B’ville BOE candidate profile: Kevin M. Bernstein

Erin Smith 05/12/09More articles
The Board of Education seats are a hot commodity this year in Baldwinsville with six candidates vying for three seats.

The candidates are current Board President Kevin Bernstein, Cindy Cronin, James Goulet, Christopher Patrick, Burrill Wells and current board member Greg Wilcox.

Residents will have the opportunity to cast their votes during next week’s budget vote and board election. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday May 19 in the auditorium of Baker High School at 29 E. Oneida St. in the village. Once elected by the public, the board members will elect the president and vice president during the annual organizational meeting in July.

The Baldwinsville Messenger recently interviewed the candidates to see what issues they feel are facing the Baldwinsville Central School District. Featured below are candidate Kevin M. Bernstein’s responses:

Years living in Baldwinsville: 17 years

BOE Experience: I joined the board in July 2000.

Experience in the Educational Field: I have experience in education in several different ways. While at law school, I substitute taught history and social studies at the local high school. After graduating law school, I taught at Vermont Law School for two years. My wife Lauri is a special education teacher by training. I have taught at a University College program for paralegals. Finally, as a member of the board of education for the last nine years, I have learned a great deal about every aspect of education.

What makes you qualified to serve on the Baldwinsville Board of Education?
First, my experience on the board of education and in the community. Second, my experience in business and finance. Third, the fact that I am a taxpayer sensitive to the ever-increasing tax burden upon members of this community. Fourth, under my leadership, we have seen a school district flourish in terms of test scores, curriculum development, staff development, academic and athletic achievement.

Each board member brings his or her strengths to the table and I think as a taxpayer, business owner, attorney, spouse of an educator and parent of children who are in or have gone through our schools, I bring a diversity of experience and perspective to any discussion that comes before the board.

Fundamentally, however, I am running for re-election to the board because I believe that there is still work to be done, particularly on the issues I outline in the answer to the next question.

What are the issues facing the Baldwinsville Central School District?
Some of the challenges we face include:

1) continuing to provide a quality education to our children to help prepare them for life after school here in Baldwinsville in a very challenging and distressed economic situation.

2) continuing to strive to find additional ways to communicate better with district residents and staff. We have done this in many ways from our newsletter (the Beecon), our ConnectEd phone calls and e-mails, the improved Web site, involving the public in the budget process, and most recently to our paperless board documents on line. Part of this communication must be to correct the false impression given by the former board member referenced in a question below that Baldwinsville is somehow not a place where talented teachers and staff wish to work. That is not the case. We do have to strive to correct misperceptions about this issue. The fact is that while the Greater Baldwinsville community has a lot to offer and the chamber, village and town governments and others have been active in bringing economic development to the community, the school district is one of the primary reasons people move to Baldwinsville.

3) Financially, we must adopt responsible budgets and this year we think we have done a good job with a zero percent increase in the tax levy and an expected tax rate decrease.

4) We must continue to strive to make decisions regarding curriculum and the educational programs we offer to our children a result of a process that is inclusive and inviting to input from the community, from staff and from all of our administrators.

If elected, how do you intend to address those issues?
1) As a member of the board, I will request that the administration take a fresh look at curriculum programs to identify areas of need in a way that will best assist our general and special education students. Of course, this must be done in a cost-effective manner.

2) I will continue to look for ways that the board can communicate with the community, to get accurate information (not just information based on rumors or perception) to residents about a number of issues, most importantly about student achievement (the district web site, the Beecon and the newspapers all do a great job of this) to cost saving measures we are continually looking at (like energy efficiency). Also, I will continue to encourage members of the community to provide their input, in whatever form is most comfortable to them, to the board on any issue. Each board member has his or her own district e-mail address and we would like to see more residents take advantage of the opportunity to communicate directly with board members on issues they find important.

3) In terms of the budget, we live in difficult economic times. This year the federal stimulus monies made things a little less difficult and the financial markets are doing a little better, but the economy is far from out of trouble. Therefore, we have to look at budgeting from the perspective of what do we absolutely need, not necessarily what have we received in the past. That is something we will be looking at for next year's budget, where we again believe it will be a tough year in terms of state aid.

4) Over my next term, I will make it one of my paramount goals to ensure that, when curriculum programs are proposed, when there are changes in the curriculum and other important educational decisions are contemplated, there is an opportunity for appropriate input from effected constituencies.

When it comes to the district budget, what are your priorities?
As a member of the board of education, our top priority is to work with the funds we receive from the state and our taxpayers to educate our children with our fine, top quality staff. Having said that however, we must be especially sensitive to the tax burden on our taxpayers (and since I am a taxpayer, this affects me as well). So, an equally important priority of mine is to adopt a budget that is as lean as possible and which the taxpayers can support. To me, that means that we have to keep our budget increases to a minimum - this year, that is 1.03 percent. It also means that we have to keep our tax levy increases to a minimum - this year, no increase. Finally, it means that we have to keep our tax rate increase to a minimum - this year we expect a tax rate decrease of about one percent.

A former board member has raised a concern regarding the district's practice with regard to tenure, specifically that area college graduates are being dissuaded by advisors from applying to the district as they will be terminated before achieving tenure. What is your position regarding tenure for teachers?
Over the past few years, as president of the board, I have had the good fortune to address all of our staff at the opening of school. Each time, I say that it is my sincere belief that we have the best staff anywhere including teachers, teaching assistants, teacher's aides, clerical workers, food service employees, buildings and grounds personnel and transportation employees (including bus drivers). I think the former board member who raised this issue is wrong. I have talked with college advisors, other administrators from around the county, the BOCES District Superintendent, those who are in the job market, and reviewed the statistics and there is no basis in fact for the suggestion made by this former board member that graduates are avoiding the Baldwinsville School District. In fact, as noted below, for each job opening the district advertises, hundreds of applications are received. Tenure decisions are made after a new teacher has taught for three years. It is an important decision (which under the law, the superintendent must first recommend and then have the board approve or disapprove) that provides job security for the rest of a teacher's career (sometimes as long as 30 years). Such decisions should not be made lightly. Over the last several years, the tenure review process has changed and, at the direction of the board, administrators are providing teachers more feedback. If a college graduate is confident in his or her abilities and is a good teacher, then with the curriculum programs we have implemented and our great mentoring program, that teacher will not have a problem with receiving tenure. If for some reason a teacher must improve in order to receive tenure, we have systems in place to assist that teacher to make the improvement necessary to obtain tenure.

Each year, the district hosts numerous student teachers, who complete degree programs that lead to teacher certification. Le Moyne College, Syracuse University, SUNY Oswego and SUNY Cortland are among the colleges that consistently place their students in student teaching assignments in our district. In fact, many of these student teachers have specifically requested assignments in Baldwinsville. This is one reflection of our district's reputation for excellence.

Because of its reputation and competitive salary and benefits package, the district continues to be able to attract a large and well-qualified applicant pool for teaching positions. In fact, in the last two years, the district has received applications from well over 1,000 certified job-seekers, including 397 in special education, 250 in social studies, 110 in math and 786 in elementary education.

The statistics on tenure decisions also disprove the concern raised by the former board member. Since 2003, the district has hired 204 new teachers. Of that number, 90 percent have received tenure.

CATEGORY: General Education
EDITION: Baldwinsville Messenger

Rating: 2.4/5 (8 votes cast)

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