Mineola School Board President Artie Barnett will not seek re-election in May after one, three-year term with the district.
“I’m not running,” Barnett said. “I never was. I made that decision three years ago [privately]. That hasn’t changed. Perhaps if we were in the middle of turmoil I’d stick around, but I find everything is going well right now.”
Mineola resident Mark Swensen and Roslyn Heights natives Joy Renner and Brian Widman will run for two seats on the Mineola School Board in May currently occupied by Barnett and Vice President Christine Napolitano. The at-large election will see the top two vote-getters attain the seats, which run for three-year terms.
“The school board is a complex position and I’m not saying that the current members are not doing a great job,” Swensen said. “But I think a fresh set of eyes is warranted at this point.”
Swensen is an IT consultant and project manager, handling projects and complex software deployments for his business, ONM Consulting. He’s served more than five years with the Mineola Fire Department as well as nine years with the Mineola Volunteer Ambulance Corp, achieving the rank of assistant chief.
Napolitano and Barnett have been on the board since 2009 and 2012, respectively. Barnett, endorsing Napolitano and Widman, said Napolitano earned the position while Widman, a business data analyst for the Uniformed Services Family Health Program, is heavily involved in school happenings.
“I fully endorse Christine [Napolitano],” Barnett said. “I asked [Widman] if he’d consider running and he is. I asked him because he’s a constant at meetings. He’s worked with the district on committees, events. He’s there at his own volition.”
The deadline to submit petitions to run for school board was April 20.
“After the very difficult journey of reconfiguration, we rolled up our sleeves to raise standards in meeting the educational needs of students while also acknowledging the financial realities of taxpayers,” Napolitano said. “We took care of our infrastructure and continue to receive state and national attention for the exceptional program we provide.”
Napolitano, a 23-year Williston Park resident, has served as both president and vice president in Mineola and helped shepherd the district through the reconfiguration of the school district, which saw the closing two of its schools, which have since been leased to outside entities to generate revenue.
“We have remained below our own, self-imposed tax cap for eight straight years (longer than the state’s cap has existed), strengthened our educational program with enhanced technology, took care of our infrastructure and continue to receive state and national attention for the exceptional program we provide,” she said. “More importantly, we did all of this under the cap, saving money for improvements instead of taking on new debt. I look forward in continuing to build on this excellence and feel that my experience can be helpful in moving in the positive direction this district has taken.”
Swensen, who will be running with Renner, feels the district is playing catchup almost three years after Mineola reconfigured.
“I want to be involved in the guidance of the district,” Swensen said. “I want to see that we are looking forward, to the future. We’ve gotten caught behind the eight-ball a little bit with the closures of these schools.”
Swensen championed the district’s usage of the Northwest Evaluation Assessment. Twelve districts on Long Island utilize the system, which analyzes state test scores to determine educational growth in students.
“NWEA provides teachers with a good evaluation of the students comprehension of the material,” Swensen said. “I believe teachers need to be evaluated. I’m a little concerned in evaluating them based on a bad set of numbers.”
Concerning the school budget, which currently sits at $89.4 million, a 1.37 percent tax levy increase from last year, Swensen points to the roughly 13 percent increase in state aid as a way to take burden off the taxpayers.
“We received a decent amount of state aid, yet we’re still seeing tax increases,” Swensen said. “I think we need to make sure that we’re always renewing our ability to review [school finances]. We need to make sure we’re spending responsibly and not a free way to pad our capital reserve.”
Renner has three children attending Jackson Avenue, Mineola Middle and Mineola High schools and served as president of the South Park Civic Association in Roslyn Heights. Renner is also a committee member of the Mineola Athletic Booster Club and an active organizer of fundraising events.
Renner began teaching in Jamaica, Queens in a preschool for special education before working for District 26 in Far Rockaway. She accepted a position in the Uniondale School District in 1997, teaching from kindergarten through fifth-grade special education classes.
“I think being an educator and being in the classroom is seeing firsthand what goes on, ” she said.
Renner suggests on top of the well-attended Common Core forums that have been held in Mineola over the last two years, the school district should help parents understand the curriculum and even rotate school board meetings outside of the Willis Avenue School for more outreach.
“Common Core is a curriculum that New York State adopted,” she said. “I think parents in Mineola have not been informed on Common Core curriculum versus the New York State. There’s a lot of myths.”
Widman, a constant at school board meetings, is looking for a different perspective on Thursday nights.
“I’ve been going to meetings around seven years now,” Widman said. “I’d like to have more of a say in what’s going on in the district and see how it looks from the other side of the table.”
While Widman is in agreement with many ongoings in Mineola he feels his computer science background would aide in its progression.
“The district is getting more technological,” Widman said. “They held the robotics competition this year. I’d like to see more of that.”
Widman plans to push back, as Mineola school reps have done recently, against tax breaks (PILOTS) for residential developers that hinders school districts from raising its tax levy if elected. School officials argue the ongoing apartment complex construction on Old Country Road and Mineola Village Board hearings concerning the proposed 266-unit Village Green, would leave the district little wiggle room in budget preparation and possible program cuts in the coming years.
While school’s receive revenue from proposed PILOTS, districts cannot use the funds in tax levy calculations.
“That doesn’t benefit the district as a whole at all,” Widman said. “I would prefer the district be reimbursed for however many students generated from the projects.”
A verbal tussle between the boards, with school officials claiming they were left out of the loop in negotiations of previous Mineola housing developments, dominated Village Green hearings. This preceded three years documents surfacing, which suggested advanced notice was given to the school district on multiple housing developments.
School reps in March argued the village’s recent downtown housing study would lead to an influx of 600 school-kids in future years. The village’s findings based on a 2006 Rutgers University report suggested less.
“Renner and Swensen’s ticket has already indicated that they were urged to run by the deputy mayor [Paul Pereira] of Mineola,” Barnett said. He claimed someone close to the campaign said as such. “Given the strained relationship between our two boards, my concern is it’s to eliminate our objections to Village Green finances and get an insider on the board.”