PTA Sponsors ‘Meet the Candidates Night’
Community members from Floral Park and Bellerose Village poured into the Floral Park-Bellerose School auditorium in droves on Tuesday, May 3. As a precursor to the school district election and budget vote scheduled for May 17, PTA co-presidents from Floral Park-Bellerose and John Lewis Childs sponsored a “Meet the Candidates” night. The Board of Education comprises of five members, of which two seats are up for election. The term for the first seat, which was vacated by former Trustee Robert Burke prior to the end of his term, runs through June 2013, and the term for the second seat is a full three-year term and runs from July 2011 through June 2014.
Each of the four candidates – running mates Denise Dellacorte and Glen Rettinger and incumbent Jennell Horan and her running mate Mark Mullen – was allotted up to 10 minutes to introduce himself or herself and explain his or her platform. Following the candidates’ introductions, the floor was opened up to audience members, who had up to three minutes to pose a question, to which each of the candidates was given up to five minutes to respond.
Twenty-six-year Floral Park resident Dellacorte took the podium first, emphasizing a “team approach” to maximizing the effectiveness of the Board of Education. While her children attended John Lewis Childs School, Dellacorte served as president of the PTA for two years, then moved through the ranks to become PTA president from 2000 to 2002. Prior to that, she served on the board of the Floral Park Mother’s Club. Dellacorte cited her 30-plus years as a registered professional nurse, which included time at Mt. Sinai, as experience upon which she can draw if elected to the Board of Education.
“The plan of care at Mt. Sinai was not based on the opinion and direction of one doctor. It was a team that included nurses, nurses’ aides and, of course, family members. Treatment goals were affected by everyone on the team and communication, respectful dialogue and sharing of ideas made it successful. My educational philosophy mirrors this professional team approach.”
Next up was Horan, who has served on the school board for the past three years and has lived in Floral Park for 12 years. She cited her stint as co-president of the Floral Park-Bellerose PTA, chair of various committees and current role with Floral Park Memorial’s PTSA Booster Clubs. “I am seeking re-election to the school board to continue to represent your voice in the community on matters of fiscal responsibility and maintaining an open dialogue with parents, teachers and administrators. I am passionate about continuing the mission of providing the best educational experience possible for our children,” she said. Horan acknowledged challenges the district faces regarding the proposed 2011-2012 budget, which proposes a 2 percent reduction in spending to help offset Floral Park’s 11.65 percent cut in state aid. “To achieve this, we are reducing our administrative/supervisory positions, considering not replacing every teacher retiring, increasing class sizes where appropriate, and postponing new curriculum. These are very difficult decisions, but this is a very difficult time. I strongly believe these steps are necessary to preserve the excellent standards established in our school yet balance the reality of a tough economy.” If re-elected, Horan said she’d continue to work with state officials to fight for Floral Park’s “fair share of tax relief.”
Horan’s running mate took over where she left off. A lifetime Floral Park resident and graduate of Our Lady of Victory and Floral Park Memorial, Mullen looks to draw on his professional experience as a member of the New York State Bar Association and holder of Series 7 and Series 63 licenses, as well as his role as treasurer of the West End Civic Association, to effectively serve on the board if elected. “We all know the major problems facing this district is the amount of aid that was cut from New York State. What’s most upsetting to me … is that the neighboring districts of Franklin Square and New Hyde Park were cut less than us. That’s atrocious. We need to get that money back. What we need to do is to get this school district to be number one on Long Island,” he said.
Mullen proposed achieving that by asking teachers and administrators what they need and giving it to them. He also addressed community members who do not have children in the district’s grammar schools. He harked back to his start as a real estate attorney: “I could tell you the value of your house is directly related to the school district. If the school district is higher, the value of your house will be higher.” He cited high tax bills in Floral Park but conceded, “If you get value for your money, it makes it a little more palatable. So if you’re paying a high tax bill but your school district keeps rising every year [the value of your house will also keep rising].”
Rettinger, the fourth and final candidate to speak, also cited Floral Park’s rising taxes and expressed concern over the diminishing ranking of the district. “I have seen the ranking of our school district go down while taxes continue to rise,” he said. If elected to the school board, he plans to draw on his professional background as an HVAC engineer to facilitate the district’s much debated need for boiler replacements and how to fund them. As a card-carrying member to two unions, he cited his “good understanding of how contracts work and how they can be negotiated” – a skill that he would leverage with regard to capital projects within the district. Rettinger also said he would draw on his current role as a member of the executive board of the Floral Park Youth Council and his entrenchment in coaching youth sports. “I have spoken to parents, know what they want and know what the children need. … I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the school board to tackle the tough times we are facing. I feel it is time for a change. It is time for our school district to once again be excellent,” he said.
Among the audience members who posed questions to the candidates was Cindy Casson, FPBS PTA publicity chairwoman, who questioned how much emphasis each candidate would put on fiduciary goals of the board vs. education of the children. “I think that we are always trying to make education and curriculum come first,” said Horan. Each budget that the BOE formulates is projected out over several years, she said. “Fixed costs first [i.e., cost of running the buildings], whatever’s left over let’s apply it in the best and most useful way to curriculum,” she added.
Mullen agreed, saying,“You pay the bills, and you give it to the kids. You see what they need, ask the teachers, give them whatever they need.”
“I believe that the kids should always come first,” replied Rettinger. “Yes it is tough times, and yes tough decisions have to be made along the money side of it but we cannot let our education drop for our children.”
As for Dellacorte, she said, “You have to prioritize. You have to re-evaluate the budget and see where we can give the children what they need. I think the teachers need certain things in their classrooms in order to function completely … If you’re looking to improve academics, you have to aim high.” She mentioned other, more affluent communities such as Garden City, whose ranking has remained high while Floral Park has slipped. As of last summer, she said, Floral Park ranked 12 points below Garden City in reading and 10 points below in math, while in the past Floral Park ranked higher in both disciplines. Dellacorte disputed the notion that Floral Park needs more resources to compete with higher-ranked districts. She said, “If you have wonderful teachers, which I think we do, willing parents, [a] good curriculum,” Floral Park can rise to the high ranking it long held. She added that there are alternative things the board can do to improve academics.
For instance, Dellacorte called 117 districts across Long Island, and only eight of those have half-day kindergarten programs. It’s been suggested that perhaps the lag in academics in Floral Park starts early on, as kids in the district receive half the kindergarten instruction compared with most of their peers in the region. Dellacorte appealed to the board for a full-time kindergarten assistant to maximize the half-day for students.
“We are the little engine that could!” she said. “We always did more with less, and I think we’re capable of doing that again.”