Attendance was light at Tuesday's Northport BOE Meet the Candidates Night, hosted by the PTA Council. Four candidates are vying for three open seats. Incumbents Stephen Waldeburg, Jr. and Donna McNaughton, along with local attorney David Badanes and financial planner Jim Maloney answered a number of questions from moderator Jennifer Labruna.
On the question of the Board's role, McNaughton, who has served for the past three years, put students' needs first, followed by fiscal responsibility. She also emphasized the importance of being willing to work within the nine member Board. "You have to respect different points of view and be willing to negotiate."
Waldenburg, who has served on the Board since 2000, agreed that the Board needs to act together to create sound policies, and likened it to a legislative body which guides and directs the administration.
Badanes, who currently serves as a director on the Northport Chamber of Commerce and has lived in the district for 15 years, disagreed. "I will try to compromise but I can't vote just to get a 9-0 vote," he said.
Maloney, who moved to the district almost six years ago, agreed. "I too am not one to side with someone just to side." He stressed the importance of listening to the community to make educated decisions.
All four candidates agreed that their first priority was the education of children. Badanes wanted to look at other districts for ideas and Maloney emphasized the need to maximize budget dollars for the benefit of students.
McNaughton, who said she would never vote 9-0 "just for the sake of 9-0", said mandate relief was a top priority. "Education can't exist the way it is if we don't get mandate relief."
Maloney was the only candidate who said he did not support the proposed budget because of the size of the reserves. "When do we stop putting money in reserves?"
Badanes said he wasn't in favor of a zero percent levy, calling it "fiscally irresponsible" but said he would have supported a 1.5 percent levy.
McNaughton noted that the budget is already utilizing 23 percent of the reserves, and that the Northport-East Northport district was average in terms of reserves when compared with other neighboring districts.
"This Board went through hell and high water to identify what every line item meant," Waldenburg said, referring to the three long budget review meetings which lasted until the early hours of the morning. He noted that the unassigned fund balance, or "rainy day fund" which is reserved for unplanned expenses, would only run the district for two weeks. "I don't think we're over-reserved."
On the proposal of bringing drug-sniffing dogs to Northport High School for random drug sweeps, Badanes was the only candidate to oppose the idea, saying he felt it was a violation of the fourth amendment and could possibly stigmatize a student. In response to a question from the audience as to how it could be a violation when the sweeps would be random and untargeted, McNaughton said that the Board had wrestled with the same questions when the Suffolk County Police Department had presented the program. She said that the lockers belong to the school, and the sweeps would be conducted anonymously while students were in class so that no one would know their identify if something were found.
Badanes remained unconvinced. "I respectfully disagree."
Badanes was also asked how he has kept up to date on matters of the Board given the fact that he has only attended three Board meetings as of the time he had filled out his application. Badanes replied that he has read all the Board minutes from the past two years and has met with current members as well as former trustee Rob Ingraham to gather more information.
When asked if he had anything to add to the question of keeping up with Board issues, Maloney, who has attended nine school board meetings since the start of the school year, said no.
McNaughton, who has attended Board meetings since 2004, noted that she has also attended meetings in Harborfields, Kings Park, Elwood and Commack. "I think it's important that we're out there listening."
Waldenburg said he first got involved by participating in the advisory committee so he could see how the district operated. He also said he appreciated that Badanes has been reading all the minutes.
A PDF of the district's Meet the Candidates issue is attached to this article.
Residents will have an opportunity to vote for the candidates on Tuesday, May 15.
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