OSWEGO – A small crowd got to know a little bit about five of the six candidates seeking two open seats on the Oswego Board of Education Tuesday night.
Christopher Joyce had planned on participating, but was called into work.
The other five faced a series of questions submitted by audience members at the OHS cafeteria.
The candidates include Thomas DeCastro (incumbent), Jeffrey King, Tom Ciappa, and former board members Kathleen Allen and Mike McLaughlin.
To kick off the event, the candidates explained why they are running.
“I decide to run because it’s part of our civic responsibility,” Ciappa said. “You can sit back and listen to everybody complain or you can get involved and get active.”
“You get involved with school board, it becomes a part of your life,’ DeCastro explained. He feels the recent capital project isn’t done yet and “would like to see that to its end.”
King said it is a chance “to give back to the community.”
Allen agreed saying she also wants to give back to the community.
“I feel that with all the experience with working for the district and then being a board member, I feel that I have a lot to give,” McLaughlin said.
The candidates were asked how they felt about Oswego elementary students not receiving the amount of time they should in phys ed classes.
DeCastro said it is a concern. The district is trying to replace (staff) in its budget, he said.
Districts have to work within what they have money wise to spend, King said. The state can’t keep making bigger mandate and expect the districts to pay for them, he added. It’s something the district will have to look at, he said.
It was a difficult situation and cuts had to be made, Allen said, referring to staff reductions (including teachers) in a budget a few years ago.
McLaughlin agreed with Allen. The state likes to mandate things, but not pay for them, he added.
Physical education is integral to education, Ciappa said. “I know it’s difficult with mandates” … but the district should explore all options.
The candidates were asked their opinions on consolidated services.
The district should explore what services it could share with nearby SUNY Oswego, such as use of the college’s athletic fields, King said..
It’s not a new concept, it’s been discussed for years, Allen pointed out. The district should continue to explore its options with other groups, she said, adding that, for a time, the district did share a business administrator.
The business administrator experiment didn’t work that well, McLaughlin said. The college would be a good potential partner, he said.
Ciappa said the district should look at every possible venue and opportunity and re-evaluate as they go.
The college does have connections with some of the district’s schools, DeCastro said. They also work with area agencies that deal with children, he said.
The next question dealt with the candidates’ goals or problems they’d like to see resolved.
The budget is a concern of Allen’s. The district should use a lot of reserves to balance the budget, she said.
Class sizes need to be addressed, McLaughlin said, adding that lower is better.
Ciappa said he would like to see graduation rates improve. He would also like to see more vocational ed options for students.
DeCastro agrees that more vocational choices would be a good thing. A lot of children are starting (elementary) school with “a lot of baggage,” he said. “We need more than just one counselor in every building,” he said. “If (children) are going to learn, we have to help them with their problems in the beginning, not waiting until they’re in middle school or in high school.”
King said he’d like the kids to come to school every morning and feel safe when they get there. Safety and security should be a top priority, he said. He’d like to see a canine unit with the resource officer in the schools, he added.
What options do the candidates have to improve safety?
More security for entrance into the buildings is a priority for McLaughlin.
Ciappa said dealing with the at-risk kids early can be one of the best moves the district can make in terms of knowing what’s going on with the students. A “militaristic” approach would only serve to desensitize the district, he said.
“It certainly isn’t arming our teachers. They’re educators, not fighters,” DeCastro said. Things like metal detectors and educating everyone so they’re more aware of what’s happening around them are possibilities, he said.
King reiterated his canine option. Resource officers have much more control than a security guard, he said. “I think if we’re going to invest our money, we should invest in a resource officer,” he said.
Security does have a good relationship with the students, Allen said. “You have no idea what that connection might do for that one child,” she said. “Kids need to know how to resolve conflicts.”
How would the candidate help students dealing with trauma or other issues?
Ciappa said the district must explore all option of dealing with the trauma. Awareness, picking up the signals at an early stage is crucial to preventing bigger problems, he said. Theater therapy is another option as is a partnership with Oswego Health, he added.
DeCastro said there is a need for more mental health counselors. Play therapy and “shop classes” are other options, he said.
King agreed about the positive impact of industrial arts. “When you make something and take it home at the end of the day, show your parents, it meant something to you,” he said. There are good agencies in the area that are available to help, also, he said.
Just being aware, being there to help, Allen replied. “Most good teachers, and we have a lot of them, really know where these kids are coming from and what their home life is,” she said. Therapy dogs would also do a lot to relieve tension, she added.
McLaughlin said he agreed with the previous answers. “You just got to get to know the kids,” he said.
What are the candidates’ views on class size?
DeCastro said he couldn’t imagine more than 20 kids in an elementary class and 22 to 24 would be OK in middle and high school, he said.
King agreed that smaller class size is best.
Smaller is always better, Allen said.
The lower the number of students, the better they do, McLaughlin said.
Ciappa also said the smaller class size, the better.
What’s the candidates’ opinion on the recently defeated capital project?
King said he had no problem with upgrading the buildings. The district should consider partnerships with the college for sports, he said.
Allen suggested breaking it down into smaller pieces and provide more information to the community.
McLaughlin said it has to be broken down into separate proposals.
Ciappa agreed it should be broken down. Everyone saw $61 million and just said “no,” he said. The positive aspects of it need to be highlighted, he added.
DeCastro said pointed out that the taxpayers’ part of the project wasn’t going to be as bad as many thought. It also contained mandated updates like replace lead pipes in the water system, he noted. The district wasn’t going to build a football “stadium,” it’s a multi-use field, he said. Also, only three or four people attended most of the informational sessions on the project, he added.
The last question asked the candidates why they were the best person for the board.
Allen pointed to her prior experience on the board. She also tries to be as approachable as possible for anyone with questions and concerns, she said. She also tries to get the best information possible before making decisions.
McLaughlin cited his work for the district and his time on the board as assets.
Ciappa believes all the candidates are qualified and bring various skills to the table. He said his concern for the community and the fabric of the community are his bets assets.
DeCastro said he has been involved in education since 1958; that gives him much experience to draw upon. And, he said, he has been involved in contract negotiations on both sides of the table.
King said he has experience working on different boards in the area. He added that he wants to give back to the community and a new board member would bring new and fresh ideas to the board, he said.
The polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 15.
The district is using four polling sites. The locations are: the Scriba Fire Station, St. Paul’s Church, Elim Grace Church and the Oswego Town Hall.
The proposed 2018-19 spending plan is $84,115,075. The tax rate will stay the same, according to Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey. That results in a zero dollar tax increase, he pointed out.