Oceanside Board of Education candidates speak ahead of election


Four candidates are vying for seats on the Oceanside Board of Education in the Tuesday, May 17 elections.

Among those seeking re-election are incumbents Michael D’Ambrosio — who has served on the school board since 2012 — and Robert Transom, a trustee since 1997. Challengers Austin Graff and Jon Paskoff are looking to unseat them.

Ahead of the election, the candidates were asked about their goals and the issues facing the Oceanside school board.

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the board?

Graff: I believe there is an absence of leadership on the Oceanside Board of Education. I see that the superintendent of schools is the only one speaking during the board meetings and the board acts as a rubber stamp for her decisions.

During Covid, the members of the board of education were absent from any public role in the district. The members of the board left it to the superintendent to publish videos to update the community.

Many of those videos left the community with more questions than answers. The board members are the taxpayers’ and students’ elected representatives. The absence of the elected officials playing an active role during Covid created a void in leadership that remains more than two years later.

If elected, I think I can help fill that void and stop the board of education from being a rubber stamp for everything the superintendent is trying to do.

Paskoff: I feel the board does not properly represent the current community with very few of the current board members having children in the school district.

Another reason was I feel that the current board lacks transparency with the community. I also decided to run because I feel that the current board does not connect and communicate with the Oceanside community.

The community wants someone “real” that is approachable and that can talk to them, listen to them and be their voice without feeling they are being ridiculed.

D’Ambrosio: I ran for the board of education in 2013 because I care deeply about the Oceanside community. I am alsoan advocate for children, having spent years involved in activities such as Oceanside soccer.

Personally, my own three children were graduates of this district, and now I am proud to say that I have five grandchildren (three grandchildren already attending) that will also be Oceanside graduates one day.

So while my commitment extends to all the children we represent, I obviously have a vested interest in ensuring that our school district remains an excellent learning environment for all.

Transom: I want to continue to work for the taxpayers of this community to ensure our tax dollars are used effectively to keep Oceanside a sought-after place to live. This includes always putting students first, providing a safe, healthy educational environment, and ensuring staff receives the needed training to provide our kids with a 21st century education.

I believe this is a critical moment for our district and it’s going to take the experience to navigate successfully through these tough economic times.

It’s especially important that we have board members in this coming term who have the experience it takes to know how to transparently get things done.

What are your main goals and what major issues do you wish to address as a member of the school board?

Graff: Greater transparency, which includes greater respect for the community members who have issues or concerns regarding the school district.

From speaking with voters, I have heard, repeatedly, that despite attempting to raise issues, they feel that they are not being heard or responded to and are retaliated (against) for speaking out. This must end.

I want to hold forums in each school, with me, as a board member, so parents feel comfortable raising issues without a fear that their child will be retaliated against. It is a shame that any parent feels that way.

In addition, I want to address the overtaxing that has gone on for at least the last two years. I also think the board should take an active role in fixing the disaster that is the district’s special education department.

The special education department needs reform now, so that it works for the students and the parents, which it is not doing now. The special education department needs leadership, which is sorely lacking.

Paskoff: My main goals, if elected to the board of education, is for much better community communication, transparency with the community, and to be the “ombudsman” between the community and the board of education.

Our schools are for the children and in recent years it looks as if the focus has shifted.

D’Ambrosio: It is always a challenge to simultaneously provide outstanding programs for students while keeping the budget tax increases at a minimum.

I believe our record shows that we have been successful at doing just that over the past number of years and I would look to see that continue.

Transom: I want to continue overseeing the energy performance contract work, which will reduce operating costs for our facilities through upgrades in energy-efficient lighting, HVAC, solar power and electrical controls.

I want to continue to monitor the maintenance and upkeep of all our buildings and grounds to ensure that we make minor repairs when and where necessary to avoid costly and unnecessary replacements.

I want to see that we keep all our students engaged and motivated to get an education, whether they see themselves going onto college, trade school or into the workforce. This means supplying first-hand opportunities and staying on the cutting edge of technology at all grade levels.

What educational programs or initiatives would you like to see continue or expand?

Graff: I would like to see programs created to address lost learning during Covid because we have students who fell behind and are struggling to catch up to their peers. We need to invest in programs that help those students that were greatly impacted by Covid recover for the lost time.

I would like to have a traffic study completed at the high school to figure out a better way to have drop-off and pick-up.

I am afraid the district will suffer a great loss if something is not done. It is an accident waiting to happen.

Paskoff: I would like to see the financial competency program expanded upon due to the current state that we are living in, as well as a more robust special education department with someone running this department who has years as a special education teacher as well as an administrator for special education.

In addition, (we need a) traffic study around the high school to ensure the students’ safety.

D’Ambrosio: Over the past years we have increased our course offerings at the high school, including our business program, technology, video broadcasting and theater, to name just a few.

These opportunities give students multiple alternatives to finding their passion. I would like to see this continue. Similarly, at the elementary and middle school level, we have expanded our enrichment opportunities so that all children can demonstrate their gifts and talents in a variety of ways.

I would like to see that continue as well.

Transom: Our senior administration, department heads and teachers put in a lot of time and research to address New York state standards and develop the best educational fit for this community.

I think it shows in the demand for Oceanside schools.

Are there any educational courses or curricula that you wish to see implemented that aren’t currently offered?

Graff: Yes, I would like to see the teachers teach studying and studying tactics. I know students are told to study before a test, but I do not know how many students know how to study.

I think it is important for students to learn how to study.

There are different study techniques, and I think teachers should spend time during the school year teaching those techniques in the classroom.

Paskoff: I would like to see a more robust and more promoted financial competency class to better these graduating students to be prepared for the “real world” as it pertains to finances, investing, loans, etc.

D’Ambrosio: I know that the state education department is currently back on track in discussing alternative pathways to graduation and graduation requirements. I would love to see Oceanside lead the way in providing these alternative pathways and giving students a voice and choice as they move through the Oceanside schools.

Transom: I know there’s some confusion about the high school not having a financial literacy course. The fact is there has been some form of a financial literacy class at OHS for over 10 years. In fact, financial literacy is included in the curriculum as early as fifth grade.

This year, our business department is offering numerous elective finance courses. They’re not mandatory, but they are offered to all students.