Four hopefuls for four seats discuss spending, priorities
Beacon will hold its annual budget vote and trustee elections on Tuesday (May 16). The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Beacon High School and Glenham Elementary.
There are four open seats on the nine-member board, and four candidates: Anthony White and Kristan Flynn, who are seeking their fourth and third terms, respectively, and newcomers Semra Ercin and Eric Schetter. Craig Wolf did not seek re-election to a third term.
Three candidates will serve 3-year terms, and the candidate who receives the least votes will complete the final two years of the term of Antony Tseng, who resigned in March.
Ercin, who moved to Beacon in 2021 with her family, is director of development for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. She was formerly director of development at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Her two daughters attend South Avenue Elementary and her son attends Beacon High School.
Schetter, who grew up in Glenham and lives there, is a 1982 graduate of Beacon High School. A former biology teacher, he spent 25 years as an administrator in the Arlington school district, including 20 years as principal of LaGrange Middle School until his retirement in 2021. His two children both graduated from Beacon High School.
We asked each candidate by email to answer two questions, below.
Other than inflation, what is the most pressing issue facing the district, and why?
Semra Ercin: As an incoming candidate, I am in the process of gaining a deep understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities that the Beacon school district will address. With many pressing issues to consider, I will work to support school staffing on all levels in order to provide our students with the excellent academics that we are committed to offering. This also includes staffing support for workers that are not in the classroom, such as bus drivers, and other important positions that make it possible for students to access their education.
Another issue as we emerge from the pandemic remains the social and mental welfare of students. It is important to provide support services that help students improve relationships, enhance their mental health and thrive as citizens. I look forward to working with my peers and community to address and find solutions to upcoming challenges that we will face.
Kristan Flynn: Our biggest challenge is unifying a diverse community with competing interests under a common mission of serving all of the children who live here. We have new families who have paid more than $500,000 for their home who may not realize that the district receives a significant portion of its budget in state aid, rather than being exclusively funded by taxes because we also have families living at the poverty level. We are tasked with meeting the needs of pre-K through high school students who are racially, economically and neurologically diverse.
The systemic issues caused by the pandemic — learning loss and an ongoing teen mental health crisis — would be challenging enough, but we first need to bring a community that often lives within its own bubbles into a common culture that puts children first. We are laying the foundation but this work in some form or another will dominate the next several years.
Eric Schetter: One pressing issue facing the district is trying to maintain the resources that were provided to schools via COVID-19 funds, which ceases over the next two years. Beacon was able to add both remediation support and social/emotional learning support with this aid to help many children who suffered learning deficits during the pandemic. It will be important for the district to be creative to maintain as many of these services as possible, while at the same time being fiscally responsible.
Anthony White: The most pressing issue facing the district is ensuring that students’ mental health needs are being met. Since COVID, children’s mental health needs have increased. I believe, but have no data to support, that there is a direct correlation to social media. During the pandemic, social media was the main way to socialize as everyone was restricted with face-to-face interactions. Social media doesn’t turn off.
When I was in school, if I tripped in the hallway only a couple people would notice and chuckle. Today it is being filmed and posted on social media and unlimited people are viewing, and the child is being reminded of it over and over again. It creates white noise and doesn’t give children or young adults a break.
What can the district do to cut costs and otherwise weather inflation that’s higher than the tax cap?
Ercin: Though inflation is clearly still higher than the tax cap, the current budget is a responsible proposal based on the district’s goals and available funds. Additional aid received this year allows the budget to be appropriately supported. However, with the likely sunsetting of federal pandemic support measures in particular, the board will need to work together with all key stakeholders to find solutions to potential funding gaps, while continuing to meet the goals of the Beacon school district.
Being new to the board, I understand that inflation remains a concern that must be monitored closely, and I plan to deepen my understanding of the process and engage to find solutions to challenging economic issues that the district may face in the future.
Flynn: I don’t want to cut anything. We have been very strategic in making changes that we knew we could sustain long-term. Each year, through our budget, we decide how to invest in our priorities, and those priorities represent the avenues to have the greatest impact on students. This includes continuing to invest in teachers’ professional development, keeping class sizes small at the elementary level and expanding clubs and programming available to students outside of the classroom.
On the board’s Audit and Finance Committee, we are striving to find opportunities to reduce waste, improve how we operate on a financial level and plan for the future so we can continue to improve the student experience and hopefully be a place where people want to come and work.
Schetter: The idea of cutting costs within a school district usually results in the reduction of staff at some level. Salaries make up a major chunk of any school budget. This will be very difficult to accomplish, though, as we look to make our schools safer, provide more academic support and provide additional social/emotional learning services. We can always explore class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios at the elementary and secondary levels, though, in an attempt to be as efficient as possible with staffing. We will need to be creative, with the goal being to educate and foster a love for school in all of our students.
White: The district is being fiscally responsible and targeting instruction the students need to be successful after high school. To be honest, the district should continue to advocate for state aid and accentuate the great things that are going on here. If we had to make cuts it would need to be a collaborative effort, working with the community, teachers, administrators and all other constituents.