Editor’s note: School board candidate Charles Lyon is an employee of Richner Communications and is a sales representative for the Herald Community Newspapers.
Two weeks before the election for an open empty seat on the Oceanside Board of Education, a forum was held where both candidates fielded questions from the community and showcased their platforms and competences.
“If you’re happy with the status quo, then don’t vote for me,” concluded candidate Charles Lyon on the night of May 1 in the Oceanside High School auditorium. “But if you feel that real change … transparency … independent thinking … reprioritizing our children is good, then give me a shot.”
Following Lyon, candidate Stuart Kaplan said, “If you elect me as a school board trustee, I will continue to work . . . to strive to make us have one of the finest school districts on the Island. . . . No matter who is elected, we all must ensure the kids are the real winners.”
Kaplan is the father of two children currently attending Oceanside schools and has been involved in the district’s parent teacher association as well as its building and grounds committee. He said he has also served as a liaison for the board and a council delegate. Additionally, Kaplan said that he has attended nearly every school board meeting over the past few years, including budget workshops.
Aside from teaching full-time at Nassau Community College for 23 years, he is also the chairman of its Mathematics, Computer Science and Information Technology Department. Kaplan said he is a “curriculum guy,” and will help students prepare for college better if elected. He also noted he will “make sure every dollar is spent wisely.”
Lyon was born and raised in Oceanside, attended School No. 3, the old junior high school on Merle Avenue, and graduated from Oceanside High School in 1982. He has two grandsons currently attending the schools. Lyon works as a sales representative for Herald Community Newspapers — under parent company Richner Communications — mostly covering the Oceanside area.
Lyon said he believes in honesty, accountability and dependability. Nine out of 10 times, he said, he would support the parents and students. He suggested more open communication, such as live streaming board meetings and a Facebook page for the board to give updates.
Throughout the forum, Lyon admitted to not being as familiar with school issues as his opponent, such as the drop-off system at Oceanside High School. Nonetheless, he assured the audience he would do his research and learn during his time on the board, if elected. He also added there has not been a contested seat for the board in three years, and that him “throwing his hat in the ring” — therefore creating a “real election” — could only be a good thing.
During the question-and-answer session, led by Kate Kelly from the Nassau Region PTA, Kaplan and Lyon agreed on many matters, although they offered varying solutions.
For example, both candidates agreed that more should be done on drug and alcohol awareness for the students. They also concurred on Common Core testing not serving children. Kaplan said some aspects of the state-mandated curriculum and testing are good while others are not — he would like to see more resources or time during the day for tutoring. Lyon said he wants to see more parent involvement in the exam-making processes, noting the difficulty of the state exams was too extreme for parents, students and even many tutors.
Both candidates also expressed displeasure with the general lack of state aid. Kaplan said he believes Oceanside “gives more than [they] receive back,” adding that education deserves more funds. Lyon said he plans on looking more into this matter, if elected.
When it came to special education, both agreed that more attention was needed. Lyon said over a sixth of the student base is in special education, and relayed that parents had expressed concern to him about “overcrowding” due to the district’s planned downsizing of fifth grade — cutting a class and putting special and regular education together — and that is “taxing” to the staff. Kaplan also thinks the special education programs should be evaluated.
As for the planned cut of a social worker position for the next school year, both Lyon and Kaplan said that another should be hired if possible. Lyon said the students “need social workers. They need people to talk to.” Kaplan said he heard from board members that grant opportunities for social work would be researched, as they were in the past.
They also both agreed on school security, applauding the current projects in development such as adding more school monitors and surveillance. Kaplan said “the conversation must continue,” and Lyon criticized East Rockaway’s policy requiring see-through backpacks, pointing out they would not help much with issues such as vaping in schools.
“I think I have my finger on what’s going on with the schools,” Lyon said, regarding comments that he hasn’t attended many or any school board meetings. He said he would have liked to if he could have, and praised Kaplan for being present.
When the candidates were asked about the subject of teacher salaries, Lyon said teachers are “the most important component,” of the schools system. He said that giving an experienced teacher more pay would be a good decision. Kaplan said it is important to hire early and pay competitively.
When asked about the budget, Kaplan said it is already “skimmed down,” even though, at nearly $155 million, it is a large figure. Lyon said he believes there is no “easy answer” to save money. Kaplan said the budget is “tight” already, adding, “The board had to make decisions, and they are not always going to be popular.” Lyon voiced support for the state-mandated cap on year-over-year tax-levy hikes.
When the candidates were questioned about the time commitment of serving as a board trustee, Kaplan said he already gives the time, and Lyon said he would make it his “primary objective besides [his] job,” noting he does not have school-age children, and therefore has the time available.
Finally, when asked about one candidate’s competitive edge over the other, Kaplan referenced his personal and professional experience and interests in the school district, saying, “This is my job … home … kids … family … neighborhood, these are the people who take care of my family.” Lyon offered, “Sometimes the board is here and the community is here,” with arms outstretched, indicating there is a separation.
Voting for the Oceanside school board will be held on May 15, along with the proposed 2018-19 budget and a referendum on the establishment of a capital reserve fund.