TODAY'S PAPER
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Long IslandEducation

North Merrick school district

VOTING

2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday at Harold D. Fayette School.

THE BUDGET

The district proposes a $30,757,827 budget for 2016-17, a 2.75 percent increase over the current $29,936,000. The tax levy would rise by 1.35 percent, from $21,100,460 to $21,384,450.

This increase is within the district’s tax-cap limit of 1.61 percent, so a simple majority vote will be required to approve the budget.

School taxes on the average single-family home would increase by 1.32 percent, from $4,344.43 to $4,401.71.

The proposed budget includes a contractual increase of 0.75 percent and an average 1.09 percent step increase for teachers. Current staffing and program levels would be maintained.

  • District website:

nmerrickschools.org

THE CANDIDATES

There are three by-seat positions open. Incumbent Wendy Gargiulo is being challenged by Paul Leavin, while Jennifer Hyland and Lori Spilabotte are running for a seat, and John Pinto and Lissa Zukoff are running for a seat. Terms are three years.

Wendy Gargiulo

BACKGROUND: Gargiulo, 46, is a lifelong district resident. She attended Nassau Community College and is a consultant for nonprofit associations. She was elected to the school board in 2010 and also was appointed to the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District Board of Education, where she has served for the past two years. Gargiulo has three children who have attended or are attending district schools. She was president of the Camp Avenue Elementary School PTA for two years before being elected to the school board, and also was a Girl Scout leader. Gargiulo is a coach for the League of YES, a baseball program for special needs children.

ISSUES: Gargiulo said the biggest issue facing the district is a “transition in leadership” because the district expects to appoint a new superintendent by the end of the school year. “I know the community,” she said, “and I can relay any community and parent concerns and help guide the superintendent.” Gargiulo said that she saw the direct consequences of the Common Core rollout because they took effect while her son was a sixth-grader. “He had to relearn everything,” she said, adding: “As a board trustee I am obligated to follow the law and the mandates. However I have opted my own child out because there’s no educational benefit for the children and the test scores shouldn’t be tied to teacher evaluations.”

Jennifer Hyland

BACKGROUND: Hyland, 45, is a self-employed telecommunications consultant and salesperson. She has lived in the district for four years. Hyland has a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant administration from New York Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in telecommunications and information management from New York University Tandon School of Engineering. Hyland is a member of the school board’s citizens budget advisory committee and is chairwoman for the Camp Avenue School PTA’s Spanish-language teaching program. She is a class mother at Camp Avenue School, a Girl Scout co-leader, and an assistant coach for the Merrick PAL travel soccer team. Her two children attend district schools.

ISSUES: Hyland said she is an active participant in school board meetings, which has helped her “understand the culture” of the district. “It is extremely important to me that we keep the programs for our students within the budget constraints we have each year,” she said. Hyland said she did not opt her daughter out of state testing, but added that, “I appreciate the opt-out movement and would like to see reform in current testing procedures.” She explained: “I believe that some of the testing is flawed, and that there is a general overemphasis on testing. I also believe that the school board should represent the entire community and continue to pressure Albany for reforms, while keeping politics out of classrooms.”

Lissa Zukoff

BACKGROUND: Zukoff, 46, has lived in the district for nine years. She is the secretary for the special education department for a Herricks district school. She graduated from Mamaroneck High School and her three children attend district schools. She currently serves as president of the Old Mill Road School PTA and as special-education chair of the Nassau Region PTA. Zukoff was co-president of the North Merrick Special Education PTA from 2011 to 2015. She is a life member of Hadassah and a member of its Dayan Lilah chapter in Merrick.

ISSUES: Zukoff said that the district is “in a great deal of flux” with two school board members not seeking re-election and the school superintendent retiring. “I see this as a great opportunity for growth in the North Merrick school district because with new people always come new visions and new ideas,” she said. Zukoff said as a mother of young children attending district schools, she is “well aware of the district strengths as well as the challenges we face in today’s educational landscape.” She also said she has “the leadership experience and practical knowledge necessary to help implement any changes.”

Paul Leavin

BACKGROUND: Leavin, 70, has lived in the district for nine years. He is an attorney specializing in family law. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Swarthmore College, a master’s degree in theater from Hunter College, and a law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. He is a court-appointed legal guardian for disabled adults and an attorney for children in custody disputes.

ISSUES: Leavin said he would work to “unify” the board. “Disunity and conflict on the board is the most important issue I will face if elected,” he said. He cited his experience as a negotiator, saying he would listen and “learn from all points of view.” Leavin said: “Success for our children requires collaboration between the parents, administration, teachers and staff in our three schools.” He said, “I know about business and negotiating contracts, and I can help protect our tax dollars and make sure that they are used wisely.”

John Pinto

BACKGROUND: Pinto, 53, has lived in the district for 49 years. He is an operations manager for American Printing Converters in Uniondale, and graduated from Calhoun High School. He was the Police Athletic League lacrosse director from 2006 to 2015, and president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 17 from 2012 until 2014. He previously served on the North Merrick school board from 1996 to 2010, and as board president from 2004 to 2006. He was appointed to the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District board, where he served from 2003 to 2009. Pinto has four children that attended or are attending district schools.

ISSUES: Pinto said his experience as a former school board member can help the district as it hires a new superintendent. “I was a North Merrick trustee when the last superintendent was hired,” he said. “I feel that I could help in the transition.” Pinto said that one of the challenges facing current students is “over-testing.” He said, “We must maintain and preserve local control over the district” because, he said, “I believe local communities know what’s in the best interest for the children.”

Lori Spilabotte

BACKGROUND: Spilabotte, 41, has lived in the district for 13 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Quinnipiac College and is a licensed physical therapist who works with special-needs children in Long Island school districts. Spilabotte’s two children attend district schools. She is the cubmaster for Cub Scout Pack 123, and has chaired a number of events for the North Merrick PTA. She also is a class captain at Harold D. Fayette Elementary School.

ISSUES: Spilabotte said she has “tirelessly” educated herself about “high-stakes testing and the Common Core curriculum,” and added that she supports “a parent’s right to opt out of testing.” Spilabotte said that if she is elected, “having a board of education trustee like myself that truly understands these issues will continue the forward momentum of the opt-out movement and foster lifelong learners.” She said she is “in favor of a more hands-on learning curriculum, less testing and test prep, so our children will love to learn again.”

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