On Tuesday, voters in Riverhead and Southold towns will go to the polls to vote on school district budgets. Several districts are offering propositions along with their budgets, and voters will need to read those closely before making a decision.
Riverhead taxpayers will vote on the district’s $144.4 million budget, which is under the tax cap. Voters should go over their ballots carefully, as there are critical propositions to be voted on, including a $3.9 million proposal to buy 44 new school buses. There is also a cafeteria-related project to be considered.
Taxpayers in the Shoreham-Wading River district will be asked to vote on a $75.9 million budget, a 1.57% increase over this year. As with the other districts, Shoreham-Wading River is well within the allowable tax cap.
Voters will also decide between the candidates for school board. In 2017, we offered our thoughts on who we think makes an ideal candidate for a Board of Education seat. Those sentiments are worth repeating today.
Such a candidate will have done his or her homework, gaining the ability to hit the ground running by understanding many of the laws, mandates and formulas that create the framework of a school district’s operating budget. Ideally, he or she will also be familiar with education parlance and legislative language and have displayed command of it during a campaign by effectively translating such language into clear and simple terms.
A school board member should be able to serve as an effective liaison to the public, whose questions and concerns are often met with frustration by boards that don’t quite understand things themselves.
Given the difficult challenge any school board has of keeping taxes and expenses low, the ideal candidate should also be able to communicate effectively with other elected officials. School boards serve as lobbyists for the public, working with state lawmakers to secure funding for their districts — a critical task. The ideal school board member would put the greater public good over his or her own interests and desires.
He or she would also have a strong will and the confidence to stand up to a superintendent when appropriate. Too often, school boards serve as rubber stamps for overzealous administrators. Board members should take their cues from the public, not just from paid employees who, don’t forget, work for the taxpayers. Look for a candidate who speaks strongly, yet not in partisan-charged hyperbole. Those are most likely the people who won’t submit to bullying or put up with obfuscation from administrators — or other board members trying to carry out a superintendent’s will.
Finally, look for balance. Too many former teachers or coaches on a school board could be bad for the bottom line. But too many businesspeople, who may know staffing and budgets but don’t grasp the nuances of what makes a quality education, could be a detriment to kids. Before heading to the polls, examine the real-world experience of this year’s crop of candidates, and consider whether that experience could be of value, and be a good fit, in managing a very complicated operation.