OSWEGO, NY – The five candidates running for a seat on the Oswego City School District’s board of education faced a variety of questions Tuesday night.
Fran Hoefer, James Bell, Bill Meyer and Aimee Callen were joined in the OHS theater by current board president Kathleen Allen who is running as a write-in candidate.
The first question was: What makes you the best candidate?
Meyer pointed to his experience as a former board member and transportation supervisor for the district. He was also a union president and had experience dealing with budgets.
Bell noted that as a parent of a child in the district, he wants to help ensure all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Also, as a businessman, he has had experience with budgeting and making hard decisions, he added.
Callen said as a parent, she too would be very passionate about helping the board. She also has experience in the education field, working with teachers and administration. All that put together would give her an advantage, she said, adding that she is trustworthy and a very good listener.
Hoefer, another former board member, said he cares about the kids and the community.
Allen cited her six years on the board, the last three as president, as experience. She said she could look at the big picture and look at what’s best for the students, taxpayers and everyone.
The candidates were asked how they would prioritize the components that make up a quality education.
The focus needs to be on education and the social well-being of the children, Bell said.
Education was also Callen’s focus. Children need to have access to all studies, including music, theater, clubs and different learning styles, she said. “We need to figure out a better way to provide more” for the students, she added.
The number one priority is to provide a quality education, Hoefer said. That means putting the best teachers in the classrooms. Time on task is also important, he added.
The biggest priority is the children of the district, Allen said.
You have to look at all of the aspects of the education process, Meyer said. And also, sports and clubs.
“Everything is important. And I don’t know if you can make one more important than the others,” he said.
The candidates were asked to identify a problem in the district and offer a solution.
According to Callen, the community needs to work together. “I think that’s one of our biggest goals,” she said.
There are many people in the community with a lot of experience and she would urge them to come share it with the district.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can reach out to others who have gone through this,” she explained.
“The biggest problem we have in this community is greed, straight up,” Hoefer said. “I cannot believe our employees will not make any concessions to benefit our children.”
Beverly Hills is educating more children for $16 million less, he added. “We have to change the way we’re doing things,” he said.
The sports cuts in the current budget plan were cited by Allen. She explained how they got together to brainstorm ways to make the cuts less painful.
“I always found that the communication was the biggest problem,” Meyer said. As a board member, he said, he’d work to increase communication between all stakeholders in the district.
Bell said the lack of revenue for the district is a problem. They need to reach out to other sources besides the taxpayers. They should also seek help from the elected state officials, he added.
The next question was would the candidate’s respect confidentially in certain matters.
Confidentiality equals secrecy and the board should operate in the open, Hoefer said. The district is shrouded in secrecy, he added.
“People have a right to know what their government is doing and how they are doing it,” he said.
He would keep secrets, if required to, he said. But there are strict rules as to what is and isn’t confidential, he added.
“We are very, very careful about what we can discuss in open meetings and what needs to be in executive session,” Allen said.
Meyer agreed. “Confidentiality is very important during negotiations,” he said. Then, “after the dust has settled,” things can be brought out into the open, he added.
Bell said that he’d abide by the confidentiality requirements.
Callen agreed. “At the end of the day, I am a trustworthy person,” she said. “I want to serve the community. I will do the right thing.”
The candidates were asked their views on class size.
More teaching happens when the class size is small, Allen noted.
Meyer agreed that smaller class sizes are better for the students.
Smaller class sizes are better, Bell agreed. He’d leave it up to the teachers as to what the optimal class size should be, he added.
You can’t just say what is the best size, Callen explained, because there are so many components. Some, older, students might do well in larger classes and some teachers might not perform as well with more students, she said. “So it is a combination of a lot of things,” she said.
In an ideal world, smaller class sizes are better, Hoefer said.
However, he said, “A lot of things are more important than small class sizes. I’d rather have my child in a large class with a good teacher instead of a small class with a bad one,” he said.
The candidates were asked what they bring to the table to help the district face a potential $4 million budget gap next year.
Meyer pointed to his experience working in the district and having worked on other budgets.
Bell said it was his ability to work with other people and get things done.
Callen said she works very well on a team and collaborate with others. “We need to reach out to other people so together as a community” we can get things done, she added.
“The problem isn’t we don’t have enough money. The problem is where the money goes,” Hoefer said. “We need to look at what is really costing this money. Our wages and benefits are flat out unsustainable.”
Allen said she’d communicate openly with the taxpayers.
“A lot of what gets out there is half-truths,” she said.
As a parent herself, she wants what’s best for the district, she added.
The candidates were asked why they wanted to be on the board.
Bell said that he that he wants to help.
“I don’t want to be on the outside criticizing someone else’s decision. I’d rather be in the tick of it,” he said.
“I want to help. And, to make a difference; make our school district what it should be,” Callen said. “I’m not one of those people who sits around and complains. In want to be in there and do the work.”
“It’s a terrible job. I don’t want to be on the school board!” Hoefer said. “I’m running because I feel I need to.”
“I can handle conflicts, challenge. My heart is for the kids of this district and I want to continue to fight for them as I have for six years,” Allen said. “I think our board has worked very, very well together.”
Meyer said he wants change the attitude in the district; make it so that people aren’t afraid to share ideas and talk about issues.
“There is a lot of good people who work in this district and have great ideas. Some of them are afraid to come forward. I don’t want to see that.”
Candidates were asked to comment on residents saying they can’t afford “just a little bit more” in taxes.
Callen said she agrees with the statement. The district just can’t keep going the way it has been, she said.
Hoefer said he couldn’t afford just a little bit more taxes. What’s happening is the district is taking a slightly bigger piece of a slightly smaller pie.
Doing that wouldn’t solve the problem, Allen noted. Not everyone can afford it, she said.
Meyer applauded the superintendent for presenting a revenue based budget. Any tax increase should be as small as possible, he said.
“I think everybody has reached their threshold, Bell said. “I think we’ve had enough. I don’t think we can sustain any more.”
Polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 17.
The election districts of the Oswego City School District are as follows:
Election District No. 1
Location of polling place: Scriba Fire Station, 5618 State Route 104 East, Oswego
Boundaries: Ward 10
Election District No. 2
Location of polling place: St. Paul’s Church, 50 E. Mohawk St., Oswego
Boundaries: wards 2, 4 and 6
Election District No. 3
Location of polling place: Grace Elim Church, 340 W. First St., Oswego
Boundaries: wards 1, 3, 5 and 7
Election District No. 4
Location of polling place: Oswego Town Hall, 2320 County Route 7, Oswego
Boundaries: wards 8 and Ward 9 (Description by streets, alleys and highways, etc.)
For more information, contact the district clerk at (315) 341-2001.