The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Port Washington-Manhasset recently held a virtual forum for the Port Washington School Board of Education (BOE) candidates. Seven candidates will by vying for the three open school board seats. Larry Greenstein, Nora Johnson and Beth Weisburd are seeking reelection, while Adam Block, Nanette Melkonian, Justin Renna and Adam Smith are seeking to replace them.
Before the moderator began asking questions, each candidate was given a chance to introduce themselves to the audience. The candidates were then asked questions submitted by community members about a number of different topics including the budget, as well as how the board would help working parents in the school district, provide more diversity in the hiring process and how they would use the budget to ensure the needs of students are best met.
On the topic of the budget, candidates were asked to weigh in on whether they were in support of piercing the cap, and in what ways the budget could be improved.
Block voiced his support for the budget, stating that “it is absolutely essential for our kids.”
He entertained the idea of raising more money for the district, for example providing a cheaper daycare alternative for parents, with the funds flowing directly back into the school district.
Greenstein stated that while he is in support of the budget, he is not in support of piercing the cap at this time. He feels as though perhaps this isn’t the year to do it given the pandemic and the financial burden community members may be facing.
While Johnson was also in support of the budget, she too was not in support of piercing the tax cap. Reiterating Greenstein’s similar sentiments that the community may not be able to afford to do so at this time.
Melkonian stated that she is wholeheartedly in support of the budget. Her main goal going forward would be to focus on developing a community liaison for the English-Language learners, providing inclusion programs for special needs students as well as a putting more of a focus on social and emotional learning.
Renna also voiced his support of the proposed budget, stating that this budget is essential especially if the district wants to return to some sense of normalcy in September. He further stated that he isn’t in support of piercing the cap this year, but would be open to it going forward.
Smith supports this year’s budget but feels that going into a contingency this year would be “disastrous for the district.” Smith feels that going forward, the entire budget needs to be looked at from top to bottom.
“We need to have a highly collaborative review of the curriculum and the offering of the budget with the entire community, parents, all educators and recent graduates,” Smith said. “We need to figure out over a several year period how we can restore excellency to this district for all students.”
As a chair of the budget and facilities committee, Weisburd stated that she is 100 percent in support of the budget. Weisburd stated that the work that is needed is the work that they are doing right now and hope to continue doing in the future.
The moderator then asked the candidates if they support diversity among teachers, administration and staff in the district, and what they would do to ensure there is a more diverse representation for students.
Weisburg stated that she absolutely supports increasing diversity among the teachers, administration and staff. She explained that one of the goals of this current school board has been to hire a more diverse staff, and hopes that they will be able to continue making that a priority.
Block believes that hiring a diverse staff is incredibly important and that it helps to teach students what a community should look like.
Greenstein agreed with Weisburd, stating that the board has done a lot better in hiring more diverse leaders over the last year.
“We are looking to have a workforce that looks a lot like our community,” Greenstein said.
Johnson echoed Greenstein and Weisburd’s sentiments, stating that it is so important to have diversity in the staff for all students.
Melkonian stated that she would like to see more diversity in the staff, starting with more outreach in the hiring process.
“I would like to see our staff be more of a reflection of our community,” Melkonian said.
Renna stated that it was important for the district to work towards doing an even better job at hiring more diverse candidates than they already have.
“Not only [is it important] for students to see teachers that look like them, but I think it’s even more important for kids to see teachers that don’t look like them,” Renna said. “I think they need to learn that there are people of all colors, all genders and all backgrounds that they need to respect, listen to and learn from. That’s only going to increase the equality that we are looking for in the world and more importantly in Port Washington.”
Smith disagreed with most of the candidates, stating that he went to a very homogeneous elementary school and a very heterogeneous high school growing up.
“I will say that I learned so much about how the world works being in the heterogeneous situation,” Smith said.
Smith further stated that the focus should be on hiring the best possible candidates for the positions within the school, while also looking to obtain the widest range of candidates.
The nearly three hour long forum concluded with the candidates addressing the public with their closing statements. To watch the full Port Washington BOE candidates forum visit youtube.com @LWVofPWM.