The combined Parent-Teacher Associations of Wantagh School District and the League of Women Voters joined forces on May 7 to present the four candidates running for two open seats on the Wantagh School District Board of Education.
The event, which was held in the auditorium at Wantagh High School, was attended by an estimated 100 members of the community, who submitted written questions in advance.
Two seats, currently held by Trustee Kera McLoughlin and board President Peter Mountanos, are being contested by Tara Cassidy, a certified public accountant, and attorney Laura Reich.
Cassidy, who moved to Wantagh in 2008, works as comptroller at Tin Box, a local wholesaler based in Farmingdale.
Reich (pronounced “Reesh”), a labor and real estate lawyer who has lived in Wantagh since 2004, has extensive experience as a volunteer member and officer in a variety of community organizations, including the Wantagh Elementary School PTA and the 6-12 Association. She was honored by this year’s Miss Wantagh court as a “Woman of Wantagh.”
Both Cassidy and Reich have children in the Wantagh school system.
Trustee McLoughlin is a former social studies teacher at Massapequa High School and has three children — one at each level — in Wantagh Schools, including one in special education programs.
Mountanos, a Wantagh High School graduate, came to the board while still a freshman at New York University. Now employed as a software engineer, he assumed the board presidency at the beginning of the last term in 2016.
Questions from the audience covered a range of topics, from the specific to the philosophical.
Asked what the role of a board trustee should be, Reich, speaking first, said she believed a trustee should “be involved with the administration, help to develop new curriculum and work to be part of the process.”
Cassidy added that she wanted to “work to maintain the tax cap without taking away from our children.” She said a trustee is “supposed to represent the whole community, taking into account the needs of everybody.”
McLoughlin said she sees the role of trustee as similar to being on the board of a corporation. “We don’t do the day-to-day operations; we help set the mission and the vision and then hire the best people we can to carry that out.” She added that as part of the team that hired current superintendent John McNamara and his assistant superintendents, she was proud of the choice the hoard had made.
Mountanos agreed with McLoughlin’s assessment and emphasized the need for “continuous improvement.” He added that the board is “responsible for the learning environment for our students.”
When asked which district programs they would eliminate and which additions or changes they would like to see, all agreed that they would cut nothing from the current offerings. McLoughlin said the restructuring of the district’s administration had been an important achievement, along with the addition of new social workers. Mountanos added that the rotation of classes had enabled the district to offer more courses without increasing expenses, because courses are not offered every year. They also stressed the addition of the Advanced Placement Capstone class — a two-year college-level course that is open to any student from grade 10 and up.
All agreed they would like to see more special education programs.
Other questions concerned the candidates’ qualifications as fiscal managers; how best to communicate with the district’s 17,000 voters; and how to justify school expenditure to the estimated 40 percent of the district’s residents who have no children in school and who already bear a heavy property tax burden.
All agreed with McLoughlin that reaching out to the community via forums and roundtables was constructive. Mountanos admitted, however, that efforts to engage community members outside of board meetings had thus far been “underwhelming. We could do better.” He pointed to the recent “Intergenerational Dinner” as one example of an innovative approach to community outreach. At that event, students from the cast of the high school’s production of “Footloose” shared a BBQ meal and raffle with some of the district’s older residents before entertaining them with the show.
The candidates agreed that the district has been well-run in the past three years, with a top-shelf administrative staff. Candidates Cassidy and Reich were eager to join what both agreed is a winning team.
“I just feel this is my time to serve,” Reich said in her closing remarks.