Four school board candidates highlight strengths of Pelham district at forum, suggest changes they’d make

Four school board candidates highlight strengths of Pelham district at forum, suggest changes theyd make

The four candidates running for three Pelham Board of Education seats up for election May 21 highlighted the strengths of the Pelham School District during a candidate forum Tuesday, while suggesting specific changes each would like to make.

John Brice, Vincent Mazzaro, Leah Tahbaz and Steve Shekane are seeking the three trustee posts, each with three-year terms. Brice and Mazzaro are incumbents, serving as appointees since the summer following the resignations of Dr. Christa Acampora and Tom Imperato in July. Tahbaz and Shekane are seeking office for the first time.

“What I like most is the attention (the students) receive” in the district, said Shekane, who has been in Pelham since 2013 and has two children in the district, both of whom participate in the special needs program. “We have relatively small class sizes here in Pelham.” He also pointed to the component of the strategic plan covering the social and emotional well-being of children and said he would like to see more focus on that aspect.

Brice, who had previously served on the board for nine years, four of those as president, said, “The aspect of the district that I most like is the individual program.” He pointed to the experience his children had in high school with the ability to craft their own programs. The area Brice said he found least effective was the special needs program.

Brice has lived in Pelham for 34 years, and his children went to Pelham schools.

Tahbaz said communication is one strength of the district, noting the text notification system for high school students. “If elected, I will seek new platforms to communicate with the public,” she said.

Tahbaz, whose four kids have all been educated in Pelham and who has served in various volunteer groups, credited “the district’s ability to adapt to the changing community.”

“We represent the Pelham community,” said Mazzaro, who has lived in Pelham for 25 years and has five children attending or graduated from the district. His volunteering has been in local sports. “Their best interest is our best interest. The responsibility of a board is oversight.”

Brice voiced a similar view, saying, “Our role is to create really the best conditions for our school leadership, our faculty and staff to best perform their jobs.”

The candidates were asked how they would deal with opinions that differed from their own when serving on the school board.

All the candidates cited respect for others.

Tahbaz said trustees needed to put personal agendas aside. “In the context of the board, it is important for everyone to remember that we are serving the students of Pelham. The goal is to collaborate in a respectful way.”

“As an individual, you’re one vote, one voice, when you’re dealing with a board,” said Mazzaro. “It is operating as one unit.”

“A lot of times you really can’t (change opinions),” said Brice. “You have to appreciate that their point of view is heartfelt. But that doesn’t mean that you agree with it.”

On the topic of providing a quality education with climbing enrollment, Shekane said, “Eighty percent of our costs are people costs. It’s hard to cut those costs.” Other candidates reiterated this.

However, Shekane also said, “I believe that in any organization there are ways to extract savings.” He said that none of the district’s buildings have solar panels. “We have to put more money into special education.”

The budget vote and school board member election is scheduled for May 21 in the Pelham Memorial High School main gym. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters can visit the district website for more information on voter registration and absentee ballots.