Pearl River voters will decide who will sit in two seats on the district board of education when they go to the polls May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Tuesday night at the district administration building on Crooked Hill Road, they had the opportunity to pose questions to the three candidates for those openings -- incumbents Bruce Bond and Jackie Curtiss and challenger Patrice Carrieri.
Bond, who has served on the Pearl River Board of Education since 1988, focused on his experience and knowledge of the district.
"I've had the pleasure to serve with 14 different board members," Bond said. "One thing we all had in common is we cared about the students of Pearl River. I love Pearl River. I deeply care about the community and I feel I still have a lot to offer."
Curtiss, a board member since 2003, talked about the importance of members filling different roles. She spoke of her own knowledge of the special education programs in Pearl River, which she has worked to improve during her time on the board. Before becoming a member of the board, she took her son Danny out of the district after third grade because the program was not where she felt it needed to be at the time. He is now a junior at Ardsley High School.
"After that I ran for the board because I didn't want any other kid in Pearl River to go through what I went through with my son," Curtiss said.
Carrieri spoke on the importance of new people and new ideas and stressed that she has experience boards such as the various PTA's in the district.
"I may not have served on the board of education, but I have been a member of many boards in this district," Carrieri said. "All boards require the same skills: responsiveness, active listening, flexibility, compromise and fiscal responsibility to the people they serve."
The candidates answered questions for about an hour. The subjects included the budget, support for the arts and special education, bus limits and the dispensation of the residential property the district purchased along with the new administration building as part of the former Africa Inland Mission Property on Crooked Hill Road. Video clips of their comments are attached to this report. The clips include responses regarding the residential property and bus limits and the candidates' closing remarks.
The candidates were given two minutes for each response and could ask to reply, for which they would have 30 seconds. They were directed to speak to the audience, though Bond and Carrieri did get into a debate regarding the residential property. Bond and Curtiss said they were in favor of turning the property into condominiums, with the units to be sold separately. Carrieri argued for selling the entire building as one unit.
Carrieri's husband, Michael, had discussed with the district looking the property once it was ready for sale.
"I assume being that you are running for the board, you and your husband had expressed an interest in purchasing the building. I assume he is no longer interested," Bond said.
Carrieri said that her husband looks into many properties and would not look into buying that one and that there would be a conflict of interest if he did while she sat on the board of education.
"My husband is not interested," Carrieri said. "His interest in the building has passed. If I am elected to the board, it would be a conflict of interest."
The candidates also disagreed on term limits for school board members. Bond and Curtiss were both against limits, while Carrieri argued for them.
When asked what they would like to see change the most in the district, Carrieri said she would like to see each student looked at differently to take into account their learning styles and interests. Bond said the focus needs to stay on the tax cap and that the focus needs to be on funding the programs the district has now. Curtiss stressed the importance of more parent involvement in the district.
They all agreed that the new elevator at Pearl River Middle School would not be coming any time in the foreseeable future. There is one now, but it does not allow for access to the school's gym. They all agreed that an artificial surface at the high school or on the Central Avenue Field would be a positive, but it is another item the district cannot afford at this time.
"There is nothing I would rather see than to have that happen," Bond said. "But the way things are financially, it's just not on the horizon any time soon. Probably after the elevator at the middle school."
The following are some of their answers to questions posed by the public. The questions are paraphrased and the answers are listed in the order they were given.
How do you feel about term limits (for school board members)?
- Curtiss: "There are no term limits, so it’s up to the public to vote who they would like I'm on the board nine years. It is my fourth time running. I don't believe there should be limits. People should run if they like and the public should vote for who is on the board."
- Carrieri: "I do believe there should be term limits. We have term limits for president (of the United States). "I think reason for that is because although you do need to spend time to get your feet wet and get to know the job, it’s always good to have a new perspective and new blood and new ideas. I think that’s very important. I think people who are in office for a very long time can be complacent. No offense meant to opponents."
- Bond: "Personally, I am not in favor of term limits. I know a lot of people in community, such as Anne Byrne, who has been on the board in Nanuet about 30 years. They have done a lot of good things in the district and the state. Patrice mentioned the term limit for president. I think that's a little out there. There are no term limits for senators or congressmen. I'd compare (school board) more to those jobs."
Do you feel enough is being done about bullying in our schools? What more can be done?
- Bond: "We’ve had programs. We bring in speakers. We have training for our staff. It’s becoming more and more of an issue throughout our entire society. It is something we need to keep reinforcing year to year. Bullying is not acceptable. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated yourself."
- Curtiss: "We do some nice projects and have speakers. I don’t think you can ever do enough. I’d like to expand and do more each year, so kids can feel safe here."
- Carrieri: "I know the staff has gone to train and come back to train in buildings. I know teachers are happy with that. For me, it’s to make sure training continues to is reinforced for the staff, stays intact and the program can continue and strengthen."
How do you stand on the high school bus vote?
(There will be a proposal on the ballot May 15 to return the range in which students are eligible to ride the bus to Pearl River High School to where it was in 2010-11, with all but students within 1.5 miles of the building able to ride the bus at a cost of no more than $220,000. The limits were changed to three miles for students in grades 9-12 and two miles for eighth graders for the current school year.)
- Carrieri: "I voted no last year. I feel safety has to be first and foremost. If it is one child who gets hurt, that is one too many for me. Whether it is the child is walking in a dark area in an area without sidewalks. I don’t think we can take that chance. For me, though, before people vote Tuesday, they do need o know what the implications are if the transportation gets reinstated. As Jackie stated earlier, the money will come out of other funding and next year it will be in the budget. People need to make a clear and educated decision knowing that when it is in the budget, something else may be eliminated."
- Bond: "On that issue, the state has made it clear the voters in the community make the ultimate decision on setting bus limits lower than the state limits. Last year it went down in defeat. Some community people put it back up and we’ll see what happens. Personally, I don’t have anything against the busing. At the same point, we have to make a lot of tough decisions with this 2 percent (tax) cap. If the busing does pass, add a half a percent to the budget and something will have to be adjusted somewhere."
- Curtiss: "I also voted no the first time. I was on the transportation committee. I was the ex-officio chairperson. I was the liaison between the committee and the board. I was really surprised that it passed. I don’t know how I’m going to vote this year because I am concerned about where we are going to find $200,000 to cut out of the budget for next school year. Everybody has to really think about that and vote how they want."
Do you object to videotaping school board meetings?
- Curtiss: "I hate talking in public. If everybody wanted it, I’d do it and get used to it. Would I prefer not to? Yes. (The reporter from) Patch can pick up his camera once in a while and post some clips."
- Carrieri: "I don’t object. With everyone’s busy schedule, it creates a way for people to be connected and have the information they want if they can't be here."
- Bond: "I'm not a big fan of it, but at some point it will be here. That’s the way technology is today. If ever watched the town (broadcast), you’d understand why."
What educational void would you like to see administration address?
- Bond: "Off the top of my head, we don’t have one. The high school offers a lot of great opportunities. Maybe there is a course or two we can add that don’t have now. I don’t know how much more a district of our size can conceivably add. I'm pretty happy with the way things are now."
- Curtiss: "When I came on the board nine years ago, I was not happy with the special education program. I worked hard with the administration and made improvements. It is still something that needs to be tweaked and changed for the better. It is still my biggest concern."
- Carrieri: "I would like to see the technology piece being enhanced for the school district. Also, I would like to see more classes focus on the arts in our district. By arts I mean anything from music to drawing to acting. I’d like to see that department nurtured a little bit more and enhanced."