On May 15, School District 14 residents will vote on a $105 million budget, as well as choose three school board candidates in an at-large election. Fred Usherson is one of four people seeking a seat. The following is the questionnaire put to all candidates by the Hewlett-Woodmere Central Council PTA.
How long have you lived in the district and are/were you a parent of a child in the public schools?
I have lived in the district 12 years with my wife and two children. My daughter is currently attending fourth grade and my son currently is attending third Grade at Hewlett Elementary.
What particular experiences or skills qualify you to serve as a school board member?
Currently, there are no serving school board members with an education background. As an educator for almost 18 years, I understand the challenges that exist in our schools today and how to improve learning by improving our staff. Having also worked in industry for almost eight years, I know the value of incorporating technology in our schools, beyond just the computer, to offer our students enhanced vocational and life skills that they could apply in their future endeavors. In summary, as an elected official, I understand that I have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers in our district to minimize tax increases. As a parent, I want the best possible education and learning opportunities for our children. I would like to return our school district to the great district that it once was — that everyone remembers. If elected, I know I can improve it!
The district has incorporated my prior campaign recommendations such as offering our children access to online databases such as the Discovery Education Website www.discoveryeducation.com). In addition, the district also took my recommendation and has instituted a robotics program, which has been quite successful. I would like to see this program expanded to include Battlebot Robotics. For more information about Battlebots, go to www.Battlebots.com or this website to see a video of how it is used in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) program in high schools;
Listed below are my college degrees and teaching and administrative certifications.
Specialist Diploma in School Administration and Supervision, Queens College 1996
MBA, Marketing & Corporate Finance & Investments, Adelphi University 1991
BA, Computer Science, Queens College 1984
New York State Certified School District Administrator
New York State Certified Teacher Electronic/Electro-Mechanical
New York State Certified Teacher Computer Technology
New York State Certified Teacher Business and Distributive Education
FCC Licensed General Class Amateur Radio Operator
What do you see as the major issue(s) facing our school district?
Our district has wasted exorbitant amounts of money most recently on 40 percent salary early retirement incentives (as reported in the media) for administrative staff — while most are already making more than $150,000 annually. Why are we paying administrators early retirement incentives? These people already have pensions and a huge salary. If you want them to leave, stop offering raises! Now you know why we paid a school tax increase to our district last year. As a voter and a tax payer, this wasteful spending is unconscionable and I think we should offer our school board members an early retirement incentive — stop re-electing them and vote them all out of office!
In addition, last spring, our board approved $50,000 for parking lot lights at the administrative building (WEC) so district staff can to go to their car at night in a lighted parking lot. Finally, our district wasted tens of thousands of dollars in the past on an educational consulting group called the Tri-State Consortium that did nothing to help us. Ironically, when I posed the question last spring to our elected school board members about offering free after school tutoring for our children at the two elementary schools and the middle school, they refused. When you consider the poor performance of our schools, the huge amount of children attending the summer learning academy (summer school), and the numerous amount of tutoring services that are opening in our neighborhood, I wonder who are these elected board members really serving? The examples described above I am sure is just the tip of the iceberg on wasteful spending that has existed in our district for many years.
What do you see as the greatest strength of Hewlett-Woodmere schools?
The greatest strength of our district is our teachers, coaches, and support staff, such as our school aides. For example, in recent years at Hewlett High School, we have seen the dedication of teachers and staff that helped some of our children achieve the semifinalist round in the Intel National Science Competition. I have also seen this staff dedication in our coaches and support staff. My children have gained tremendous knowledge from our district swim team coaches. With all their dedication and service to our children and district, these people described above truly are the greatest strength of our district.
Over the years, I have seen many good people both educators and schools aides get terminated by our district as they claim for lower enrollment. The school aides in the lower grades such as at Franklin Early Childhood Center and at Ogden and Hewlett Elementary schools have been instrumental in helping with the development of our children. Last year, the district even considered terminating a technology teacher from our district and cancelling the Discovery Program.
Sadly, by losing these good people, and programs, we as a district are losing our greatest strength. These people are the essential staff for our district. I would like to see technology programs in our district expanded, not reduced. If elected, I would work with my fellow board members to look for other alternative solutions to reduce expenses other than cutting the essential staff described above.
The irony with our elected school board members is that according to the New York State Department (http://www.p12.nysed.gov/mgtserv/admincomp/) our district spent $1,347,519 for our top four executive positions, yet our board members describe this as “fiscal responsibility” as we eliminated over the last few years dozens of school aides and teachers. I call this penny wise and pound foolish!
What do you see as the greatest weakness in our district and what would you do to change it?
The greatest challenge we face in our district is our school performance compared to other Long Island school districts. Our performance affects not only the education of our children; it affects our property values, the local economy for attracting small business into our community, and ultimately our school taxes. Performance and fiscal responsibility for our school district starts with our elected school board members who approve district expenditures and authorize policy. Considering the high taxes we are paying and the poor performance from most of our schools, we are not getting in performance what we are paying for in taxes.
I have two children attending school in our district and I have a vested interest in their education and your children’s education. Our district is ignoring the children in the lower grades (FECC, the Elementary Schools, and Middle School) by not providing them with adequate resources, then the district plays “catch-up” with our high school students offering them free tutoring and tablet PC’s. For example, when my children attended the Franklin Early Childhood Center (FECC), they were in classrooms with one student computer for the entire classroom. Now that my children are attending Hewlett Elementary, I see similar issues. When I first brought this issue to the school board, their response was that they feel that “socialization skills are more important than computers.” Looking at our performance data, you decide if you think this policy is working. Furthermore, if that’s how our school board feels, then why bother putting even one computer in a classroom? What expectations for meaningful instruction does our district expect from a teacher with only one student computer in a classroom?
Instead, I recommend that the student to computer ratio for General Education classes in FECC, Hewlett Elementary, and Ogden Elementary have at least 3:1 and a 2:1 ratio for Special Education classes. In addition, at Woodmere Middle School and Hewlett High School, the general education classes have at least a 2:1 ratio and the special education classes have a 1:1 ratio. In a district with a budget close to $106 million dollars, I don’t know why we can’t offer at least an iPad 2 to each child from grades two to 12. These are currently selling for only $360 each.
What changes, if any, should be made in the district’s budget?
Clearly, we should reduce our expenditures for administrative salaries and stop the early retirement incentives. If elected I would work with my fellow board members and try to further reduce administrative costs, by effective renegotiation of contracts for executive staff members, and look to further consolidate or eliminate administrative functions in the administrative building (WEC). I want to put more money back into the classroom!
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?
I am running as an independent candidate for trustee for the Hewlett-Woodmere School District because in addition to having a comprehensive vision for improving the staffing and technology within the district, I am also running on a platform on improving instruction and fiscal responsibility. If elected, as an independent candidate, I offer both an independent voice and vote at board meetings on the issues that face our school board. I invite the district residents to visit my website at WWW.FRED4HW.COM
Based on prior data published by Newsday and the New York State Education Department, I performed a comprehensive performance evaluation of our schools within our district. In addition to computing percentiles for each grade, I also did a performance cadre comparison to other affluent equivalent and geographically homogeneous districts in Nassau County.
Based on the performance data, we should offer free after school tutoring at all the schools in our district. I believe it is the districts responsibility to offer all possible assistance to our children. Parents shouldn’t have to pay privately for tutors or spend their hard earned money on tutoring services. I informed the board last year that if the district paid two teachers at the two elementary schools and middle school $50/hour for two hours, four days a week, for 40 weeks, it would cost the district $36,000. I’d rather see the financial expense incurred for free tutoring than parking lot lights at WEC!
Finally, I want to thank you, the voter, for your time and considering my candidacy for our school board.
Note: One of Central Council Presidents’ responsibilities is to help publicize information on the board of education 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 Central Council Co-President, Mitchell A. Greebel 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 two (2) contested elections 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. By law, the lottery is held the day after the petitions are submitted.