Voters go to the polls

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:12

    Warwick-Voters in the Warwick Valley Central School District head to the polls Tuesday to choose three board members and to say whether they will support the proposed $64.7 million budget. The budget is increasing 9.2 percent from last year. The bulk of the increase is in contractual obligations for existing staff members. Salary increases make up nearly 4 percent of the jump. Health insurance and other benefits will cost an additional $2 million or 3.5 percent. Schools Superintendent Joseph Natale said an assessment analyst, and directors of music & art, and technology are being eliminated from a three-year instructional staffing plan. The part of the budget dealing with growth shows an increase of less than one percent. One elementary teacher, one middle school teacher and one guidance counselor at the high school are included in the growth budget. A special education aide and teacher, and several non-instructional support staff members are also included in this budget. The election and budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 18, at the middle school, Kings Elementary, and Pine Island Elementary, from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Superintendent Natale told The Warwick Advertiser that staffing has been reduced by $60,000 and supplies are less than in this year's budget despite a larger enrollment. "We were hit with state mandated retirement costs n an 83% rate increase for teachers and 178% for non-teaching staff n plus an 18% health insurance increase. These three expenses plus the normal annual salary increase for all staff resulted in a 7.1% increase." All other other expenses for a status quobudget brought the increase to 8.28% and additions to the budget due to growth in students was .96%, he added. "We continue to have an efficient operation which provides for a quality education for our students," said Dr. Natale, adding that Warwick has one of the lowest costs per student in Orange County and some of the highest student test results. "Our expenditure per student is one thousand dollars less than the state average and $700 less per pupil than the county average." Three board of education seats are up for grabs as well. Incumbents Debra Holton-Smith and Paul Caskey are seeking their second three-year terms. Three others are also looking to occupy seats on the board, including Michael Meinhardt, John Moore, and John Blake, all former board of education members. Here's a short profile on the school board candidates: • Paul Caskey Paul Caskey was elected to the school board three years ago. He said he wants to continue on the board because as a board, they took on multi-year goals and he wants to be there to carry them through. "I was part of the team that put them together," said Caskey, "and I want to see them through." One of the long range goals the board has set is to prepare students for life beyond school. "That is something we can't do in one year," he said. Caskey, who has a bachelor's of science degree in chemistry, is taking the board's "life-long learning" lesson to heart. With one daughter in the middle school and another at Park Avenue, he himself is currently working on his MBA. Caskey has been the chairperson of the Policy Committee for the past two years, as well as a member of the Facilities and Maintenance Committee. He sat on the Negotiations Committee for the last few years, and is the chairperson of the Accident Review Committee, one committee that does not meet often, Caskey noted. With the budget going up another 9 percent, Caskey notes that the majority of increases are mandates from the state. "Of the 9 percent, 4.5 percent are state mandates for retirement plans," he said. "Much of what is going up is mandated by the state." There are not many ratables here in Warwick, Caskey noted, which is why many chose to live here in the first place. "We choose to live here for the beautiful scenery, the open spaces, the good schools," Caskey said. "There are not many ratables around here. We're not trying to do new stuff in this budget." Since being elected to the board, Caskey has a greater appreciation for how things are done. And he appreciates the job done by the administration, superintendent and the assistant superintendents. What he wants to continue working on, though, is communication. "It has improved but there is still a ways to go," he admitted. "We are doing a better job." • Debra Holton-Smith Educational success has always been the driving force behind Debra Holton-Smith's professional life. For the past 15 years, she has worked with children who have Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Holton-Smith is the founder of ADDSuccess, a counseling practice that stresses the many learning styles necessary to help children be successful. Perhaps that is why she is seeking her second term on the Warwick School Board. "My best contributions to the school board position come from my experience with kids of all ages and needs," Holton-Smith said, "and from an ear that listens." Holton-Smith has spent the last five years here in Warwick, moving from what she considers a "blue ribbon school district" in Connecticut. "We were attracted not only to the beauty of the town's people here, but also to the high quality of the Warwick District schools," said Holton-Smith, who has a bachelor's degree in nursing and is nationally certified in oncology nursing. She and her husband, Chris, have two teenage sons. One is in college and the other is a sophomore in high school. Holton-Smith sees the most difficult task of being on the board as balancing the budget with the needs of the children. "Being extremely sensitive to both the children and the taxpayers, we work year round with the district administrators to look for alternative funds within the state and county, in conjunction with Warwick town officials appealing to businesses to help off-set homeowners' burdens," she said. "Successful co-ops with other school districts have helped keep our district costs lower per pupil than most in the state, without compromising class sizes and instructional excellence." Holton-Smith sits on the Nutritional Committee, a committee working toward healthier foods in the schools. She chairs the Compact Committee, which is set up by each school in the district setting up goals toward student achievement. Holton-Smith is also part of the Textbook Committee, the Workplace Environment Committee and the Purple and Pride Committee. "The Purple and Pride Committee is a connection between the community and the school," she said. "We have a great community and a great school." Holton-Smith said the district has lobbied for state and federal funds in an effort to ease the tax burden to residents. She encourages people to approve the budget, noting a small difference between an approved and an austerity budget. "Holding the reins on taxes to an average increase of $10 per month for Wawick households and $6 per month for Chester households is an accomplishment that I applaud our school administrators for," she said. "Yet we are never too complacent to stop looking for ways to be more creative and frugal." • John Blake Each of the five candidates for the school board all have experience on that board. John Blake served six years on the board and he's proud of the education provided to the children of this community. "The district is pretty good at the business of educating our kids," said Blake, an 18-year resident of Warwick. "But as far as the business of doing business, our district doesn't do it very well. I always tried to do business better when I was on the board." Blake hopes voters return him to the board next Tuesday. One of his goals is to try and bring more ratables to Warwick, an effort to keep taxes controlled. "We have a tremendously big problem," Blake said. "Our community wants its cake and to eat it, too. We have a pristine, beautiful valley, but very few ratables. I'd like to see more ratables, but then our valley won't be as pristine as it is now." Blake also sees the state's unfunded mandates as a major issue with budgets. "I'd like to see the state get rid of some of its mandates," Blake stated. He mentioned the requirement to have defibrillators in each school as one of the mandates he doesn't find necessary. It was mandated after a teenager on Long Island died after being hit in the chest during a sporting event. "No child should die," he said. "And the defibrillators themselves are not very expensive. But the school district has to train someone to use it and that costs. At every school activity, someone who knows how to use it has to be there. The state mandates it but doesn't come across with the money." Because of his experience on the board, Blake knows that a good education does not come cheap. Without a doubt, however, he feels it is worth it. "I have high praise for Warwick Schools," said this father of one son who went all through the Warwick district and is now studying for his master's in biology. "I kept track of the kids on my Little League team. All but two have graduated college. One is in law school, another is working on his master's. The kids are our future. The budget increase is a tough nut but these kids are our future." • Michael Meinhardt Everyone running for the school board knows what it is like. They have all been there before. They know the time demands and they know how stressful it can be. Not surprisingly, Mike Meinhardt looks at serving on the school board as a major commitment. After nine years on the Warwick Valley Central School District Board of Education, he decided not to run again two years ago. "You have got to commit 100 percent if you want to be on the Board of Education," Meinhardt said. "I really enjoyed it. I think I was pretty good at it, too." Which is part of the reason he is running again this year. Meinhardt had the reputation as being a bridge builder when he served on the board. That is something he looks forward to again. "I can bring opposing sides together," Meinhardt said. "The board needs to function as a full nine member board. I had the role of bridge building because I like working with the board and the administration." He also liked working with the kids. Meinhardt headed the Athletic Review Committee during his tenure on the board. There are many programs he helped shape during those years and he would like to see them through. Communication is another area Meinhardt wants to focus on. He says Communication is another area Meinhardt wants to focus on. He says communication in any district is a "constant battle," whether it be in the workplace, between the district and parents, or amongst board members. "Every year we heard that we needed better communication," Meinhardt said. "Communication amongst various work groups, to the public. We always need to work on that. We can't rest on that matter." Meinhardt, who has lived in Warwick for 29 years, has two children in the high school. He attended the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill and works in the trucking industry. Throwing his hat into the ring, Meinhardt hopes to bring his skills to the board again. He certainly looks forward to the challenges being on the board brings. "I've always enjoyed serving on the board and I hope to do it again," Meinhardt said. • John Moore The reason John Moore is running for the school board is simple: "I think it is the most important job in Warwick." And he means it. Moore, who served one term on the board before losing last year's election by just 24 votes, is convinced that school board members hold the future of Warwick in their hands. "Nine people are going to decide what kind of education our kids get and who can live here," he said. The latter reason refers to taxes. Moore is not happy that people are moving out of Warwick because they can't afford the school taxes anymore. "It is a disgrace that people whose families have lived here all their lives have to move because of taxes," Moore said. "They made Warwick what it is today and they can't even afford to live here." Moore considers himself a fiscal conservative but admits he will allocate as much money as is necessary to give kids a well rounded education. "I'll give you all the money you need for art, music, sports," he said. "But not for more administrators. I don't believe the district needs more administrators." Moore is proud of the education Warwick provides to its children, despite the increases. "The budget has gone up a lot over the years," Moore admitted. "But so have the property values. The only reason our properties are worth anything is because of the quality of the education here in Warwick." Moore certainly doesn't think that entitles anyone to a blank check. While on the board he voted against hiring a public relations firm because he didn't think it was the right thing to do. "I want the district to be honest with the people," Moore said. "We don't live in Disneyland. People in Warwick are smart. You can't fool them into thinking nothing is ever wrong here. The district has to handle things honestly." Moore moved to Warwick 26 years ago. He had a successful 30-year career on Wall Street. He certainly has determination - he ran three times for the school board before winning four years ago. He served the board on its Policy Committee and the Accident Committee. One change Moore would like to see is adding a student member to the board. "Getting a high school student on the board would be the best thing we could do. They will let us know what is going on and how we can change things." More than anything else, though, Moore wants Warwick voters to get out and let their voices be heard. "I encourage everyone to go out and vote," he said. "I don't care who you vote for, just vote. It's important."