Sunday, May 8, 2016

Running for a 4th Term, FAQ

After much thought and consideration, I have decided to run for a 4th term on the CCSD Board of Education.  I think the best way to explain this decision is to post my responses to both the League of Women Voters (LWV) and to Martin Wilbur editor of the Northern Westchester edition of the Examiner.  Both posed a few questions to all the candidates.  I have co-mingled the questions below for continuity. In parenthesis after each question, I indicate who asked it.  I note that the LWV imposed a 100 word limit to our answers to each of their questions.

I have been advised by the district’s counsel that I can comment on both the budget and the bond if I make it very clear that I am speaking as an individual, as a resident and that I DO NOT speak for the district or the board when answering these sorts of questions.  So, any answer I give here is my own opinion.  While these opinions may or may not be consistent with district or board opinions, I do not speak for the board or the district.  I am speaking only as an individual.  

Why did you decide to run for another term on the Chappaqua Board of Education? (Examiner)
The first time I ran for the CCSD Board of Education, I said I chose to run for four fundamental reasons.  Those reasons remain true today. I wrote then and I repeat now, I am passionate about education and its importance to our future.  I believe in the obligation to serve or contribute to your community.  I believe my life experience, professional experience and education give me a unique but fundamentally important viewpoint needed on the Board.  I (continue to) want to give voice to the silent majority; to those who live in the community but are not part of the 1,200 who typically vote for the budget and the Board.  I want to represent the interests of the students, the parents and as important, those without children in the schools.

I also believe that experience plays an important role in being a successful Board Member. New York Education Law says that the only qualifications to being a school board member is to be able to read and write, you must be a resident of the district for one year prior to the election and you cannot be employed by the board on which they serve.  Not a very high bar.  Intimately knowing the district, its policies and practices, having a good working relationship with both your fellow Board members and the administration, understanding NY State Ed law, NYS rules and regulations is a material positive attribute to bring to the table.  I have experience and a track record.  I proudly stand behind it.

What experiences and skills do you have that will enable you to be an effective member of the School Board? (LWV)
For the last nine years as a Board Member, I have worked tirelessly on behalf of the community.  It requires an extensive knowledge of the district, a passion for education, a complete understanding of the budget and its structural issues, a person who can make practical and reasoned decisions, who can build consensus, who can balance competing community interests, and vision and conviction.  It is recognizing we have a fiduciary obligation to all the tax payers, not just ones with students in the schools.  There is no experience like direct experience and a proven track record.  I stand on mine.

What do you consider the main issue(s) facing Chappaqua and how would you address it (them)? (LWV)
We must ensure the quality of the education remains at a superior level while maintaining fiscal discipline and responsibility, we must continue to challenge unfunded mandates and non-productive state testing, as well as ensuring that we continue to invest in our operating plant through maintenance, repair, and upgrade.  We need to continue to invest in teacher professional development.  We need to facilitate student challenges, not limit them.  We need to continue to have fiscally responsible budgets such as this year’s zero tax levy increase while expanding educational and extracurricular programs. We need to be transparent and responsive to the community.

Chappaqua has a well-earned reputation for education excellence, but are there any areas in the curriculum or educational experience that you would like to see added or changed in the next few years? (Examiner)
By almost any measure, Chappaqua schools are continuously ranked among the top districts in the county, the state and the country.  Without question, overall, we provide a top notch education to our students.  That, however, does not mean we cannot improve or change.

In general, I think we have to always be evaluating our educational offerings to ensure that we are at the forefront of both curriculum and methods of teaching that curriculum.  The major asset of any district, and certainly here in Chappaqua, is the teachers.  What I appreciate about our staff is that as a whole they all are lifelong learners themselves.  The teacher’s contract addresses professional development.  It is a mutual, two way section.  They want us to guarantee opportunities for professional development and we want to require it.  I think we are on the right path with that, but we need to continue to provide opportunities such as with our Innovation Fellows and the other summer programs where all the teachers in the district have an opportunity to explore and incorporate the latest ideas and methodologies in teaching.

More specifically, I think we need to look at the barriers we impose on student course selection.  For example, we have a combined objective and subjective hurdle to a student signing up for AP American History (AHAP). We say that we only want students to be in a position to succeed, yet we do not give a definition of success nor do we consider other factors.  Structurally, because of what I believe to be artificial criteria, rather than asking students to challenge themselves, we are doing the opposite and telling them they should not strive to reach for higher goals.  It seems to me that the goal of the schools should be to challenge the students to learn, not quash that desire.  To me, we should be encouraging our students to try, to challenge themselves, even if that means they ultimately fail.  If we are about holistic learning, there are many lessons learned in trying and failing, maybe more than in unchallenged success.

Finally, as always, we need to constantly be reminded of our mission to educate all the district’s students whether that means students with special needs, students who need extraordinary additional challenges, or that majority in the middle that risks getting lost as we focus on the two distributed tails.

I'm not certain if you would care to share your thoughts on the upcoming June 14 referendum, or even if it would be appropriate to do that. However, what was the rationale for presenting the bond to the voters and do you believe this is the best way to realize the improvements the district believes is necessary to make sure the schools are equipped to handle how education is evolving? (Examiner)
First, let me state up front that I support the bond.  I do think it is the best way to realize the improvements the district thinks necessary to be able to be at the forefront of education for years to come, and I also think it is necessary to be able to make the appropriate repairs, perform needed maintenance, and to upgrade various parts of our operating plant. It will help us comply with the State mandated Building Condition Survey (BCS).

The rationale for and the timing of the bond is clear and simple.  One, unlike the town or county, we are required by law to present it to the voters for approval.  Two, the timing is right based on both need and ability to pay for it within the constraints of a tax capped budget.

Is the bond perfect? No.  The decision by the board to limit the bond to one that creates no marginal increase in taxes is a fiscally responsible decision but one that necessitates tradeoffs.  As a community, we need to appreciate that we are neighbors and that while we may not approve of every item in the bond or may wish there were something else included that is not, overall, the bond does a very good job of addressing the needs of so many of your friends and neighbors.

While taking advantage of historically low interest rates coupled with the district’s AAA credit rating, NY State 30% capital cost reimbursements, maturing debt, and the sale of district property, the district is able to address infrastructure and educational needs while also addressing the needs of the library, youth sports teams, the downtown merchants, and the tax concerns of the community.

What are your opinions on the Bond being proposed? (LWV)
I support the bond.  I think it addresses our infrastructure needs as well as helps us stay at the forefront of education, all in a fiscally responsible manner.  Is it a perfect bond? No. The decision by the board to limit the bond to one that creates no marginal increase in taxes is a fiscally responsible decision but one that necessitates tradeoffs.   As a community, I think it important we appreciate that while we may not approve of every item in the bond, the bond does a very good job of addressing the needs of so many in this community. 

What are your impressions of the 2016-17 district budget that is going before voters on May 17? Anything that you would have liked to see added or taken out from the budget? (Examiner)
I think this year’s budget is a terrific budget. It both supports education and the taxpayer.  The district continues to expand and enhance our offerings while maintaining fiscal responsibility.  This year’s budget includes ZERO increase in the tax levy.  In the aggregate, the taxes collected from our residents will not increase.  In this budget we were able to include everything the administration thought appropriate while not only remaining below the tax cap, but also having no increase to the tax levy. 

For the sixth year in a row, for every year the tax cap has been in effect, the district’s budgets and tax levies have come in under the tax cap constraints. This compliance has given our taxpayers, those who qualify for the STAR exemption, NY State rebates on any increase.

Given the tight fiscal constraints that the tax cap and other factors place on school districts, what, if anything, could the board or the district can do to lend its voice and lobby for greater mandate relief for public education? (Examiner)
 First, the district is very active in lobbying for mandate relief.  We work on many levels to effect change or mandate relief.  We lobby to address both educational mandates such as state testing and financial mandates such as unreimbursed aid.

One, the administration has a very good working relationship with our local state representatives. Second, the administration has met with and continues to discuss with members of the board of regents and the NYS Commissioner of Education various issues that affect us negatively here in Chappaqua. 

Two, the Board itself has written letters, passed resolutions and spoken directly to our representatives regarding the various mandates. We have teamed up with other local Boards, with the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association (WestPut) and are a member of the NY State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) which itself seeks to use our collective influence to lobby state legislators, the NY State Education Department and the Governor himself.  We have also worked with the Town’s mandate relief committee.

Three, Victoria Tipp, a sitting Board Member is the Board’s Legislative Advocate.  She sits on the Board of the WestPut which is very active in lobbying for mandate relief.  She is a member of the NY Suburban Consortium for Public Education.  She also coordinates with the PTA which is itself very active in lobbying for mandate relief.

Finally, I think the Board and the district need to continue our lobbying efforts, but know that our most effective voice would be one whereby the residents also participated directly by writing letters, calling and contacting our legislators.  We will continue to fight, but we need your help.

Again, speaking toward fiscal issues, is there anything Chappaqua could do to work with other school districts and/or the Town of New Castle to share services that is not being done now? (Examiner)
Let’s start with the premise that anywhere we can legally save money while maintaining services, we will explore.  To be clear, we currently do work with other districts and the town to save money.  For example, as a member of the Putnam/Norther Westchester BOCES, we work with BOCES and the other 17 component districts to aggregate our buying power for goods and services. The list of items we purchase through BOCES that reduces our costs are too extensive to list here, but know that the very premise of a BOCES is for districts to join together to aggregate purchasing power whether that is for goods, services or even teaching.

Also, for the past several years, the district has worked closely with the Town of New Castle Administrator with the cooperation and support of both the CCSD Board of Education and the New Castle Town Board to increase our cooperation in areas in which we can support each other. We have jointly bid on paving contracts and other similar types of contracts.  Both Boards have publicly stated and proven through action that we will continue to seek ways to join together to both cut costs and to provide services to all members of the community.

Just some brief biographical information: age, occupation and the number of years that you've served on the board? (LWV, Examiner)

From what I submitted to the League of Women Voters, Voting Guide:

Current Office: 
School Board Member, Chappaqua Central School District.
Parent, 3 children.

Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University:  MBA, Finance and Real Estate.
University of Virginia: BA, Economics

Residence: New Castle

Self-Employed equities and derivatives trader

Prior Civic and Volunteer Service: 
·         9-year School Board Member, Chappaqua Central School District.
·         Volunteer Coached over 20 teams, Chappaqua AYSO, CYSC, NCYBBA, NCBSA.
·         Participant in New Castle Roundtable Forum regarding Empty Nesters.
·         CCSD representative to the PNW BOCES.
·         Member of the CCSD Facilities Committee
·         Past Board of Ed representative to Horace Greeley Scholarship Fund
·         SHARE Midnight Run participant/chaperone.
·         Father of two Chappaqua Fire Department Firefighter/Volunteers
·         Commissioner, Billy’s Basement Boys.

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