East Williston BOE candidates differ on district’s performance

East Williston BOE candidates differ on district’s performance
Incumbent trustees Leonard Hirsch and Robert Fallarino and challenger Eswar Sivaraman are running for the East Williston Board of Education. (Courtesy of the candidates)

Incumbent trustees Robert Fallarino and Leonard Hirsch and newcomers Denise Tercynski and Eswar Sivaraman are competing for two seats on the East Williston Board of Education in the May 21 election.

Candidates are running to secure a three-year term.

Fallarino, who currently serves as the vice president of the board, is running for re-election and Tercynski is challenging him for his seat.

Fallarino, a trial attorney who has lived in East Williston for more than 20 years, has four children who have attended schools in the district. His own interest in education extends throughout his family.

“I have been on the board for 15 years so obviously I have a passion for education and I have a sister who’s a teacher and now I have a son who has become a teacher,” Fallarino said, “and at the beginning of my tenure on the board, for the first couple of years, I was a swing voter on a very divided board. Since that time, I’ve learned how to build consensus and navigate the fiscal concerns with the educational concerns.”

If re-elected as trustee, Fallarino said he wants to concentrate on helping students prepare for the workforce by guiding them toward internship opportunities and providing resources to prepare for interviews. The trustee said he is excited about academic advancements in robotics, computer science and STEAM programs in the district and wants to continue pushing these programs forward.

“My biggest concern is making sure everyone in the community is on the same page and make sure that everyone knows how transparent we are and all that we do and how balanced and fair we are in terms of our distribution of costs across all spectrums,” Fallarino said.

The East Williston resident said one of the changes made during his time on the board that he is most proud of is moving algebra and earth science courses into the eighth grade. He said this change puts all students on an advanced track, which allows them to fit more fun electives and Advanced Placement courses on their schedule in high school.

Fallarino said he has been in absolute agreement with the district budgets in past years. He said the district is fiscally responsible with consistently low tax levies.

“The years that I’ve been on the board I think have established the community can trust the sound judgement that I have,” Fallarino said. “I was a calm voice and navigated us through when I was a swing vote on a contentious board and I can do the same with any contentious issue that pops up in the future and, more importantly, making sure we always steer clear and keep the children in mind first.”

Efforts to reach competitor Tercynski were unavailing.

Trustee Hirsch is running for re-election and Sivaraman is challenging him for his seat.

Hirsch, an accountant who has lived in Roslyn Heights since 2008, has one tenth-grader in the district and one child who graduated from the district.

Prior to serving on the board, Hirsch put his financial expertise to use while serving on a financial advisory committee and audit committee within the district. He said he recognized the skills he could offer the district and took the opportunity to run for the Board of Education in 2012.

If re-elected as a trustee, Hirsch said he would continue supporting technology and science research efforts, such as the construction of new science labs at The Wheatley School, which he said will be built this summer and completed by the start of the 2024-2025 school year. Like Fallarino, Hirsch said he wants to prioritize bringing in internship and networking opportunities for the high schoolers. The trustee said he would continue to oversee improvements to the athletic programs and safety and security measures, as well.

Hirsch said his biggest concern for the district is the long-term effects of the pandemic and increased social media use.

“Students and adults alike really spend a significant amount of time on phones and watching videos and not really engaging, so I’m very concerned about that,” Hirsch said. “I want to make sure the district continues to make a focus so that people can find a community within our district and make those connections, whether they’re academics, clubs, athletics…where students can find their place.”

Hirsch said one way the district encourages this sense of community is by making adjustments to offerings based on which clubs students are joining and which clubs receive less interest.

Like Fallarino, Hirsch said he is proud of the district budgets in recent years. The district has stayed within the tax cap during his entire tenure, Hirsch said, and the debt balance has reduced from $13 million down to about $2 million. Hirsch said when he first joined the board in 2012, the school faced a wash of changes: the introduction of the state tax cap, the common core curriculum and new teaching standards. However, he said since the board plans ahead and has a strategic plan in place, they are able to conquer these challenges.

“My passion really has grown well beyond sort of the financial aspects of the district and I’ve had the opportunity to have a front row seat to see the district in action across so many facets and just wanting to be a champion for our children has just really engulfed me over the years,” Hirsch said.

Sivaraman is challenging Hirsch for his current trustee seat.

Sivaraman has been an East Williston resident for seven years. He has three kids currently in the district: a high school senior, a high school sophomore and a kindergartner. Sivaraman is the head of research and development at Dentsu International, a global marketing and advertising agency. He has a background in data science and analytics.

Sivaraman said board members need to become more active and willing to question choices passed down by administration. With a background in mathematics, Sivaraman said he questions things for a living.

“There’s a certain indifference that I’ve observed in the board in the context of being responsive to residents,” Sivaraman said. “They don’t question the administration.”

Sivaraman said his biggest concern for the district is academic performance, which he said is evidently slipping.

And despite district performance faltering in his opinion, Sivaraman said that the district budget and cost per student is still high. According to last known student enrollment, East Williston per pupil spending was $42,627 in the 2023-2024 school year.

Sivaraman said a problem with current academic performance is that the school experience is not a uniform one for all students. He said the experience is “average” and “mediocre” and no longer “superior” or “outstanding.” He said he thinks the Math Department at East Williston is good, but he is concerned about other departments and the lack of transparency in hiring standards.

Sivaraman said he has spoken to district parents who have chosen to send their children to private schools. He said this problem is a slippery slope that the board must address.

He said he has not noticed any board members who come from an academic or otherwise “rigorous” background, and believes his career in research science will be an asset.

He said he believes there is a sense of “fatigue” among board members when they view proposed budgets because they have seen so many budgets over the years. Smaller budget items that need increases might seem miniscule to the board, but to residents like him that are unused to multimillion dollar budgets, these increases are substantial, Sivaraman said.

The district will hold a budget hearing May 13 at 8 p.m. at The Wheatley School at 11 Bacon Rd., Old Westbury. Board members will present a proposed budget at the meeting.

District residents are set to vote on the budget and elect two trustees May 21 between 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at The Wheatley School.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here