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Long IslandEducation

Bethpage school district


7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Bethpage High School.


The district proposes an $82,151,583 budget for 2016-17, a 1.17 percent increase from the current $81,203,591. The tax levy would decrease by 0.17 percent, from $62,099,127 to $61,993,934.

This decrease is equal to the district’s tax-cap limit of -0.17 percent, so a simple majority vote will be required to approve the budget. School taxes on the average single-family home were not available because of a lack of data from Nassau County, according to the district.

The proposed budget funds a contractual increase of 1.25 percent for teachers. Information on step increases was not released by the district.

A proposition asks voters for permission to spend $2.9 million from the capital-reserve fund for several initiatives, including building work and a STEM project at the elementary schools. Another proposition asks for permission to extend and expand the current capital-reserve fund that is set to expire in 2018. Neither proposition would have an effect on taxes, according to the district.

  • District website:


There are three by-seat positions open. Incumbent Kurt Spears is being challenged by Gene Mertz; incumbent Marie Swierkowski is being challenged by Matthew J. Hanley; and incumbent John Lonardo is being challenged by Ronald Paola. Lonardo, Spears and Swierkowski are running as a slate. Terms are three years.

Matthew J. Hanley

BACKGROUND: Hanley, 52, is an electrician. An 11-year resident of the district, he has an associate degree in science from a trade labor school in Manhattan. He is on the board of directors for Viper Lacrosse in Bethpage. Hanley has four children who attended or are attending district schools.

ISSUES: Hanley said he wants to serve on the board so he can help bring back programs to the students. He believes seventh- and eighth-grade sports programs that were combined should be separated. He said the lack of a separate seventh-grade team bothers him, because he sees waste in other areas, such as postage for mailing school newsletters that can be put online and emailed. “Whenever we cut money, it is always on the kids’ backs,” Hanley said. Other issues he noted included examining the possibility of giving tax breaks to local volunteer firefighters. “I don’t know if we can, but if I get on the board, I would tell them, ‘Come down so we can talk about it,’ ” he said.

John Lonardo

BACKGROUND: Lonardo, 50, has lived in the district for 28 years and works as a teacher’s assistant in the Locust Valley school district. He has a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Queens College, as well as a master’s degree in school counseling and a professional diploma in educational leadership and administration, both from LIU Post. Lonardo has two children attending district schools. He has been on the school board since 2013.

ISSUES: The biggest issue facing the district is staying within the state-mandated tax cap while continuing to offer a high-quality education, he said. “It is important to continue having a stellar school district with rich academic offerings, outstanding facilities, and in excellent financial shape,” he said, mentioning programs such as drama, athletics, music, and the Bethpage 21st Century Scholars program. Lonardo said the district has been able to work within the tax cap, but noted, “It’s a challenge.”

Gene Mertz

BACKGROUND: Mertz, 44, is a middle school teacher in the Bronx. A 10-year resident of the district, Mertz has a bachelor’s degree in communication arts from St. John’s University, and a master’s degree in education from Molloy College. He is a Bethpage Baseball Association board member. Mertz has three children attending district schools.

ISSUES: “I decided to run to help the community to make things better in the school district,” Mertz said. “One thing I want to do is to expand the middle school sports program.” He said he also wants to find a way to give tax breaks to volunteer firefighters in the district.

Ronald Paola

BACKGROUND: Paola, 48, is a lifelong resident of the district. A contractor, he has two children attending district schools. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Niagara University, and he is president of Bethpage Baseball Little League.

ISSUES: Paola said as a board member he would work “within the state’s tax-cap restrictions to protect our students’ programs and services.” For instance, he said he would like to institute an SAT program starting in the sixth grade to prepare students to score “hundreds of points” above the national average, so they are able to apply to better colleges. “I’m looking out for the kids’ futures,” he said.

Kurt Spears

BACKGROUND: Spears, 62, is a controller for a construction company. A 16-year resident of the district, he has a bachelor’s degree in political science from SUNY Oswego and a master of business administration degree from Hofstra University. Spears has three adult children who attended district schools. He has been on the board of education for a total of 12 years.

ISSUES: Spears said his accounting background has been helpful in dealing with the gap between the obligations of the district, including mandatory payments to the state’s pension and health care systems for teachers, and keeping all the important programs afloat. Programs for students, such as reading, are important to keep funded, and it is neither healthy nor cost-effective to drop them once they have begun, he said.

Marie Swierkowski

BACKGROUND: Swierkowski, 53, is a 31-year resident of the district. Her two adult children attended district schools. She is a senior account clerk in the Jericho school district and she serves as treasurer of the Bethpage Discovery Program, which provides child care before and after school. She is treasurer of the Plainview Republican Club and is a committee member with Boy Scout Troop 604. Swierkowski has been on the board since 2010.

ISSUES: Swierkowski says she wants to stay on the board to continue its work keeping taxes low while still providing “a great education” by cutting the budget, paying off debt, and hiring “teachers who love to teach.” She said the current school board is a cohesive one that works well. “We respect each other, and while we have differences sometimes, we are there for the community,” she said.

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