OSWEGO, NY – The three candidates for the two seats on the Oswego City School District Board of Education answered questions from the public Tuesday night.
Tom DeCastro and Lynda Sereno are seeking to retain their seats.
Former board member Fran Hoefer is looking to unseat one of them.
What are your three overall education priorities that, in a perfect world, you would accomplish in your time in office?
“It isn’t about one person. It’s about the team,” Sereno said. “IT takes the entire board working together as a unit to set those goals. And the vision comes from the people that are in the trenches. The goals have to stay focused on the children and how we get every child to be successful to reach their potential.”
Hoefer said his three goals are that he wants his governments to be efficient, effective and affordable.
“This district is not effective. It is not efficient and it is not affordable,” he said. “We’re basically on a runaway train headed for a cliff and everybody’s going ‘woo-woo.’ Somebody’s got to put the breaks on this runaway disaster.”
The municipal governments don’t have openness, fairness and doesn’t communicate with the public, he added.
In a perfect world, DeCastro said he’d like to see class sizes not to exceed 15 students, teachers and all employees with a smile on their face and children coming to school eager and ready to learn.
But, in the real world, “I think the change is going to have to start in Albany,” he said. “People are going to have to open their eyes and realize that the money taken away from schools has to come back because we have to make our education affordable; we can’t keep hitting on the taxpayers.”
How will you engage the community to improve public schools in our district?
“I intend to let the people of this community know what their governments are doing and how they’re doing it,” Hoefer said. “People want to know what’s going on behind those closed doors. If they want to know, I’m going to tell them.”
The board attempts to be open, transparent and let people know what’s going on, DeCastro said.
“Other than (executive session), I think everything should be transparent,” he said. “We need to reach out to the community to try and embrace them more. We need to get the community involved in a lot of ways.”
“I’m surprised tonight with the limited amount of people that are here,” Sereno said. “This board has been extremely transparent. We had many open meetings. We sought input from the public. So I’m a little disappointed tonight with the lack of community members that have come.”
What positive impact have you had on the quality of education for the students or a program you’ve advocated for?
“I support the programs that we have. I have fought to keep programs. I would like to see new programs brought in,” DeCastro said. “I’d like to see a business program brought back in.”
“When the programs or ideas or suggestions come to the board table, the board sits down and we share our ideas about what we’re hearing and we look at what is it going to take for us to support say the music program or the art program,” Sereno said. “Together as a team we decide what can do and how we can help. As a unit we support, that’s our job.”
“I tend to look at the development of our children as more than just what happens in these buildings. It’s more important to have a healthy community for our children than to have a rich school district,” Hoefer said. “We have to keep in mind that our community and parents are more important than our teachers. A healthy community is a lot more important than a spiffy school. Kids can learn in a one-room school house if their parents feed them.”
What is your feeling on the governor’s education reform?
“I think that it was not well thought out. I don’t believe Gov. Cuomo used the team approach. I think what it’s done to our educational professionals is ridiculous … it’s not in the best interest of our children,” Sereno said. “It’s just crazy right now.”
The common core teaches logic and reason, Hoefer said, adding that he’s been learning it with his young son.
“Standardized testing gives us an objective way of measuring performance and to compare how well we’re doing compared to everybody else. I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Hoefer said. “I think that is absolutely essential. We need to know how well we’re dong. That’s what Gov. Cuomo is trying to do and I’m totally in favor of it.”
DeCastro said he doesn’t believe that every student can be taught exactly the same.
“That’s what common core is. It’s an attempt to turn everybody into look alikes,” he said. “Not every kid is the same. Not every kid learns the same.”
What is you position on the opting out position held by some community members?
“I think there are some very misguided people making wrong choices. That’s a very wrong choice,” Hoefer said. “It’s using your child as a political pawn. Big mistake, Dumb.”
DeCastro said he applauds the parents who chose to opt out their children.
“We’re letting the political people who are trying to get involved in education know that school districts, school boards, parents, cities, what have you that we’re not happy with what’s happening,” DeCastro said. “I say hooray for the parents who had the good thought to keep them home or have them opt out in school.”
Sereno said she agreed with everything DeCastro said.
“Parents have a right to make any decision they need to make in the best interest of their child,” she added.
With the increased concerns about school funding and taxes where do you believe the true solution lies and how would you attack the problem?
The political process is “broken, severely broken,” Hoefer said.
“The process of government in public education is broken. It’s not a democratic process, it’s a corrupt process,” he said. “We have to fix the negotiating process. Everyone has to be involved in contracts. I’d rather wade through toxic waste than sit on this school board because I’d have to deal with a fundamentally corrupt system.”
“We need to look at the government because they are the ones who are telling us what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, what mandates we’re going to have and then they don’t fund them,” DeCastro said. “All we can do is just keep hammering away at the people who represent us.”
“Unions are the foundation of what our society is. It’s what makes us great,” Sereno said. “The unions have to come to the table with us and help us stay frugal. I think it will happen with our existing board.”
What is your stance on the teaching of the common core curriculum versus the common core state exams?
“I couldn’t see the connection between the two and I still don’t see a connection,” DeCastro said. “I’m not sure where they think we’re going. It hurt our kids.”
“I think it’s time to reflect; to go back and look at what’s working, what’s not and to change what we nee to,” Sereno said.
“The only thing I’ve seen of the common core is how it affects me and my seven-year-old. We like it,” Hoefer said. “The idea of a common curriculum for the whole country so that we have a general guidance for everyone makes all kinds of sense. We need to tweak it and fix what’s wrong with it.”
At what grade do you think foreign language instruction should begin?
“Kindergarten,” Sereno said. “I’d like to see it start in the elementary school and go straight through middle school and high school.”
The question would be whether the district could afford to start it in the elementary level, Hoefer noted.
“They need to read and write first,” he added.
“A second language is the way I’d prefer to look at it. I think it can start (in elementary). You can learn two languages at one time. There’s no big problem,” DeCastro said.
Would you support adding 15 minutes to the day so elementary teachers/support faculty can discuss student issues?
“If the teachers want to get together and come in 15 minutes early to discuss their day, I’m in support of that,” Hoefer said.
“I would totally be in favor of giving them 15 minutes so they can get together, especially if they have a common situation where they need to discuss what’s going on,” DeCastro said.
“I agree,” Sereno added.
What in your background leads you to believe that you would be an effective school board member?
“My life has pretty much been dedicated to children, to education. I have 31 years of classroom experience,” DeCastro said, adding that his six years on the board has taught him a lot.
“My whole adult life has been in education,” Sereno said. “School and education has just been my passion. I think I have a lot to offer. I can’t see my self any place else but here.”
She has been a classroom teacher and an administrator.
“I’m probably the least qualified person on the planet to serve on a school board. All I really want to do is work on my garden and take photographs of birds. I’ve been waiting for Superman to step up and fix this mess. I’ve been waiting for some brilliant person or brilliant group of people to some up and fix this. Where are they?” Hoefer said. “So, I have to do it.”