outreach programs, this would allow more engagement in the student experience.
Parr: When the board asked the community about the most important qualities and characteristics for the next superintendent, we heard that Haldane needs a great communicator who could earn the community’s trust; a bridge-builder who can close the gap that is surfacing over several issues; and someone who appreciates and respects our traditions while moving forward. These are daunting prerequisites, but I believe the board has found the right candidate for our beloved Haldane. For best results, he needs a little time to acclimate before he jumps into any “first thing” drastic changes.
What would you hope to accomplish on the board?
Anderson: I would like to see Haldane (No. 85) beat my hometown of Massapequa (No. 30) for the top 100 New York schools. Our team of educators is good and we have a great community, so it shouldn’t be too hard. We also have a duty to be fiscally responsible, so that extended families can stay together in Cold Spring. We need to provide a quality education so kids can find good jobs and afford to live here. My experience as a police officer should be an invaluable asset to the board in the area of school security.
Hedlund: I will work to make all district communications clear, timely and easy to access. I will make sure that the district’s plans, including the next strategic plan, are measurable and tracked. Our community needs a consistent way to see the district’s progress — a holistic report card that measures our educational, financial and organizational goals. Finally, I will establish processes to get feedback from our graduates.
McKelvey: The school board needs to become more open and transparent to restore trust with our community. As a small district, we have the opportunity to hear from all who have something to say. As a board member, I would reach out to the community — parents, students, faculty and staff — to know what they are concerned about and what they think is working well. I would make board meetings more inviting by encouraging more public comment.
O’Connell: An important goal is to continue the on-going implementation of the academic strategic plan so that the new teaching pedagogy can be integrated across all grades, and as the academic plan is implemented, the facilities capital program needs to be executed in tandem. My experience with large-scale capital program plans in older historical facilities can be beneficial to the upcoming capital projects by providing oversight to mitigate risk and avoid financial impacts.
Parr: School boards have clear charges directed by New York State of what they need to accomplish: establish policy, develop an annual budget for public approval, vote on the superintendent’s recommendations on personnel matters and contracts, review curriculum as presented by school leaders, act as a link between residents and the superintendent. If I am re-elected, the new superintendent will be working with 80 percent of the same board.