John Zukowsi, one of seven candidates vying for three Shoreham-Wading River school board seats, quoted legendary Native American Sitting Bull at a “Meet the Candidates” event Monday night to explain his philosophy on securing funding for public education.
“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children,” Mr. Zukowski said. “Although it was spoken 150 years ago, no truer statement could ever be said when it comes to what our Board of Education faces.”
While the candidates agreed that community unity is essential to provide a quality education for children, each voiced his or her own viewpoint on the various factors that go into best providing that education.
Candidates responded to 12 questions, posed by moderator Maryann Decostanzo of the Suffolk Region PTA, on topics ranging from building cafeterias and serving hot lunches in each of the schools to curbing tax hikes while providing programs for students.
The event was held in the high school library.
Mr. Zukowski, 48, who is seeking his first three-year term, said the district could keep taxes down but maintain student programs by consolidating services, particularly the position of superintendent of curriculum and instruction, with neighboring districts.
Incumbent board member and Brookhaven National Laboratory research associate Bill McGrath, 58, agreed on merging services, as did newcomer Stephen Offutt, 48, a district manager for Kmart who added that somehow maintaining local control would be essential in a consolidation arrangement.
Incumbent board member Bob Alcorn, a retired teacher seeking a second term, said the board should look to cut costs in areas that aren’t related to students. Board president Jack Costas, also seeking a second term, said he thinks negotiations with bargaining units are one of the most efficient ways to reduce spending and still provide programs for students.
As to their opinions on instituting a hot lunch program in all of the district’s schools, some candidates disagreed. There are five schools in the district. At four of the district’s five schools — all but the high school — students bring their own lunch and eat in their classrooms.
Newcomer Keith Field, 38, an emergency medial and physician assistant, pointed to the importance of the social aspect provided by cafeterias and lunch periods, but Mr. Alcorn, 63, said cafeterias can be breeding grounds for unwanted incidents. He added the personnel, food service and facility costs also make building a cafeteria hard for him to support.
“It’s going to be a massive expense that I think could be better spent elsewhere,” he said.
Mr. McGrath said he’d hold community forums to gauge residents’ desire for expanding the lunch program and adding facilities.
When candidates were asked how they would improve communications between the board and community residents, Mr. Costas, 52, said he’d like video recordings of every board meeting to be posted on the district’s website. Mr. Offutt and Anthony DeLouise, 61, who owns a technology company, suggested utilizing social networking websites.
Candidates were in clear agreement on allocating resources to preserve Advanced Placement courses, as well as spending prior year’s state aid on necessary facility and infrastructure repairs.
When asked their opinions on tenure for teachers, Mr. Offutt, Mr. Zukowski and Mr. Field said merit should be considered in granting a teacher tenure. Mr. DeLouise and Mr. McGrath agreed a teacher should be evaluated for longer than three years — the current time frame in which administrators decide whether to grant tenure.
“I think it is criminal to offer tenure within three years,” Mr. McGrath said.
Mr. Costas and Mr. Alcorn said the evaluation process needs to be examined, and that the system’s main fault is the potential for dishonest evaluations.
“Too often, people are given tenure who don’t deserve it,” Mr. Alcorn said.
Taxpayers will vote not only for school board members Tuesday, May 17, but on an almost $60 million budget.
A retired social studies teacher, Bob Alcorn, 63, is seeking a second term on the board and is campaigning with incumbent Jack Costas and newcomer Keith Field. The father of four Shoreham-Wading River graduates, Mr. Alcorn has lived in the district for 38 years.
The current school board president, Jack Costas, 52, is also running for a second term on the board. Mr. Costas, a general contractor and construction manager, has lived in the district for seven years and has three children attending Shoreham-Wading River schools.
Anthony DeLouise, owner of a technology company and associate real estate broker, is running for a school board seat for the first time. Mr. DeLouise, 61, has two children who graduated from Port Jefferson School District. He has lived in the district for five years.
Stephen Offutt is also seeking his first term on the school board. A district manager for Kmart, Mr. Offutt, 48, has two children in the district and has been a district resident for 12 years.
Keith Field, 38, is seeking his first term as well. An emergency and medical physician assistant, the father of two Shoreham-Wading River students has lived in the district for six years.
Bill McGrath, a research associate at Brookhaven National Laboratory, is seeking a second term on the board. A 22-years district resident, Mr. McGrath, 58, has one daughter who graduated from Shoreham-Wading River.
John Zukowski, 48 is running for his first term on the board. Mr. Zukowski, an attorney, has two children in the district and has been a Shoreham-Wading River resident for six years.