OSWEGO, NY – Members of the public got to question the candidates for the Oswego Board of Education Tuesday night.
The Oswego City School District Home and School Associations and the Oswego Classroom Teachers’ Association facilitated a “Meet the Candidates Night” at the OHS cafeteria following the budget hearing and the school board meeting.
Three seats are available. They are currently being held by Brian Haessig, Mike McLaughlin and Sam Tripp. Haessig isn’t seeking re-election.
Besides McLaughlin and Tripp, Brian Chetney, Brandon Lagoe and John Sheffield are seeking election.
McLaughlin was unable to attend Tuesday’s forum.
The four others were grilled on class sizes, taxes vs. quality educational programs, common core, charter schools and other issues.
To start each candidate was asked why they are running.
Tripp, a veteran board member, said he sees it as a way of giving back to the community.
Sheffield said his children had a wonderful experience in the district and wants to ensure others have the same opportunity to move on to whatever they wish.
Lagoe said he benefited by going through the school system in Oswego as did his kids. He said he wants to get more involved and use his leadership and budgeting skills.
Chetney said he recognizes the importance of a strong school system. He has had much experience in his work at the Youth Bureau as well as with several agencies and board, all with a focus on youth, he added.
The candidates were asked about their connection to the district and their vision for the district to improve.
Sheffield said, “I’ll be up front, my wife actually does teach in the district. I
did practicum teaching here when I was learning to become a teacher. My
children are part of this community; they were raised here, born here. I chose to make Oswego my home.”
“I don’t want our students pigeon-holed (by the state). Our children have a lot to offer to the world and their community. There is a big push now for every child to go to college. Every child isn’t cut out for college,” he said. They need more options like BOCES programs, as many as possible, he added.
Lagoe said he and his children came through the Oswego school district and his mother retired from the district. Not every child is cut out for college, he said. He would like to give students more programs and options so they could reach their full potential in whatever they do in the future.
Chetney has a child in every level in the district from elementary through high school. He said he wants to make sure his kindergartner has the same opportunities and options as his siblings had. The district shouldn’t be an island, he said, adding that his connections with myriad agencies would help the district form productive partnerships.
Tripp noted that he has been a board member for a number of years, has held other positions in the district and his granddaughter is a freshman at OHS. There have been some new programs implemented in the district and he would like to see them continue and have more programs brought back. And, he would like to see the sports environment improved. “I’d like to see the graduation rate here at the high school continue to improve,” he added.
Another question dealt with how they would improve communication throughout the district and community.
“I think we, in a lot of cases, don’t communicate as well as we probably should,” Lagoe said. Being able to put all parties in a room; being able to have a discussion and to listen is important, he added. “You have to listen. You have to be able to sit down as a group, as a team, and come up with a solution.”
Chetney pointed out it is important to get input from the students, reach out to the student body, on all levels. He also noted that the board should communicate with each other as well as community to get a better understanding of the needs and concerns.
“I think every single employee in this district is important and needs to be listened to, and respected,” Tripp said.
Parents need to be included in the conversations, Sheffield said. “I think there needs to be more transparency, especially these days,” he said.
The candidates were also asked their views on class size.
“Most of my experience on class size comes from talking with my kids,” Chetney explained. Cuts in last year’s budget resulted in larger class sizes. He said he has spoken with several people including students and “the bigger the class, the bigger the challenge,” he said.
Class size is very important, Tripp said. If you have one disruptive student in a class it makes teaching that much more difficult, he added.
Sheffield agreed that class size does matter, at every level. If a teacher forms a good relationship with a student things are good but when you start getting into a larger class size, it gets harder to form those relationships, he noted.
Lagoe said his daughter was having trouble in a class and he asked her if she went to the teacher, He said she told him no, because the teacher was busy due to the larger size of the class. “We have to focus on the support staff that goes along with the teachers,” he said.
Who should be involved in developing new programs?
Tripp said the administration and teachers and service people should be involved. The board shouldn’t be until the proposal is presented to them, he added.
Everybody affected needs to have a voice in it, Sheffield said.
The students should have a voice in it, Lagoe said.
Chetney agreed the students should be involved in the process.
The candidates were asked their opinion on charter schools and consolidation.
Sheffield said he doesn’t like the push for consolidation. Under certain circumstances, there may be a need for it, he said. Charter schools make money, he said, they shouldn’t receive public money, he added.
Lagoe said funding charter schools could take away from public schools as a whole. “I’m not in favor of it. We should focus our money on our own school districts,” he said.
Chetney said we need to focus on our own schools.
Public schools have to educate every student; charter schools can pick and choose, Tripp said. “That to me is so unfair. And they’re doing it with our tax dollars,” he said.
All four candidates agreed that students need physical activity.
The common core has added unnecessary pressure to students and staff, Chetney said. Since no two students learn alike, teachers need to have more flexibility to reach all students, he added.
Tripp said “it’s been a nightmare. There has to be a better way to teach our students.”
Sheffield there is nothing supporting the claims of how good common core is.
Lagoe said it’s frustrating, noting that he was unable to help his daughter with a homework assignment.
The candidates were asked if they thought providing a well-rounded education or minimizing property taxes was more important.
Education is the most important, Tripp said, but added he understands the need to keep taxes down. They have to provide the best education they can but still be cognizant of the people on fixed incomes today, he said.
Sheffield agreed it’s a tough balance. But if he knows what he’s funding is good for the kids, he doesn’t have trouble investing in it. He wants to give the kids the best opportunity possible because they are competing globally now. However, he said it’s important to respect the taxpayers, too.
Lagoe said he wants what’s best for the students. “They are our future, we have to invest in them,” he said.
“It is a delicate balance,” Chetney said. “We want to have the best for our kids. But we have to understand there is a price tag that goes along with that.” The district should look at all available options and perhaps find ways to share services and reduce costs, he added.
The vote on the budget and school board members is set for May 16 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
NEW POLLING SITES
Election District 1: Scriba Fire Station, 5618 Route 104 East. Scriba and Volney – Oswego City School District residents only.
Election District 2: St. Paul’s Church, 50 E. Mohawk St. – Ward 2, Ward 4 and Ward 6.
Election District 3: Elim Grace Church 340 W. First St. – Ward 1, Ward 3, Ward 5 and Ward 7.
Election District 4: Oswego Town Hall 2320 County Route 7 – town of Oswego and town of Minetto – Oswego City School District residents only.