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Six vie in Valley Stream District 13 school board race

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Ten candidates are running in contested board of education trustee races this year among Valley Stream’s three elementary school districts.

In District 13, Anthony Bonelli, William Freda and Michael Morin are challenging incumbents Dr. Frank Chiachiere, Patricia Farrell and Gerardo Cavaliere respectively for their seats.

Due to shutdowns caused by the coronavirus, voting will be handled remotely. Ballots should have already been mailed to every home in their respective district. In addition to selecting their trustee candidate of choice, Valley Streamers will be asked to approve both the budgets for both their respective elementary school district and Central High School District. The final ballot count will take place on June 9.

Because of the volume of candidates running in Valley Stream, the Herald conducted inquiries by email, seeking their stances on issues pertinent to school district operations, and in the interest of providing voters with information to inform their decisions, only candidates in contested races were queried.

— Dr. Frank Chiachiere

Education experience: Bachelors and masters in modern languages, SUNY New Paltz; professional degree in school leadership, LIU Post; Ph.D in curriculum and instruction, New York University

Professional experience: High school Spanish language and literature teacher; assistant principal middle and high school; supervisor of student teachers, Molloy College; lecturer at the School of Professional Development, Stony Brook University; public representative, Professional Standards and Practices Board.

Herald: One of the chief responsibilities of a school board trustee is setting the annual budget. With the coronavirus creating uncertainty over how much state aid might be coming to districts, what kinds of hard decisions are you willing to make regarding programs and taxes?

Dr. Frank Chiachiere: The budget we are proposing this year is conservative and responsive to what is happening in our country relative to COVID-19 and the economy.  Our tax levy this year is 1.99 percent.  In fact, we are in the bottom third of tax levy increases proposed by public school districts in Nassau County.  It is true that year over year our budget is increasing 4.1 percent, however, that is due to the revenues generated by the State Aid that we are guaranteed as a result of the two successfully completed phases of our current bond project.

We have stayed under the allowable tax cap since its institution and we are committed to this approach to budgeting.  Our district currently has healthy reserves including a capital reserve which we use to continue to support the maintenance and improvements to our schools. Our children deserve 21st. century learning spaces that are welcoming and promote creativity and collaboration; this is what we've achieved in the last four budget cycles.  

Herald: There has been much debate in recent years on how schools should best prepare students for the future. In your view, where does the balance lie between professional development and creating well-rounded adults?

Chiachiere: Professional development for teachers and preparing students for their futures are not mutually exclusive. In order to ensure that teachers continue to develop their professional knowledge to meet the changing needs of the academic and social/emotional skills that students will need to fully participate in a knowledge economy, we have engaged teachers in ongoing targeted professional development while building our curriculum in all four core academic areas (English, math, science, social studies), the arts, and technology through innovation labs. We have saved money and increased our organizational capacity by creating a team of in-house instructional coaches focused on math, English and technology. These three positions were added as teachers retired and enrollment declined, thereby having minimal impact to the budget over the last five years.  Research supports instructional coaching programs as having the most impact on the development of new skill for teachers because of the trusting, long-term relationships that can be developed over time versus workshops done by outside consultants.

Herald: What do you think makes you best suited to serve on your respective school board, and why did you decide to run?

Chiachiere: I am the best suited to serve on this board because I understand that I serve all of children and families of this community. I know that effective governance requires a willingness to listen to the public and bring back their thinking to the board room in a way that is respectful of both the desires of the public and the organization's capacity and fiscal ability to be responsive to our public. School board service requires integrity, a calm and reflective presence, and an ability to come into the board room open to hearing and listening to a variety of opinions. I continue to work at monthly meetings on a subcommittee of the Board of Regents, making recommendations as to how to best serve the needs of New York’s teachers and students.

Anthony Bonelli

Education experience: Bachelors of science in engineering, masters of business administration

Professional experience: computer programmer, analyst and computer operations director

Herald: One of the chief responsibilities of a school board trustee is setting the annual budget. With the coronavirus creating uncertainty over how much state aid might be coming to districts, what kinds of hard decisions are you willing to make regarding programs and taxes?

Anthony Bonelli: School District 13 is comprised of only elementary schools. All core curriculum (reading, writing, math, etc) must remain intact. Personnel actions, if required, must begin within the administration. Focus must be on “redundant services.” For example, if we have staff employed to provide a service yet rely on consultants as well, why are we doing both? We need accountability and transparency to the public of expenditures that are ultimately paid by the taxpaying public. If we lost one of our four schools to fire, by law, the school district must have a business continuity plan. Covid-19 resulted in the closure of all four of our schools. Well, where is the BCP? Many of our children are receiving less than five hours of distance learning. That is unacceptable. I will provide at least three to five hours a day of live training with all “broadcasts” archived for later viewing. I am completely shocked by how disconnected the current school board is with its proposal to raise spending by 4.1 percent. Due to Covid 19, over 40 million Americans lost their jobs and over 100,000 lost their lives, and the incumbent trustees want to increase spending, increase taxes?

Herald: There has been much debate in recent years on how schools should best prepare students for the future. In your view, where does the balance lie between professional development and creating well-rounded adults?

Bonelli: Each year the world becomes more interconnected, more global, enabling employers to choose candidate employees from all over the world. Our children’s education must keep up with other advanced countries. The biggest difference between our educational system and those of countries with more successful educational school systems is the number of school days and the number of hours of instruction. Most Americans work a full-time job, 40 hours a week and 50 weeks a year. Why are we not requiring the lengthening of the school year? Our children are not going to school nearly as much as those children from other successful countries. Why two-month summer vacations plus winter and spring breaks? If we are going to make our children, our priority we need to act on it.

Herald: What do you think makes you best suited to serve on your respective school board, and why did you decide to run?

Bonelli: I have received an excellent education in engineering, finance and accounting as well as extensive computer training. I have over 20 years of managerial experience and have been responsible for multi-million-dollar projects. Over the years, reading about District 13’s operations, it’s performance coupled with the ever-increasing school taxes, and discovering that no board member actually has experience in working with multi-million-dollar budgets, I know I can do a far better job getting the costs under control while maintaining excellence in education. When I read that the incumbents want to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a proposition this year to complete a high-priced proposition from an earlier year, I knew incompetency or something far worse must be at hand here. Please visit vvst.org

— Patricia Farrell

Education experience: Bachelors of arts, St. John’s University

Professional experience: Branch manager, Roslyn Savings Bank; treasurer, Wheeler Avenue PTA; president, Wheeler Avenue PTA; treasurer, Central-Memorial PTSA; president, Central-Memorial PTSA; treasurer, District 13 Educational Foundation

Herald: One of the chief responsibilities of a school board trustee is setting the annual budget. With the coronavirus creating uncertainty over how much state aid might be coming to districts, what kinds of hard decisions are you willing to make regarding programs and taxes?

Patricia Farrell: We cannot make any cuts that harm our children’s education or put their physical or mental well being at risk. It is vital that the school board confers with parents, teachers, department heads, school counselors, social workers, and other stakeholders in schools when making these decisions. These individuals will be essential in figuring out how to best ensure our children’s education and safety. In addition, the governor’s regulations will be important as well. Certain programs may not be allowed to occur for health and safety reasons, and while deeply unfortunate, the district will be able to redistribute the money saved elsewhere for the benefit of the children.

Herald: There has been much debate in recent years on how schools should best prepare students for the future. In your view, where does the balance lie between professional development and creating well-rounded adults?

Farrell: At the District 13 level, our primary mission is to ensure our students are well educated academically and well equipped socially to handle the challenges they face both in and out of school. We have done this with both excellent coursework, and fantastic extracurricular activities, such as summer hockey program, art programs, and our music programs. These extracurriculars give students the opportunity to develop valuable teamwork and social skills.

Herald: What do you think makes you best suited to serve on your respective school board, and why did you decide to run?

Farrell: For the past six years, I have worked incredibly hard as a board member to improve our children’s education. With such uncertain times ahead, the experience I have in solving educational issues in District 13 is now more important than ever. The upcoming school year will be filled with many challenges and our children need experienced individuals guiding policy and decision making at the school board level. I look forward to continue serving the community.

— Bill Freda

Education experience: Bachelors of business administration, Hofstra University

Professional experience: Trustee, Village of Valley Stream Planning Board, 1991; deputy treasurer, Village of Valley Stream, 1995.

Herald: One of the chief responsibilities of a school board trustee is setting the annual budget. With the coronavirus creating uncertainty over how much state aid might be coming to districts, what kinds of hard decisions are you willing to make regarding programs and taxes?

Bill Freda: The incumbent Board of Education members are proposing a 4 percent spending increase. This shows utter contempt for the financial stress residents are experiencing. Residents must vote no on their budget, to show them who is boss. Covid has changed everything. People are being furloughed, laid off, and given reduced hours.

Parents are leaving jobs to care for school-aged children. Stocks in IRA accounts are dropping. Interest on bank CD's are down by two-thirds. Let's be real: if income levels are plummeting, taxes must come down. The fairest solution is to peg taxes to the employment rate. For example, if the employment rate is only 80 percent, then taxes are set to 80 percent of the prior year's tax. This is simple, proportional, unchallengeable. Teacher salaries would be temporarily adjusted, in light of this unprecedented financial meltdown.

Herald: There has been much debate in recent years on how schools should best prepare students for the future. In your view, where does the balance lie between professional development and creating well-rounded adults?

Freda: Until a vaccine is developed and tested, instruction will be done remotely, in order to keep teachers and students from catching Covid. At the moment, parents are furious at the minimal amount of actual "face-to-face" video teaching that is happening. Some classes only get one Zoom session a week. Most teaching is like this: "Here's your assignment, email me if you have questions." Young students need a structured teaching environment. I'll require all students to receive three hours of Zoom, face to face, each day.

Herald: What do you think makes you best suited to serve on your respective school board, and why did you decide to run?

Freda: I decided to run because the incumbents proposed to increase spending in the Wheeler, Dever, Willow, Howell district by $2 million People are being squeezed financially by covid, and now this? No way. When I was deputy treasurer of the Village of Valley Stream my proudest achievement was being part of the fiscally conservative team that put together tax freeze budgets in 1997 and 1998. Has anyone on the school board ever done that? No, not even close. Remember, the most important factor in selecting a board member is whether they understand that their job is to represent you. Is a $2 million spend hike what you want during this emergency?

— Gerardo Cavalieri 

Education experience: Bachelors of science in sports sciences, LIU Brooklyn; Masters of science in health sciences, LIU Brooklyn.

Professional experience: Southern Manhattan construction area manager, Verizon; Assistant scoutmaster, BSA Troop 109; den leader, Cub Scouts Pack 367; member, Camporee Committee; coach, Nassau County PAL Rifles; President and founder, Nassau County Rifle and Pistol Club; Vice Chairman, Nassau County Friends of NRA.

Herald: One of the chief responsibilities of a school board trustee is setting the annual budget. With the coronavirus creating uncertainty over how much state aid might be coming to districts, what kinds of hard decisions are you willing to make regarding programs and taxes?

Gerardo Cavalieri: This question cannot be answered without knowing where current inefficiencies may exist in the budget. Although services rendered would be my first place to concentrate.

I believe old policies tie us into paying services at a premium and prevent from using a competitive market. Examination of the budget would need to be reviewed for a better understanding and knowledge. Focusing on where redundancy exists, where consolidation can be had, and what old policies exist that tie us to spending more than necessary. Another priority is the residency issue that plagues our School District. As Valley Stream population grows, and enrollment numbers continue to increase, educational capacity needs to be monitored. If our budget is sound and all inefficiencies have been removed, the consideration of the need to pierce the tax-levy cap would be entertained. The benefit to do so must outweigh the burden. Will it be for capital or will the extra funds be for expense? The goal is to continue the high standard of education, with the continued support of enrichment programs that expand our children’s development while being fiscally responsible.

Herald: There has been much debate in recent years on how schools should best prepare students for the future. In your view, where does the balance lie between professional development and creating well-rounded adults?

Cavalieri: A quality education should prepare each child to meet real world challenges. To do so, academics should not be the sole criteria. Our students in Valley Stream are growing up in an enriched cultural community and with a diverse population that presents an opportunity in educating our children. Teaching that is engaging, relevant, multicultural while utilizing a variety of tools and learning styles will have a great impact on all children regardless of student’s racial, ethnic or economic background. Clubs and organizations should not be sectionalized but publicized so all students experience and are exposed to the unknown. However, there is no single strategy or approach that will work best with all students. Our educators must be involved in the education process and should not be institutionalized but personalized. We must entrust our educators to provide their experience, knowledge and firsthand experience to implement and execute. Educators must hold high standards in the classroom in a partnership with parents continuing to hold the same standards at home.

Herald: What do you think makes you best suited to serve on your respective school board, and why did you decide to run?

Cavalieri: As a new board member, I will bring sharp questions, innovative ideas and fresh energy. I will establish routines and policies with new eyes, I will challenge old assumptions, and I’ll have the opportunity to share your perspective with fellow board members. At the same time, I’ll learn how to make a positive difference in the goals of the board, and contribute most effectively to lasting change. I will strive to be the most effective possible advocate for your community’s educational vision and values.

I have been active in the community as well as in the school environment, in particular Wheeler Ave School, as I am a Wheeler Avenue parent. I have seen positive change as a result of being an involved and informed parent. My decision to run for the board will give me the opportunity to have a continued positive effect and represent the taxpayers of School District 13.

— Mike Morin

Education experience: NA

Professional experience: Corrections officer

Herald: One of the chief responsibilities of a school board trustee is setting the annual budget. With the coronavirus creating uncertainty over how much state aid might be coming to districts, what kinds of hard decisions are you willing to make regarding programs and taxes?

Mike Morin: As a father of a son who is attending Memorial Junior High School, I have an inherent interest in ensuring School District 13’s Board of Trustees are making the best research-based policy decisions, both to realize excellence in education while being fiscally responsible. I am disappointed in the fact our children are receiving only a minimum of hours of distance-learning each week, less than eight hours. I am really disturbed by the current trustees who want to increase spending by 4.1 percent and while approximately 1,000 residents of School District 13 have lost their jobs. These incumbent trustees are oblivious of the severe hardships that this world-wide pandemic is having on its residents. If anything, there should be a reduction in spending but not at the cost of curtailing any core-educational offerings.

Herald: There has been much debate in recent years on how schools should best prepare students for the future. In your view, where does the balance lie between professional development and creating well-rounded adults?

Morin: Our children are going to be competing in an ever-increasing competitive job market that is of a global scale. The world has changed. We need a school board with a vision of how to operate in a post-Covid-19 world. State and federal aid is going to be reduced. Not recognizing this is folly. We must ensure our children receive excellence in their education of the fundamentals while being fiscally responsible in other areas.

Herald: What do you think makes you best suited to serve on your respective school board, and why did you decide to run?

Morin: Each year I read about how the bond projects have progressed, but each year the trustees ask for more money to “complete” a prior year’s proposition. For instance, in one of this year’s propositions, the current trustees actually state they need a lot more money to complete a previous year’s proposal. Well, what happened with the “budgeted” amount to “complete” the job in the first place? The incumbent trustees last year increased the school budget passed the $50 million high-watermark. This year, during an epic and devastating pandemic that has killed over 100,000 Americans and put out of work over 40 million, the incumbents want to increase spending by $2 million.   How disconnected can one be? It is obvious to me their working model of budgeting is asking for whatever they want, and it will pass for most residents do not vote. Well, this year I trust the residents of School District 13 have had enough and will remove the incumbents and will elect Bonelli, Freda and Morin to the Board of Trustees. Visit our website at vvst.org.