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Pelham Board of Ed Candidates Take Part in Debate

PELHAM, N.Y. – The four candidates for the Pelham Board of Education participated in a Thursday night debate at Pelham Memorial High School where they discussed the 2012-2013 budget, the search for a new superintendent and their goals to get the community more involved if they are elected.

The debate, moderated by League of Women Voters member Nicole Benjamin, featured school board candidates Paul Prencis , Michael Recca , Christine Rosskopf and Madeline Smith . Each voiced their support of the soon-to-be public voted on $65,560,607 budget that was unanimously adopted, but also their concern over the cutting of four teaching positions.

When asked by a resident what they would do if given $3 million for the budget, the four candidates each said they would reinstate the teachers.  Smith and Recca added that with the money, they would to hope to push the tax levy increase beneath 1 percent.  Recca, a lifelong Pelham resident and 2006 graduate of Pelham Memorial who works for the county’s financial administration, also added that he would look to add more honors and advanced placement classes.

With Superintendent Dennis Lauro's December retirement on the horizon, the potential board members were asked how they would conduct the search for his replacement and what qualities they would look for in that person. The four candidates agreed that it would be a nationwide search, but varied on the details of the selection.

In calling the superintendent the “CEO of our school district,” Smith said that the community might have to consider an interim superintendent if it takes a while to find the right one.

“Once we’ve narrowed it down, I think the community should get involved in meeting those final candidates,” said Smith, who has one son at Colonial Elementary School and a daughter in college.

Rosskopf said there must first be “some soul searching by the community” in picking either the constructivism or teacher-driven educational theories and deciding the candidates that way.

The mother of two kids at Siwanoy Elementary School stressed that the board must rely on the recent 400-person survey on the Pelham School District when picking Lauro’s replacement in order to see how the community feels on certain issues.

Both Recca and Prencis, a math teacher in the Eastchester schools, said the person should have a rich background in both the administrative and educational fields. Recca called it “the most important hire a trustee can make.”

Not all of the hopeful board members supported their future colleague’s decision to use an additional $150,000 from the Employees’ Retirement System pension reserves, bringing the total to $650,000, in order to lower the tax levy increase from 2.88 percent to 2.6 percent.

Smith and Prencis, a father of twin boys at Prospect Hill Elementary School and a third son who will be entering the school in September, said they would have liked to have seen a decline in New York State mandated pensions before adding more funds to the already allotted $500,000.

When asked by a Pelham resident what their strategies would be to get the community more involved in school district decisions, each of the candidates offered different viewpoints.

Recca supported a citizen’s budget committee because of the ideas that Pelham residents could present to the board in the process. Rosskopf said public documents should always be available at meetings and neighbor-to-neighbor meetings should occur in addition to the use of citizens in a particular field to solve a problem instead of having to “hire expensive outside consultants.”

Smith said that she would like to have bi-weekly coffee meetings, either during the day or evening, where residents could meet with one or two board members and discuss their concerns while listening to why certain decisions are made. Prencis offered an online polling system that the board could rely on when trying to figure out where the residents stand on certain issues.

Board of education elections will take place May 15 in addition to the vote on the 2012-13 school year budget from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pelham Memorial gymnasium. Four candidates are running for two seats. Board President Robert Eicher and member Doug Hearle are not seeking reelection. Smith , Prencis , Rosskopf and Recca are seeking seats on the school board for the first time.

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