Editor's note: This questionnaire was sent to Patch by Central Council PTA Co-President Melissa Gates. It has not been edited by Five Towns Patch.
One of Central Council Presidents’ responsibilities is to help publicize information on the Board of Ed Candidates either through a Candidate’s Night or a questionnaire. All information coming out of Central Council this year regarding the candidates and budget has been handled by Melissa Gates only. There will be no Candidate’s Night due to scheduling restraints. The questionnaire used this year is the same one that was used in the last contested vote with a few minor changes developed in consultation with all the unit Presidents. The responses were written by the candidates first hand with no editing or changes other than to consolidate and format the information here. The answers are provided here in the order that the candidates will be on the ballot. The order was chosen by lottery pick which was conducted by the District Clerk and witnessed by a District Security Guard. Two candidates were present and one was done by proxy. By law, the lottery is held the day after the petitions are submitted.
1. How long have you lived in the district and are/were you a parent of a child in the public schools?
Scott McInnes Response: My wife and I moved to the district in 1999, and our 11 year old daughter is currently a student at Ogden Elementary School.
Cheryl May Response: I have lived in the district since July 2002. I have three children who all attend Hewlett Elementary School. I have been married to my husband Ted for fourteen years. Ted coaches Hewlett PAL Lacrosse and Hewlett-Woodmere Little League.
Teena Ditchek Korman Response: I became a resident of Hewlett-Woodmere UFSD #14 district at birth. I have lived 47 of my 56 years within the district. My first residence was in Hewlett. I was educated in the district’s schools and am an alumna of George W. Hewlett High School. I currently reside in the Gibson neighborhood of Valley Stream. My daughter attended Hewlett Elementary School; Woodmere Middle School; George W. Hewlett High School; Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT; and Columbia University School of Law. My son attended Franklin Early Childhood Center; Hewlett Elementary School; and Woodmere Middle School. He is currently a junior in George W. Hewlett High School. He will continue studying at Hewlett High School next year.
2. What particular experiences or skills qualify you to serve as a school board member?
Scott McInnes Response: As a parent with a child currently enrolled in elementary school in the district, I have a vested interest in our schools not only today, but also into the future. I have been attending the board and work meetings over the last several years and have been a vocal public advocate when I have seen issues that should be addressed by the district’s leadership.
As a business professional with over twenty years in the real estate management and development industry I have practical, real world experience with budgeting and cost management, while still producing high-quality results. The job of an owner’s representative is to achieve the goals and objectives of the owner they are working for, and I would use that same philosophy as a Trustee to achieve the goals and objectives of the members of the community in the Hewlett-Woodmere School district. I believe they want the best possible education for our students, at the most reasonable cost possible for the taxpayers, and that would be the goal I would work hard to achieve.
Cheryl May Response: I am currently the PTA Central Council President of the Hewlett-Woodmere School District. I have served consecutive terms as President at both Franklin Early Childhood Center and at Hewlett Elementary School. I am an active member of both the Hewlett Elementary School PTA and the SEPTA PTA (Special Education PTA Unit). I serve on committees at both the school and district level.
I have an MBA from Pace University in Finance and a BA from Syracuse University in Political Science. I am a highly motivated person. I love this community and feel that I am ready to serve as a Trustee because of all of my past experiences both personally and professionally. In addition, I worked at PepsiCo for 11 years in various sales, finance and marketing positions. I have both created and worked with budgets. I have a solid accounting and financial sense that will be very helpful in reviewing district spending and budgets. I also have a tremendous amount of managerial experience.
Teena Ditchek Korman Response: I am an independent thinker and independent candidate. As a child and community-minded advocate for all residents in our towns, and longtime advocate for Hewlett-Woodmere schools, my experience, dedication, and skills allow me to represent all views within our community by being a collaborative and productive member of the Hewlett-Woodmere Board of Education. I serve with commitment, diligence and passion. Aside from Board of Education presentations, I gain first-hand knowledge regarding the progress of our students and programs by being a frequent participant in schools and highly visible attending numerous functions; including, reading with early childhood students, participating in academic site visits to view Discovery innovations, reading and writing workshops for all levels of programming, history and science fairs, award ceremonies, sports celebrations, concerts, plays, art shows, and many more. My longstanding involvements with school-related organizations include the Hewlett-Woodmere Alumni Association and Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library Parent Advisory Committee. My steering committee work for Project Bulldog’s Community Exhibition at the public library demonstrates attention I focus on community-wide unity.
3. What do you see as the major issue(s) facing our school district?
Scott McInnes Response: In the current economic environment, with everyone still feeling the effects of the recession, and State and local governments looking to cut many of their costs by pushing them down to the school districts, we have a difficult job to manage the impact of those changes on our district, while still maintaining high-quality education for our students.
The problem is, that in addition to the costs and mandates imposed on us by the state and county governments, the district’s leadership has been imposing contractual mandates on us with our administrators that force us to spend our limited resources on salaries and benefits at a higher level than similar districts, instead of spending them on our students where they belong.
For example, in 2009 (in the midst of the economic crisis) the new superintendent’s contract encumbered us with salary and benefit requirements that will have an impact on us for years. That contract not only provided for a $265,000 annual starting salary (not including benefits that are currently reported to the state at $98,476 per year), but if the superintendent were to retire in 2015 when the contract expires, it provides for a payout of ½ of her then current annual salary ($325,000 that year) which would be $162,500. It would also require that the district pay the superintendent for any unused sick days (up to 135 of them) and unused vacation days (up to 48 of them) at the rate of 1/200th of her then current salary. That means that, in addition to the $162,500 payment, we could be obligated for up to an additional payout of up to $297,375 (135 sick days + 48 vacation days x $1,625 per day). That means that in 2015, in just one contract approved by the board and the incumbent Trustee in 2009, the district will have a self-imposed expense of up to $459,875 on top of all of our other salary expenses. Where will that money come from? What programs will they tell us we need to cut due to the “contractual obligations” that they say they can’t control, even though they were the ones who imposed them on us in the first place? The district will also be contractually obligated to pay for 100% of the superintendent’s heath insurance costs (and her spouse) for the rest of their lives. That too could encumber us for decades to come.
We also have the unfortunate issue that the district’s stellar reputation is not what is used to be. I have repeatedly asked the district for a single third party source that concurred with the district’s claim that we are one of the best school districts on Long Island, the State, and beyond. They never produced any, and instead changed the district’s website to say we are one of the best school districts in New York State and beyond. That needs to change, and we need to make a conscious effort to improve our academic rankings, promote the district’s programs and all of the wonderful things it has to offer, and put Hewlett-Woodmere back on top where it belongs.
Cheryl May Response: The current economic condition is the most important issue facing our school district. The tepid economic climate has had a devastating effect upon the world around us. We are in a fortunate position in that we have reserve funds that will help carry through these difficult times. The District, however, must be vigilant in maintaining both programming and small class sizes. Waste needs to be indentified throughout the entire district. This includes taking a hard look at Administration costs, expenses, and benefit positions. It will become harder to maintain a rich curriculum due to the proposed state property tax cap and mandates that are imposed upon us by Albany. Increasing costs and contributions to the pension and health benefits funds will certainly not decrease over the next few years. We must work hard to budget for these expenses so current programming is not affected.
Teena Ditchek Korman Response: During challenging economic periods, a major issue over the past few years and facing our district going forward is continuing to sustain and improve the excellence in education that our community values within our innovative high performing schools. Being fiscally responsible to community needs is always at the forefront of my approach, demonstrated by this year’s lowest budget proposal increase in more than a decade that continues to support instructional programs and opportunities. I showed leadership and responsiveness to our residents during the current budget season through strong advocacy resulting in partial or full restoration of certain items recommended for cuts; such as, library/media in elementary schools; needs of middle school students regarding math assistance for sixth grade and the Discovery program for eighth grade; and maintaining the ten period day in Hewlett High School. These restorations were accomplished while the proposed budget remains at an increase of 2.37% continuing the downward trend of the past several years.
4. What do you see as the greatest strength of Hewlett-Woodmere schools?
Scott McInnes Response: I believe the district’s greatest strength is the caring and supportive community of parents, teachers, administrators and residents who truly want what’s best for our children. The magic of education happens in the classrooms with our teachers, assistants and aides, and at home with caring and supportive parents. We need to make sure that we put the highest percentage of our resources possible into the classroom and our programs where the “rubber meets the road” in education.
Cheryl May Response: The greatest strength of our district is the teachers and support staff, including aides and teacher assistants. These professionals are extremely motivated and are devoted not only to the education of our children, but also to their physical and mental well-being. They work directly with our children day in and day out. We need to ensure that they get the support and development that they deserve.
Teena Ditchek Korman Response: The pride and support of our residents for our community’s children and education is a longstanding strength in Hewlett-Woodmere that contributes to the success of our schools. It results in well known college and career readiness provided by our Pre-K through grade 12 education. Hewlett High School graduates return from freshman college experiences relating they are better prepared than other students in their classes and dormitories. This is a true barometer of Hewlett-Woodmere’s strength. Teaching through project-based learning and student choice of research, rather than ‘teaching to the test’ and ‘test prep’, keeps alive our students’ interest in learning. Students’ real world skills are being developed through critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Their future, our future and the world’s future stands to benefit!
5. What do you see as the greatest weakness in our district and what would you do to change it?
Scott McInnes Response: I think the biggest weakness in our district is the lack of a sense of accountability to the community by the district’s leadership. Not just because they approve incredible contracts that wind up getting us mentioned in newspaper articles about the exorbitantly high administrative payrolls on Long Island, but in simple, more subtle actions as well. For example: If a member of this community attends a board meeting and addresses the board at the end of the meeting, despite the fact that they are asked to provide their name and where they live, there is no mention of them in the meeting minutes. This may seem insignificant to many, but it really says something about a lack of respect for the community. In other districts, community members who address the board are not only recorded in the minutes, but if they bring a prepared statement and present it to the clerk before speaking, the entire statement will be included in the minutes. That is the kind of respect we should be showing our entire community.
Cheryl May Response: The greatest weakness surrounding our district is that we have been underperforming versus prior years. I believe, however, this can be changed. We have outstanding programming that is available to our children. You can see this in the three As: Academics, Arts, and Athletics, at all grade levels. The question remains, why are we underperforming? There is not an easy answer to this question. The Hewlett-Woodmere Community has definitely changed in the past 10 years. Diversity is a good thing; however our teaching methods need to remain consistent. For instance, our current 5th graders have had 4 different math programs over the last 4 years. We need to model ourselves after districts that are similar to us. There are other school districts that we can model ourselves after to determine good curricular and support practices. We need to do a better job supporting our children. The district has looked to cut services at the Elementary School level that were once employed to help our children succeed when they get older. These programs, for the most part, have been cut and are now only available to children with an IEP (Individualized Education Program). These programs include speech, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. It has been said that prevention is the best medicine. Perhaps, if we supported these children at a young age, we wouldn’t be experiencing issues with lower test scores now.
The Administration needs to bring Hewlett-Woodmere back to the outstanding School District that it once was. The reason why people moved to Hewlett-Woodmere in the past was due to the excellent performance of the schools. The decline in the school district has made the community less attractive to perspective home buyers. Keeping the school tax rate low is what needs to be done in light of the dire financial situation that prevails today. The Administration's expenses need to be considered before any teacher lay-offs or class size increases occur.
Teena Ditchek Korman Response: Involvement by more of our district’s parents and residents has the potential to enhance student accomplishments and community building. Since starting my board service, various individual efforts have included hundreds of community participants. Participation by even more parents and community members would improve awareness of Hewlett-Woodmere’s innovative programming, while benefiting the schools through increased collaboration and utilization of widespread talents and experience within our neighborhoods. My drive for increased technological communications from the district to our community, through website usage and upgrades, phone outreach and our most recent program of email blast announcements, to name a few, have put in place more effective communication paths with our residents. More World Café events that bring the community into the schools for interaction with students will continue to showcase student abilities and provide an opportunity for resident input.
6. What changes, if any, should be made in the district’s budget?
Scott McInnes Response: Now that the district’s leadership has restored the discovery program at the elementary education level and abandoned their plans to reduce the number of periods at the high school from 10 to 9 periods, I think this year’s budget is where it should be, and should be supported by the entire community. As candidates, we are promoting all of our supporters to vote YES, along with voting for us as Trustees.
Cheryl May Response: The current school budget that is proposed is fair and should be supported by the entire community. Since the budget increase has already been voted on by the current board, no changes could be made to either increase it or decrease it further. The district’s administrators decided not to cut the current Discovery program or reduce the High School periods. This would have been a serious detriment to our children, and I am happy that these cuts were not part of the actual budget.
Next year’s budget will be quite challenging due to the proposed tax cap, the continued increases in the cost and contributions to pensions and health care benefits, and the unfunded state mandates. Administrative salaries in our district are much higher than those in comparable school districts. This is unacceptable to the community and needs to be examined further. Other district administrative models should be considered when determining the appropriate level of administrators and their compensation. Most of the administrators in the district make more than Governor Cuomo.
Teena Ditchek Korman Response: Unfunded mandates placed upon our district by federal, state and county government add an unfair burden while Hewlett-Woodmere continues to hold down increases. New York State aid still provides merely a single digit percentage of Hewlett-Woodmere’s budget. We, the residents of Hewlett-Woodmere, pay an unfair share considering our income and sales tax are a much larger percentage contributed to New York State than we receive. New York State has to make changes that show the commitment to education declared in Albany.
7. Is there any other information you would like to share about yourself or your goals? What would you like the community to know about you?
Scott McInnes Response: I have been, and will continue to be, a vocal advocate for the students, parents, and taxpayers of the Hewlett-Woodmere community. Someone recently asked me why I wanted to run for the board and I told them I have never been someone who can just stand by and watch when I see something happening, and this is no different. The amount of money that is being committed to administrative payroll and benefits by the district’s leadership is encumbering our district for years into the future and putting us in a position where we have to either increase the already high tax burden on our homeowners, or cut programs in our schools. That is NOT the kinds of choice we should have to make. We need to focus our resources in the classrooms around the district, not at WEC.
I thank you for your attention, and we ask for your support on May 17th.
Vote YES for the budget, and elect two new trustees to the board. Thank you.
Cheryl May Response: I am dedicated to the children! I have been involved with the children. I know their parents, and I am very active within the community. I am running to bring this district back to where it should be-- on the top! A great school district will benefit the entire community by increasing home values and drawing in new residents. The future is the children, and this is something we should not forget!
I have teamed up with Scott McInnes because we have similar views on these important issues. We both feel that we can genuinely make a difference in the community! Remember, vote yes on May 17th!
Teena Ditchek Korman Response: I designed and coordinated the Franklin Early Childhood Center (FECC) PTA Parents As Reading Partners (PARP) program during its start-up year, attaining the New York State Nassau County award. At Hewlett Elementary, I created and was the only chair of LEAP (Lunchtime Enrichment Alternative Program) during its first year. These ongoing programs have served thousands of students and families over the past decade.
More recently, I took a lead role in introducing four programs for students – each with no added costs to the district. I arranged for Hadassah’s Check It Out program for Hewlett High School’s 12th grade students spreading breast cancer and testicular cancer awareness. By using grant funding, I advocated for the students and parents of Woodmere Middle School and Hewlett High School to have assemblies with anti-cyberbullying expert, John Halligan. I advocated for an exceptional Wellness Day keynote speaker, Josh Sundquist, to give the Hewlett High School student body a free presentation resulting from the success of a book selling drive. I initiated and coordinated the placement in the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library of textbooks used in each class of Hewlett High School.
I am a Board of Ed liaison to Central Council PTA and serve on the Board's Buildings and Grounds; Long Range Transportation; Policy; Recreation and Athletic Facilities; and District Health, Safety and Wellness Committees.
As the sole Board liaison for six years to the District Health and Safety Committee, and additional years of service on three building safety committees, I am proud of Hewlett-Woodmere's proactive approach to keeping safety paramount. I was instrumental in advocating and planning for Automated External Defibrillators in our schools before the state law was passed. This has already resulted in life saved in Hewlett-Woodmere.
During my Board service, long-awaited extensive facility renovations began. Residents can take pride, once again, in owning district buildings that better meet the needs of education. With rising fuel charges, energy savings plans and projects are in place to save on heating and cooling costs.
Our district has benefited from community building opportunities experienced through the Friend-Raiser Music and Arts Festival, Five Towns Senior Center, increased usage of our facilities by non-public schools, improving communications by the establishment of a School Community Relations department, and an online registration process for Community Education and Services.
Too many programs throughout the grades have been initiated to mention them all. Some accomplishments include technological enhancements; such as, Smartboard curriculum integration throughout the schools and the establishment of the tablet program at the high school. Other programs implemented are Silver Cord and Middle School Community Service programs, Youth Leadership Forum, Gallery One, Student Opportunity Fund, creation of Hewlett-Woodmere Wrestling and Girls’ Lacrosse Teams, expansion of Advanced Placement and dual-credit college courses.
As an active parent with dedicated experience as a volunteer parent member of Committee on Special Education and Preschool Special Education, serving on Shared-Decision Making Teams, Curriculum Committee, managing three sections on the district website – HHS PTA, Hewlett-Woodmere Alumni Association and OOMPAH, being a former board member of the Hewlett-Woodmere Educational Foundation, and coordinating a Senior Boys Division for Hewlett-Lawrence Soccer Club, my knowledge of school processes and community needs is vast.
Going forward in this second decade of the 21st century, I advocate for our students to have more instructional technology innovations in our classrooms. Virtual field trips will offer possibilities to share world-wide societies and places with our students. Opportunities for students to study world languages in earlier grades make sense considering our country’s demographics today, as well as in global society. More progress in Wellness areas will increase student’s awareness about health. Enriching the focus on environmental concerns will promote sustainability of our world. Additional experiences involving public speaking and leadership training through classroom instruction will promote success. Continuing to network with higher education institutions will augment our students’ abilities to attend the best colleges and universities in the country.
I am dedicated to keeping our schools strong, which is necessary to keep our community strong. I will persist with the same level of dedication I have previously devoted to serve the students, parents and residents of Hewlett-Woodmere.
VOTE for the best candidate to benefit ALL the Kids, Education and Community!
VOTE for Teena Ditchek Korman