Budget Big Issue for School Board Candidates

Posted on 09 April 2009

In the months leading up to summer, the weather will get warmer, plants will bloom and potential candidates for the Sag Harbor School board will hit the streets seeking signatures for their petitions. It is only April and already current school board president Walter Wilcoxen, school Budget Advisory Committee members Ed Drohan and Elena Loreto, and local parent Greg Schiavoni announced their intention to run for the two seats, which will be open in June. Although they differ on several points, the budget and maintaining academic rigor is a chief concern for each candidate.

Wilcoxen, who has been on the board for three years, said the school has come a long way in increasing transparency and accountability. With an open system already in place, Wilcoxen said he would now focus on finding ways to expand upon existing school programming without incurring additional costs.

“We can constantly make the program better … perhaps we can start teaching about green technologies,” said Wilcoxen. “We are a small school so it is hard to have big programs because it is expensive … I want to be able to deliver the system in the most economical and efficient way.”

For Wilcoxen, education is always his top priority, but he conceded that funding the school will always be an issue. He said the board worked very hard this year to winnow down the budget, but making drastic percentage cuts simple isn’t possible for the school.

Paring down the budget is a top priority for Noyac resident Ed Drohan. Drohan is currently a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the school’s budget advisory committee. Although Drohan lauds the elementary school and the special education program, he feels the school’s budget could use some restructuring. Some of Drohan’s ideas for the school include the slow introduction of employee attrition, enlarging classes slightly and phasing back certain elective programs. Drohan admits, however, that many of his ideas are preliminary and would take thorough planning and research. He would also like to see the computer science department expanded because he believes the ability to manipulate technology is an invaluable skill in today’s job market.

Drohan said one of the reasons he is running is to give a voice to local taxpayers who either are retired or have a second home in the community.

“I wanted to run as a community and taxpayer candidate … I take a different position than many of my counterparts in the board of education activities,” said Drohan.

Prospective candidate Elena Loreto believes she will represent a broader base of constituents, including the local taxpayer.

“I am a parent. I am retired. I was a teacher. I have been a local taxpayer for 32 years. I represent many factions of the district,” said Loreto. Like Drohan, Loreto is a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the Budget Advisory Committee. For Loreto, creating a good school board and an efficient school district is all about balance.

“The main priority for the current board members is to find the right balance between improving educational programs for the students, providing a fair wage for the faculty and also being mindful of what the average taxpayer can afford,” said Loreto.

As a former school teacher for 33 years in New York City and its suburbs, and a part-time substitute teacher at Sag Harbor and the Ross School, Loreto believes she has a unique insight to the school and how it operates. Among her chief priorities, Loreto would like the school to update the curriculum and offer programs that will teach job skills. Loreto recommends the school develop a mechanical drawing and architectural design class.

“We have to look at the curriculum in a more innovative way, so that kids will get the best possible program and the taxpayer will get the best buy for their buck,” opined Loreto.

Candidate Greg Schiavoni, whose children currently attend the elementary school, hopes to encourage student involvement with the school board. He hopes through student involvement the board will be able to sound off on what is working within the school and what can be improved upon.

Schiavoni feels it is imperative to maintain the Advanced Placement courses, but agrees there are perhaps additional ways the school could save money.

“We don’t necessarily need to look at cutting programs or taking away from higher educational program offerings, but there are probably things we could do to save money, and I hope to be one of the ones to help figure it out,” said Schiavoni.

Although Schiavoni is an active parent in the school district, he feels an obligation to represent the village taxpayer as well.

“I compare it to my own house. I have two children to raise and I have to be financially responsible about what we can or can’t afford for them. When [the school board] makes decisions everybody should know where the money is going and what it should be spent on,” added Schiavoni.

Candidates have until April 20 to drop off their signed petitions.

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