Every year Hewlett-Woodmere’s Central PTA Council asks the Board of Education candidates question. This year, incumbents Scott McInnes and Cheryl May, and Fred Usherson and Jacob Shafran are running in the at-large election. The two highest vote-getters win the trustee seats. All terms are three years.
An edited version ran in the May 15-21 edition of the Nassau Herald.
How long have you lived in the district and are/were you a parent of a child in the public schools?
My wife Lisa and I moved to Hewlett in 1999. We have one daughter who is currently attending Woodmere Middle School.
What particular experiences or skills qualify you to serve as a school board member?
As a parent of a child in the public schools and active member of the community, I have been attending board meetings since 2008. First, as a member of the audience watching, learning and questioning, and since 2011 as an elected trustee. Since being elected to the board I have dedicated myself to learning all I can about board governance and all of the issues affecting education in NY State. I have already achieved the “Board Mastery” designation from the New York State School Boards Association. After only two years on the Board, Cheryl and I were elected vice president and president, respectively.
In my career I have spent the last 25 years in the NY City real estate and development industry as a manager and owner’s representative. I bring a practical, real word business perspective to the board table, and my experience with budgets, contracts, negotiations, litigation, project planning and coordination have all proven themselves invaluable to my function as a trustee. My philosophy as a real estate professional has always been to try to achieve the goals and objectives of the owner. I have applied the same philosophy on behalf of the Hewlett-Woodmere community. I believe the people of the district want to provide the best possible education for our students in the most cost effective manner possible. That is the goal we work hard to achieve every day.
What do you see as the major issue(s) facing our school district?
There are a wide variety of major issues all converging on public education on Long Island simultaneously. High taxes, the tax cap, limited state aid, mandatory cost increases dictated by the state, implementation of the common core, and high taxes (yes, I listed that one twice).
The tax levy cap has forced school districts to do what many of us advocated for years and slowed the growth of district budgets. An annual growth rate of approximately 2 percent should be sustainable for school districts, but unfortunately the state continues to pile on costs beyond the control of the district. In the last three years, 81percent of the new taxes collected in our district through levy increases have gone directly to Albany for retirement and health care increases that basically come in the way of an invoice from the state.
After taking out those expenses we’ve had an average of less than .5 percent of our budget to apply to local costs and programs. Although the state claims to have “increased” our state aid slightly, we still have not gotten back to the state aid levels we saw before the 2009 aid cuts. Despite all of that, through focused review, reductions in administrative spending of over $1 million, the judicious application of available reserves, and taking a hard look at how we do things, we have been able to maintain and even improve our programs, keep class sizes within the target ranges and stay within the tax levy limit.
Unfortunately, due to the dysfunctional assessment system in Nassau County and the reliance on, and promotion of, the tax certiorari process, the tax levy increases passed by the voters do not necessarily translate to similar tax rate increases to the individual homeowner.