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School board candidates offer ideas

PENN YAN—The Penn Yan Central School District held its Meet the Candidates Night Monday, May 6 in the elementary school cafeteria. More than 20 people attended the event to meet the five different candidates running for three seats on the school board. Current board members Jeff Morehouse, Jeff Bray, Kathy Guenther and candidates Phyllis Record and David Willson each answered questions by moderator Connie Covert.
The candidates varied in opinion on the top issues they believe the district is currently facing. Record said one of the top issues for the school district is finding creative ways to come up with funding, while also supporting the teachers and support staff who help them. Willson said teachers are feeling the pinch felt in the business world a few years ago, and the school district often squanders pennies that could add up over time. He said the district needs to stand behind its teachers and support them during a time when everybody has to do with a little less.
“The children in the classroom today are not the same children who were there 25 years ago,” Bray said.
He said many districts including Penn Yan face issues of not getting enough funding from the state, and the board needs to be creative with their cuts so as to lessen the impact it has on students. Bray said he would also like to take a look at busing and route consolidation as a means to save money. Guenther cited the future of online testing as a top concern for the district, saying the board has to learn how to give students the best education they can get while also addressing their budget concerns. Morehouse said the school district performed a shared services study with nearby districts to help save $197,000 as a way to make up for the unfunded state mandates the district must face.
Another hot issue was the potential closing of the middle school. Bray said he does not want to close the school until they absolutely have to because it will only work when the time is right, instead of  “force-fitting” it into the community. Guenther said they would not be unable to fit all students into two buildings currently, but due to lower enrollments, closing the middle school is something the district will have to “think about very intensely” in a couple more years.
Willson said the district needs to look at the things other than just classrooms the district will lose, including sporting fields, a basketball court, a gymnasium and auditorium that will have to be accounted for. Morehouse said if attendance falls too low, they will not be able to keep it open, but if in the future it comes to merging with another school district the building could come into play. Record said it would be sad to see the building close, but there could be other uses for the building as well.
“With the way the budget is, you have to save money where you can,” Record said.
When asked about teacher evaluations, Morehouse said Superintendant David Hamilton and the district were “ahead of the annual professional performance review (APPR) curve.” He said while it puts additional stress on teachers, it is a good thing and he is glad to see it come. Record said Penn Yan has excellent teachers, and anyone who has a job needs to be evaluated in some respect.
Bray agreed the community was ahead of the curve in evaluations, but said it is difficult for teachers because they can only affect their students while they are in the classroom, making them unable to ensure students are studying or doing their work at home as well. Guenther said it is difficult because administrators are spending less time with students than they have before, while also accounting for the fact some groups are more dedicated to their schoolwork than the classes that come before or after them. Willson said he agreed with the need for evaluation, but said there needs to be accountability not just on the teachers, but all the way down.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Willson said.
When asked about the current budget, Willson and Record said they both supported the current budget, but had additional ideas on how the district could have done things differently. Willson said while he does not think the increases are outrageous, he said the board may be able to cut in different areas while teaming up with other districts when it comes to purchasing supplies or offering advanced placement classes online. Record said she has been on the other side and knows how hard it can be to come up with the money, but also said she believes the money that was saved was “made on the back of the smaller people” and does not agree with where all the cuts were made.
Cutline: The five candidates running for three seats on the Penn Yan school board spoke during Meet the Candidates Night Monday, May 6 to discuss their views on issues affecting the school district. Pictured from left to right: Kathy Guenther, David Willson, Jeff Bray, Phyllis Record and Jeff Morehouse.





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