Only two can win Riverhead school board seats

05/13/2010 12:00 AM |

Mary-Ellen Harkin

Five candidates will vie for two available three-year terms on the Riverhead school board in next Tuesday’s election. Below are profiles of all five, in the order in which they will appear on the ballot.

>> AMELIA LANTZ, 45, of Riverhead is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served overseas for 17 years. A lifelong Riverhead resident and 1983 graduate of Riverhead High School, Ms. Lantz and her husband, Dave, have two daughters at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. She’s an active member of the Roanoke Avenue Parent-Teacher Organization and regularly attends school board meetings. She ran unsuccessfully for a board seat last year.

“I have been involved as a regular participant at the Board of Education meetings and have been witness to outright hostility toward parents and community members who may question the decisions made by the board,” Ms. Lantz said Tuesday at the school board meeting, where candidates were giving an opportunity to speak. “I’ve been disturbed and insulted by the lack of manners and warmth in the members of the board’s behavior.

Clearly, this demonstrates no appreciation for the voice of our community.”

Ms. Lantz said the board needs to bring the community together in making decisions and that the district needs to revisit the school expansion bond that failed in February by presenting a new plan “that represents the judgment and desires of the community.”

She said her years in the Air Force have given her leadership and community relations skills.

>> JEFFREY FALISI, 42, of Baiting Hollow is a retired NYPD officer who has lived in Baiting Hollow for 10 years. He and his wife, Lori, have four children in the district, and he’s been active in youth sports, 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. Mr. Falisi has one child in each school level: high school, middle school, Pulaski Street and elementary school.

“Being a parent and serving in these organizations gives me a unique perspective to some of the concerns of our community,” he said Tuesday. “I’d like to bring a fresh set of eyes, with new views and the diligence and enthusiasm our community deserves.”

Coming up with an alternative to the Honors program, which the board eliminated, is one issue in which the community is interested, he said. He also insisted the board needs to be more fiscally aware and must listen more.

“I would like to improve the public’s perception of the Board of Education, with concerns not just falling on deaf ears, but actually being heard,” he said.

>> MARY MEYER, 44, of Baiting Hollow has been a teacher for 22 years, currently teaching in the Bethpage district. She’s also the co-organizer of the Suffolk 9-12 Project, a so-called Tea Party group, with her husband, Bob. She has lived in Baiting Hollow for 12 years and has five children, ages 10 to 20, including two still in the district. She is certified as a New York State school administrator and school district supervisor. She’s 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.

“As a working mom, I’m always trying to balance raising a family with what we can afford,” she said Tuesday. “As one of the founders of the Suffolk County 9-12 group, one of my main issues has been wasteful government spending and, unfortunately, that includes our schools.”

She later added, “We really need to set a new standard here in Riverhead, one that involves collaborative thinking, a positive relationship with the learning communities and treating our community members and taxpayers with dignity and respect. Somewhere along the way, that has been lost in Riverhead.

Ms. Meyer said she has skills as a teacher, an educator, a parent, a community member and a founding member of a political action group.

>> CHRISTINE PRETE, 54, of Flanders is the owner of Prete Gardens, a landscaping business, and a former president of the Bay View Pines Civic Association in Flanders. She and her husband, George, have two children at the high school and one in college who graduated from Riverhead High School. She is an incumbent seeking her third three-year term on the school board.

She said the most important question to ask a candidates is “What’s your special interest?”

For her, Ms. Prete said, it’s continuing what the board has been doing.

In the past three years, she said, “all of our test scores have gone up, and for the first time, we are a district in good standing in every aspect of education.”

The district has expanded staff development programs and aligned curriculum in all of its schools, and it has presented budgets in the past three years with spending increases of 2.3 percent, 3.9 percent and 1.9 percent, she said.

During this time, the board has not had to cut any programs, she noted.

>> MARY-ELLEN HARKIN, 48, of Calverton is a 10th-grade English teacher at Connetquot High School. Also an attorney, she worked as a 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 is an incumbent seeking her fifth three-year term on the school board.

Ms. Harkin said one reason she’s running is to “better serve you as a voice advocating a personal income tax approach to school funding.”

She said New York State “is broken fiscally,” so it might be a good time to push such reforms.

Ms. Harkin also feels the state aid formula treats Long Island districts unfairly and sends too much money to New York City.

She feels the district needs more community input and proposes establishing online surveys.

She feels the board is moving in the right direction, academically and fiscally, and said she’s committed to continuing on that path.

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