With less than two months to go before district officials name a new superintendent, parents and teachers posed some questions this week to three candidates who want the job.
Among them: How would they keep costs down in the growing district? Do they have experience working in a bilingual community?
Board of Education members were joined by concerned members of the community as they broke up into small groups in a Port Chester High School classroom, holding individual talks with the three hopefuls.
The candidates are current Assistant Superintendent of Schools Frank Fanelli, who has worked in the Port Chester School District since 1972; Edward Kliszus, superintendent of schools in Hackensack, NJ; and Charles Khoury, who has been an administrator in Ardsley for three years.
The small groups were tasking with asking tough questions and jotting down the answers, which will be used by the school board when members make a final hiring decision.
Linda O’Connor, president of the Port Chester Teacher Association, quizzed Kliszus on teacher contracts and how he'd handle the needs of a diverse student population.
The latest statistics by New York State show Hispanic and Latino students account for 74 percent of the academic population during the 2009-2010 school year, and the majority learned English as a second language.
Fanelli has spent his entire career working in the village, and touted his familiarity with the district and its needs.
"I’m already here, so there won’t be a missed beat," Fanelli said. "I don't need to reinvent myself [for this postion]; I need to accelerate myself."
Kliszus acknowledged Port Chester has unique challenges, but said that shouldn't hold the district back from reaching for the same goals as its more wealthy Westchester neighbors.
“Everyone has to have same high expectations. [This district] is more complex than Scarsdale—they don’t have to worry about such things,” he said.
“Hackensack has 55 percent Latino and Hispanic students. We had all the newsletters go out as bilingual as well as our school webpage.”
Although Ardsley doesn't have as many demographic similarities, Khoury said parents all want the same thing, regardless of their ethnicity or background.
“I like to focus on the commonalities to every school—parents want best for their children and they send them to school because they want them to have a better life," he said. "As you move up in the administration, you are responsible for that need and knowing the aspirations of every parent.”
And then there's the tax cap. As state leaders move closer to making the 2 percent property tax cap a reality, school leaders will have to figure out ways to keep costs down.
Fanelli said he would cut money from things like building upkeep to avoid slashing school programs.
“Our schools have never looked better physically. It would hit the infrastructure [if there was a tax cap]—because the last thing we would do is take money away from kids,” he said.
Final interviews with these three candidates will be held this Friday.