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North Salem School Board Candidates Speak Out

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – Two of the three candidates running for the two open seats on the North Salem Board of Education attended a discussion on Wednesday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Judith Schurmacher and Paul Giamundo, both incumbents, answered questions posed by Harry MacLaughlin of the LWV. The challenger, William Papp, who was defeated in last year’s school board election, did not attend.

MacLaughlin first asked the candidates, “What should the school board’s priorities be in these difficult economic times?” Candidates were limited to 90-second responses.

Giamundo said, “The priority always has to be the students and continued achievement. We were able to come in under the cap this year and not diminish any of our programs because we planned three years back. A lot of districts have had painful eliminations. It’s really a juggling act.” He was referring to the 2 percent cap on property-tax increases imposed by the state Legislature earlier this year.

Schurmacher agreed and added, “As a board and as a team, we look at consistency, balance and budget. How to achieve and keep the same level of education that already exists. That’s our main focus and alway will be and I think we’re doing a good job of it.”

MacLaughlin’s second question was, “What special problems are there in the North Salem Central School District and how would you solve them?”

Schurmacher said, “I don’t think there is a specific problem. It’s a problem throughout the state. It’s the two percent. We’ve planned for years to bring the budget down to a normal and constant level. The two percent imposed by the state was forced on us, but we were well prepared.”

Giamundo said, “I agree. But I would add that, like other districts, we are faced with these unfunded mandates that come out of the blue. There seems to be no end to them. Many districts are being told, 'you have to do this and you have to do that and, by the way, you’re paying for it as well.' Not only school boards but parents have to get into the act of lobbying for us, talking to legislators to try to remove these unfunded mandates.”

From the audience, Board Trustee Deb D’Agostino asked both candidates to comment on the Annual Professional Performance Review.

Giamundo said, “It’s in effect and it’s another unfunded mandate. In concept, it’s fine but there are still many problems to be worked out.”

Schurmacher added, “It’s actually giving the district a bit more power on deregulating personnel. In the corporate world, if you don’t perform you don’t have a job or you go on probation. I think now teachers have motivation to learn the new techniques that this district is already well known for.”

Board Trustee Andrew Brown asked, “What hasn’t been touched in your tenures that you’d like to see brought to the board?”

Schurmacher said that communication between the board and the school administration was tenuous when she began her first term but “a good bridge has been made. The communication lines are open.”

Giamundo suggested that parents need to realize that they are neither bystanders nor supporters, they are partners with the school. “We need more parent involvement.”

Further topics raised by MacLaughlin included the importance of physical education and whether the board would consider overriding the state-imposed tax cap. A budget that exceeds the tax cap would have to be approved by 60 percent of the voters in a school budget vote.

Both candidates said that the board had done a good job of staying within the cap and hoped the need to exceed it would not occur. They both agreed, as well, that physical activities are a necessary and important part of every child’s education.

“It is part of our mission to address the whole child and it all works together, like a big puzzle,” said Schurmacher. “When you take one piece away the whole puzzle falls apart. It’s very important to keep that puzzle together.”

The vote on the 2012-13 budget and election of two school board members will take place on Tuesday from 7 a.m to 9 p.m., at Pequenakonck School, 173 June Road, North Salem.

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