With the Pelham school district’s budget referendum vote less than two weeks away, the candidates in this year’s school board race got their messages out during Wednesday’s candidates forum in the Pelham Middle School library.
School board candidates , , and attended the forum, which was hosted by the Pelham Middle School and Pelham Memorial High School PTA. The candidates are running for two open school board seats in the May 15 board of election race.
It was the second candidates forum held i. Although the candidates’ answers remained the same, audience members were able to pose questions to candidates that weren’t addressed during last week’s forum.
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One audience member asked the candidates what they believed their role as board members would be in regards to deciding instructional and curriculum issues.
Recca, a lifelong Pelham resident who graduated from the school system in 2006, said he believed his role would be too hire administrators and teachers who can make the proper decision. He doesn’t believe the board of education should be micromanaging the school district.
“I don’t have a background in education, I don’t have the expertise to determine if the math program or English program is good for the school,” said Recca, who currently works in financial administration for the Westchester County Department of Social Services. “I think that if there was a group of community members who had an issue with a particular program, I would encourage them to speak to the [Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Council], the assistant superintendent of curriculum….my job would be to facilitate the conversation between the two.”
Rosskopf said she doesn’t believe curriculum is merely something that should be left to the administration's day-to-day decision making, but is a part of the district’s policy and is reflective of the community’s values.
“If you have a strong superintendent whose beliefs and his ideals are in line with the board, the board should and can give the superintendent the green light to make curriculum and decisions and not get involved,” Rosskopf said.
Smith also believes that the school board’s role is to set policy.
“You can’t come in with an agenda,” Smith said. “Your job is to set policy and the administrators are the experts and they make the recommendations in regards to curriculum.”
Smith also said there are times when the school board has to step in and help guide the superintendent during certain issues.
Prencis, who is a math teacher with Eastchester schools and the former director of math at Yonkers Public Schools, said he would go to district administrators and seek answers if an issue came up involving the district’s curriculum. Once he got a full understanding of the situation, he said he'd determine how much the board needs to intervene.
“One of the advantages of being a former administrator is that I know when I'm being told something that’s valid and I know when I’m being sold a bill of goods,” Prencis said.
The candidates were also asked how they’d balance the interests of the district’s various constituencies with the needs of the town and students.
Recca said he’d be able to advocate for all the district’s constituencies due to the fact that he doesn’t have any children in the district
“It’s a tough act balancing different constituencies. There are going to be tough choices to be made regarding elementary school, middle school and high school students,” Recca said. “ It’s going to sound like the high school is being pitted against the elementary school and you got to pick sides. I believe that I can best handle the situation because I don’t have a personal interest in them. My interest is what’s best for the community.”
Rosskopf said it is impossible to please everybody. But she believes many community members will be satisfied as long as the communication process is open and they feel they have been heard.
“I strongly believe in the community advisory committee model that helps people who really do have an interest and expertise and want to contribute but maybe can’t site on the board, are given the option to participate,” Rosskopf said.
Smith said the board’s role is to be an advocate for all students while balancing the needs of taxpayers.
“It’s important to get a handle on what all the issues are in the district in a given year and weigh them all,” Smith said.
Prencis said the best a board member can do is see what the different constituencies in the community value the most and try to give them the things they value the most. He also that it was impossible to separate the needs of one grade from another grade level because they all directly impact each other.
“Education is like steering a boat, you don’t just turn the wheel and the boat turns,” Prencis said. “If you do something to impact the elementary school, it’s going to impact the high school later on. If you do something to impact the high school, it doesn’t matter how good job you do in the elementary school. It’s going to impact the high school as well.”
The candidates were also asked their thought on district’s guidance counselors.
Smith said guidance counselors have complex duties that include helping students get prepared for college and develop socially.
“I know there has been discussion about maybe cutting from guidance as a means of saving money and I’m not a proponent of that,” Smith said. “I just know from my daughter going through the process (of selecting a college), we need our guidance counselors.”
Smith did say that she would like to see the guidance department seek out relationships with more colleges.
Prencis agreed with Smith that the role of a guidance counselor is complex.
“There are so many different things that a guidance counselor has to do,” Prencis said.
Recca said guidance counselors play an important role in middle school, but are essential in high school. He said an ideal counselor will help understand a student’s academic ability and push them to best performance they can.
“Some people know early on that they want to be a lawyer and they want to go this college...for those students, the guidance counselor can help guide them into the courses they should be taking and the right preparation that can help get them into Stanford or whatever school that is,” Recca said.
Rosskop said the guidance department is a huge value for the students—socially and academically. But she said the district is looking at a difficult budget year and that the guidance department can’t be immune to cuts.
Rosskop said that when she went to the district’s line by line review of the superintendent’s budget proposal, she believed the guidance department failed to make a compelling case for why it shouldn’t have received cuts.
“They talked about helping kids fill out their college applications...at that same discussion we talked about cutting nurses and teachers,” Rosskopf said.
Correction: Smith's quote: “You can’t come in with an agenda. Your job is to set policy and the administrators are the experts and they make the recommendations in regards to curriculum.” was attributed to someone else in an earlier version of this story.