Residents were introduced to the five candidates vying for the two open seats on the Glen Cove City School District Board of Education during the PTA Council’s Meet the Candidates forum at Glen Cove High School on May 6. Four of the candidates — Karen Ferguson, Alexander Juarez, Lia Leone and Daniel Rios — stated why they should be elected and how they plan to help the district. Candidate David Huggins was unable to attend the forum due to a medical obligation.
Huggins and Juarez are both incumbent members of the board.
Ferguson spoke on her lengthy history with the district, having graduated from Glen Cove High School in 1974 before teaching in the district for 23 years until her retirement in 2013. She has two granddaughters in Glen Cove schools, one in Finley Middle School and the other in Deasy Elementary School.
“I’m running for a seat on the board because I care,” she said. “I believe our students need a well-rounded school experience where the whole child is nurtured. We need to assure a rigorous curriculum that meets the needs of all levels of our population that also assures our children have time to play and feel good about who they are.”
When asked about why she believes the $84.6 million bond to go toward school improvements failed to pass on March 12, Ferguson said the amount was too high. Its failure was also due to a lack of a formal campaign, she said, something she would work to change if a new bond were floated.
Regarding the district’s challenges, Ferguson said she could not pinpoint one specific issue. She cited three — the proper spending of money to best benefit the students, student safety in relation to gun violence and nurturing students on an emotional and social level.
Children need more time for lunch and activities, Ferguson said, an increase in guidance counselors and psychologists and the implementation of a program based completely around students’ mental health.
“I’ve always been a strong advocate for my students in my classroom, for my children, for my grandchildren,” Ferguson said at the end of her closing statement, “and I’ll be a strong advocate for all children in this district.”
“I am not here to ask you to vote for me,” Juarez said during his opening statement, which was read in English and Spanish. “I’m here to ask you to vote for who you feel is the right person to represent you and your entire community.”
Juarez, who has three children in the district, also attributed the high price of the bond as to why it failed. It might have passed, he said, if there were more diversity in the bond committee, which could have involved the inclusion of people such as senior citizens.
On the biggest challenge facing the district, Juarez simply said “time,” which students need more of for lunch and recess. Also, that the district needed more time to accomplish projects involved in the bond, as well as to get the money required for those projects.
Juarez said he would focus on changing the outlooks students have on their lives related to school. He said he wants students to understand that they can do anything they want with the things that they have.
“If I don’t win, I don’t win,” he said, “but I will be here to support my community, my school district, my superintendent and my students.”
Leone, a GCHS graduate of the Class of 1994, is an elementary literacy specialist teaching in the Hicksville school district. She has two children in Glen Cove schools, a daughter at Connolly Elementary School and a son at Gribbin Elementary School.
“My interest in volunteering and being more active in Glen Cove is because first and foremost I’m a parent of young children,” she said, “and I think it’s important for the board members to be actively engaged in the schools on a daily basis.”
Leone was a part of the bond committee and Vote Yes March 12, the latter of which was a group that advocated for the bond’s passage. It failed, she said, because not enough was done to relay the facts about it to the public. She added that she would support another bond. In the same vein, she said the biggest challenge facing the district was its lack of funding and that the district needs to advocate for more state aid and do as much as possible with the budget without affecting student programming.
Leone said that if elected, she would do more to increase parent involvement within the district. She suggested having a “parent center” at the schools where children could receive additional help with their schoolwork from teachers or older students. She also said that she would pursue early intervention services which help support children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families.
“I hope that after tonight,” she said, “that those of you who don’t know me maybe get a better idea of who I am . . . and what I stand for, and [know] I’m ready to be committed to this board 100 percent.”
Rios, who has a child in Landing Elementary School and another in Finley, is running for a trustee position for the second consecutive year. Two of the most important characteristics a board member must exhibit, he said, are integrity and transparency. He said he doesn’t believe that the current board have fully displayed those qualities.
On why the bond did not pass, Rios said his main concern was that much of what was expressed in the bond was done so by people not involved in the bond committee or the Board of Education. He also said he understands that while board members cannot campaign for a bond themselves, “there [are] ways to stress the importance of passing something so important for our schools.”
Rios said that a bond to improve the infrastructure of each building is a necessity. He said community involvement would be crucial in the bond’s passage, whether it be through passing information along or holding fundraisers.
Rios said that recess should be extended and there should be a bigger emphasis on physical health and food choices. He also said the district should limit the amount of work done on electronic devices and encourage more outdoor and hands-on education.
Each candidate said that the district’s facilities need to be improved citing safety hazards. They all said that certain improvements need to take priority, whether or not a bond is in place.
While Leone, Rios and Ferguson said that outside funding via a bond would be required, Juarez said the district should not necessarily wait for a bond and should instead use the money it already has to focus on improvement projects.
On whether or not they would be comfortable contradicting the viewpoints of Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna, all of the candidates said they would have no problem doing so. They also said they would greatly support more collaborative efforts between the district, the Board of Education and the Glen Cove City Council.
Residents can vote for their choice of candidate on May 21, alongside their vote for the 2019-20 school budget and the establishment of a capital reserve.