Four candidates are vying for two seats on the Lynbrook Board of Education in Tuesday’s election.
Incumbent President Bill Belmont will seek another term after 15 years on the board, while Andrew Lewner, Cathy Bien and Tara Aragona are running for the first time. Trustee Heather Hanson is not running for re-election.
The district’s Council of PTAs hosted a Meet the Candidates Night on May 2 at Lynbrook High School, which was moderated by the League of Women Voters. There, three of the candidates shared their platforms and goals for the district. Aragona did not attend, because she didn’t announce her bid as a write-in candidate until after the deadline to run and the event had passed.
The candidates touched on a broad array of topics, including the board’s navigation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lewner said he had formed a group of more than 250 district parents to advocate for children during the pandemic.
“When we’re making decisions related to the health of our children, those are decisions that should be made by parents,” Lewner said. “Those are decisions that should be made by medical professionals.”
Lewner has been an attorney for 20 years, and has two children in the district.
Belmont, an investigative attorney, has served as board president for seven years. As a board member during the pandemic, he said, he understood parents’ frustrations with masking children, but added that the board tried its best to make the right decisions during an unprecedented time, and were handcuffed by state officials.
“No district did any better than us,” Belmont said. “Lynbrook knows what’s best for Lynbrook.”
Bien, an accountant and an emergency medical technician, had ideas on how to improve the district by helping students prepare for the future.
“We have college day, but we don’t have vocational day,” she said. “Vocational day will help children who can’t go to college or maybe can’t afford it.”
Bien noted that the district does not provide educational opportunities for students who don’t want to go to college, and she believes that having a “vocational day” would help them. “I think that a lot of kids who don’t want to go to college are seeking help in that area,” she said.
Belmont and Lewner both said that more education geared toward working outside of high school instead of just college preparation would be beneficial to students.
When asked what the candidates thought about disciplining students who engage in illegal behavior, such as underage drinking and drug use, the candidates unanimously agreed that although the school can do things like provide extracurricular activities for students, it is ultimately up to parents to discipline their children.
Another concern voiced was a perceived lack of diversity and inclusion in the district. However, the candidates did not express the belief that the topic was a major issue. The question that was submitted by a parent read, “Diversity, equity and inclusion is a huge agenda item for the district currently, but many are saying that nothing is coming out of the committees. What do you see is the biggest issue in our community and in our schools right now related to diversity, equity and inclusion and what would you do in response?”
Each of the candidates said they didn’t think there were such issues. “We don’t have a problem in this community,” Lewner said. Added Bein, “I couldn’t answer that question honestly because I’m not aware of it.” Many attendees at the meeting did, however, raise concerns.
Belmont gave an analogy of black and red ants in a jar, saying that the ants get along in the jar unless somebody shakes it, then the ants begin to eat each other. “To me, there’s a lot of people in our society who are trying to shake that jar and make an issue where an issue doesn’t exist,” he said.
There is not much diversity among the current board members, and according to the 2022 World Population Review, Lynbrook is comprised of 81.6 percent white people, 4.3 percent Black, 3 percent mixed race, 2.8 percent Asian and 0.95 percent Native American. However, one area of inclusion that the candidates did address was the special education program.
“Every child is entitled to an education provided by the district,” Lewner said. “If the district cannot meet the child’s needs, the district pays to send the children to schools that can meet their needs.”
According to Lewner, $4 million — or 4 percent of the budget — is used to send special needs children to other schools. He said he believes that it would be beneficial to focus on strengthening the special education program in the district so that the kids do not need to be sent to other schools. “Over time we would save millions of dollars by keeping those kids in-house,” he said. “We would also be meeting their needs.”The candidates agreed that the children in the district need to be put first.
After the meeting, Aragona said she decided to run because she is passionate about volunteering.
“The last two years have caused unprecedented stress for our students and our community,” she said. “The students dealt with a pandemic, remote learning, hybrid learning, new technology, social isolation and much more. In many ways, our community struggled to unite, and as we recover from the pandemic, I would like to be a part of bringing the Lynbrook community back to unified strength.”
Aragona, a cosmetologist, said that her goals include fostering better communication between school officials and the community, improving the district’s website, supporting teachers with professional development programs, enhancing the guidance program to meet students’ emotional needs and expanding academic trips for students.
“I have spent my time on the PTA working collaboratively with other parents, staff, and administration to accomplish common goals, problem solve, and resolve issues that have come to our attention,” she said. “Above all, I am a parent who believes in quality public education and advocating for what is best for all students I know that I will bring my people-centered, problem-solving skill set to the Board of Education.”