Bedford School Candidates Talk Fiscal Issues, Geography

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The five Bedford school board candidates, pictured, gathered for a candidates forum.
The five Bedford school board candidates, pictured, gathered for a candidates forum. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Colette Dow, left, and Andrew Bracco, who are vying for a seat.
Colette Dow, left, and Andrew Bracco, who are vying for a seat. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
From left, Eric Karle, Brian Sheerin and Edward Reder. Karle is running for a seat with an unexpired term, while Reder and Sheerin are running for a seat with a full term.
From left, Eric Karle, Brian Sheerin and Edward Reder. Karle is running for a seat with an unexpired term, while Reder and Sheerin are running for a seat with a full term. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- Candidates for Bedford school board seats discussed fiscal challenges and the board's geographical makeup at a recent forum.

Four candidates –  Andrew Bracco, Colette Dow, Brian Sheerin and Edward Reder – took audience questions at Fox Lane Middle School on Thursday  May 1. The fifth candidate, Vice President Eric Karle, did not participate because he is running unopposed for his seat. For more details on the candidates, click here.

Howland Robinson asked whether the proposed budget overestimates expenses. Reder talked about unknown variables such as personnel departure or program cutting. He would like the district to finish with a surplus so it can be used to lower the tax levy.

Dow, who agreed that budgets are a “best guess,” was surprised at the number of items that have flat-lined. Bracco brought up variables such as the cost of health care. He also pointed out that the district's fund balance is diminishing. Bracco then discussed how the cost for teacher compensation has slowed down and noted success in dealing with the district's unions. Sheerin expressed concern about overestimating.

Candidates were also asked about program cutting from a community member.

Dow vowed to keep an open mind, neither committing to nor ruling out anything.

“I think that we need to look at any budget holistically,” she said.

Bracco, who is concerned about class size, is open to the possibility, while Sheerin gave his support for providing the most amount of services to the most amount of people. Reder praised the administration and board for their fiscal work, including contract renegotiations. For the future, he supports renegotiating the Board of Cooperative Educational Services contract and increasing advocacy efforts with the state government.

Joe Malichio asked about overriding the tax cap and union contracts. Only Bracco explicitly was open to an override, although he feels there has to be a plan behind it and reason to bring it to the public. He praised the administration for its negotiating role and in slowing down cost increases. Sheerin is concerned about the district's future deficit, while Reder spoke favorably of the administration for its role in bargaining. Dow, concerned about the district's future finances, feels there needs to be a long-term plan.

The issue of geographical representation on the board was raised.

Dow, who lives in Pound Ridge, mentioned the lack of representation from her town. Currently, the board has four Mount Kisco residents and three Bedford residents. The school district overlaps with five towns, including New Castle and North Castle.

Reder, who lives in Mount Kisco, said he was proud to represent all of the communities.

“I don't view my board seat as serving Mount Kisco.”

Malichio asked about changing the bylaws so that someone from each town is included on the board. Malichio, a Pound Ridge resident, is not pleased with the fact that nobody from his town serves on the board.

Sheerin gave support for the idea, although Dow supports a change so that board members are elected on an at-large basis. Under this system, the top vote-getters would win the available seats, rather than running for specific seats.

Reder and Bracco both opposed town-based representation.

Another topic raised was overcrowding at Mount Kisco Elementary School. Candidates acknowledged that it would be a priority, although none committed to ways to resolve it. Possibilities include redistricting or removing the district's pre-kindergarten program, which is housed in the building. The school's enrollment for 2013-14, according to October data, was 623. The district's other four elementary schools had enrollment in the 300 range.

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It should come as no surprise that the current board members continue to heap praise on this administration. That is why they need to go. We need a school board that "gets it." We are on the titanic and these people are rearranging the deck chairs. They send around a newsletter about how great a job they've done the last few years in keeping the budget increases to a minimum. Everyone on earth made cuts after the economy soured in 2008. And then we got a 2% tax cap law in NY. So, let's not hand any of them medals for doing what was EXPECTED of them (and easy). Susan Wollin has been there for 12 years. She should be embarrassed by some of the budget increases that were proposed over her tenure. The budget was $42 million in 1992. It has tripled in 22 years. And we've had FOUR bonds since 1997, equaling $128 million! Have our school rankings or enrollment increased in meaningful ways to justify this? Not even close. An utter disgrace.

And the superintendent should feel like he's working for the school board, not the other way around (as things currently are).

Vote for Sheerin and Dow on May 20th --or get ready for some frigid water.