Five candidates, two open seats

Five people running for two seats.

Five people will be running May 18 for two seats on the Riverhead school board. Voting will be held in the high school gymnasium from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Incumbents Mary-Ellen Harkin and Christine Prete will be challenged by Mary Meyer, Amelia Lantz and Jeffrey Falisi for the three-year terms.Ms. Harkin is seeking her fifth three-year term on the board and Ms. Prete her third.

Here are short biographies of the candidates.

Jeffrey Falisi is a 42-year-old retired New York City police officer who has lived in Baiting Hollow for the past 10 years. He and his wife, Lori, have four children in the district, and he’s been active in a number of youth activities, including coaching Riverhead Little League boys’ baseball and girls’ softball, Riverhead PAL boys’ lacrosse, Riverhead Middle School football and CYO basketball for St. John’s. He’s also a member of the Police Athletic League board. He said he has one child in each level — high school, middle school, Pulaski Street and elementary school — who are active in sports, music, the Latin and Greek clubs and the Honor Society.

“I’m running because I want to bring a fresh set of eyes to the board,” he said. Asked if he was happy with the direction the current board has taken, he answered, “There’s always room for improvement. We have some members that have been there for a while, and sometimes you need new blood.”

Why does he feel people should vote for him?

“I’m very in touch with the community,” Ms. Falisi said. I’m hearing what the community has to say. I’m extremely realistic, I have a good sense of what can be changed and what battles to take on.”

Mary-Ellen Harkin, 48, of Calverton, is a 10th-grade English teacher at Connetquot High School and an attorney who worked as chief law clerk for state Supreme Court Judge Daniel Loughlan until six years ago, when she decided to switch careers and become a teacher.

She feels the school board is heading in the right direction under its present leadership.

“With each passing year, I feel we’ve made such positive changes, and each year I gain a better understanding of the direction the district needs to head in, and what we need to do to support the children’s needs as well as the community’s needs,” she said.

Ms. Harkin says test scores are rising and spending increases have been kept at a reasonable level in the past three years.

“I think continuity is important on the board,” she said. “I can bring some sense of history and knowledge from my years on the board.”

Ms. Harkin, who has two children in the school district with her husband, George, said she’s a “consensus builder. I don’t alienate people and I try to listen.”

Amelia Lantz, 45, of Riverhead is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a U.S. Air Force veteran who served overseas for many years. A 1983 Riverhead High School graduate, Ms. Lantz and her husband, Dave, have two daughters at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, where she’s an active member of the Parent-Teacher Organization. She’s also chairperson of the Roanoke Holiday Giving Chain, which gives 100 percent of its proceeds to the local Council of Churches. She regularly attends school board meetings and ran for a board seat last year.

“I am a U.S. Air Force veteran who served for 17 years in many interesting capacities that taught me the value of leadership, teamwork and excellent human relations skills in the workplace,” Ms. Lantz said. “I believe there are many areas that I can contribute if elected …”

She feels the board needs more fiscal responsibility and that the budget needs to be monitored more closely and transparently. She also feels the district needs to revisit the lack-of-space issue, and involve the community more in the decision-making process than what was done in the $123 million expansion referendum defeated in February.

“I have been greatly concerned with the lack of civility from this board,” she said.

Mary Meyer, 44, has been a teacher of business and social science for 22 years, currently in the Bethpage district, She is also the co-organizer of the Suffolk 9-12 Project, the local Tea Party group, with her husband, Bob. They have lived in Baiting Hollow for 12 years and have five children, ages 10 to 20. She is certified as a New York State school administrator and school district supervisor. She is active in youth sports, is a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee and has been an adviser to several high school clubs, as well as a member of several district advisory committees in Riverhead.

“As a teacher, I understand the challenges that educators face to ensure that our children receive only the best quality instruction,” Ms. Meyer said, adding that she also understands the perspective of a parent and a taxpayer.

“I believe my experience, both professional and personally, provides the necessary combination of skills and balance that is necessary to foster a positive learning community for all Riverhead students, parents and educators during these difficult economic times,” she said.

Prior to becoming a teacher, she worked in the legal and banking fields.

Christine Prete, 54, of Flanders owns Prete Gardens, a landscaping business, and is a former president of the Bay View Pines Civic Association in Flanders. She and her husband, George, have two children in the high school and one Riverhead High School graduate in college.

“I really want to see the work we put in place stay in place,” she said. “I don’t want to leave the job unfinished.”

She cited improving the district’s curriculum, making sure school budget increases stay low and coming up with a solution as to the district’s space and infrastructure needs among the jobs she wants to see finished.

“It’s all about the kids,” she said. “The test scores are looking great the last few years, so what we put in place is working so far.”

The district has been able to improve test scores by working with data it now collects on test results, so it can determine what areas are strengths and what areas weaknesses, she said.

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