SOMERS, N.Y. The three candidates running for two open seats on the Somers Board of Education answered questions Monday night at a chat sponsored by the League of Women Voters and hosted by the Somers PTA Council.
The vote is scheduled for May 15, and the candidates are Richard Wagner, Michael D'Anna and incumbent Sarena Meyer.
Were facing issues constraining our resources. How can we address them? Wagner said in his opening statement. I feel that if we cant work harder we must work smarter. He added that he is also responsive to parents concerns, such as substance abuse and uncertainty about the post-high school years.
DAnna said he moved to Somers because of the high quality of education. Having worked 15 years in the financial district, he said, I have a lot of experience in looking at budgets, seeing the expenses and revenue lines, understanding the key issues and asking good questions.
Meyer, the current BOE vice president, said, Weve had unprecedented changes and educational challenges in the last few years: retirements, tax cap levies, unfunded mandates. While daunting, theyre not going away. Itll take someone with experience, energy, enthusiasm and passion for education to navigate the waters of change.
Moderator Harry MacLaughlin asked two questions on behalf of the LWV. Each candidate was allowed two minutes to respond.
MacLaughlins first question asked how the Somers educational system could be taken to the next level.
Meyer responded, Programs must be designed to bring out the best in each child. We must work as a team.
Wagner said, I focus on basic skills. How do we teach reading, writing and math? Our SAT scores are somewhere in the middle. He said he wants to raise the bar, so our students excel, especially in math. Right now our students go from subject to subject and never gain mastery.
DAnna said, We have to measure the things we want to improve, such as math, reading, writing, SAT scores, see where we stand, define excellence and build policies to achieve it.
MacLaughlin next said, Somers has reduced expenses, including staff reductions in the last few years. Do you intend to put a stop to this and if so, how?
Wagner responded, Our budgets been strained by pension and benefits obligations, which have increased every year since 2008. At this juncture, we have to see how we can deliver services more efficiently, so if were compelled to make staffing cuts well look toward those who have the least benefit to our students.
DAnna said, I would do everything possible to avoid impacting the people directly responsible for educating our children. Right now we have the unbelievable pressure to keep taxes low and make them work efficiently, in an arena where costs are rising and state aid is coming down. But we can lobby our congressmen and lobby Washington to understand that 90 percent of education costs comes from local taxes and only about 10 percent from the state. We can work to relieve some of the mandated expenses.
Meyer said, We need to deal with the economic times but were talking about professional people who have a high impact on our children. It would be very easy to take a broad stroke like other districts, but weve tried to find little things, cut the budget a bit at a time, like a haircut, so we can still retain the quality of education.
From the audience, Jay Hashmall asked, If you could pick two or three specific changes what would they be?
DAnna said, Broader communication with the community and get educated with regard to the impact various cuts would have on the education of individual students.
Meyer said, More technology curriculum, continued work with other districts and using technology to expand the horizons of our children.
Wagner said, Back to fundamentals. Improve the core math curriculum and improve our reading and writing skills.
In his closing statement, Lex Kessler, president of the PTA Council said, Were lucky to live in a community where we have more candidates than positions.
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