Five candidates challenge three incumbents in Port Washington ed board race

Five candidates challenge three incumbents in Port Washington ed board race
Vicce President Adam Smith (bottom left), Trustee Adam Block (top left) and Trustee Nanette Melkonian (right) are being challenged by five new candidates in the Port Washington Board of Education race. (Photo courtesy of the candidates, the Port Washington School District)

Three Port Washington Board of Education members will face off against five challengers vying for the board’s three seats up for election this May.

Board of Education President Adam Smith, Trustee Adam Block and Trustee Nanette Melkonian are all running to be re-elected for another three-year term.

Challenging the three incumbents are Sandra Alvarez, Michael Bitalvo, Teodora Choolfaian, Joseph Delerme and Elizabeth Weisburd.

Community members can vote for three trustees from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 21 in the Weber Middle School All Purpose Room.

Efforts to solicit comment from Smith and the challenging candidates were unavailing.

All three of the incumbents were elected to the board in 2021 when they ousted sitting board members President Nora Johnson, Vice President Elizabeth Weisburd and Trustee Larry Greenstein.

Smith works for a New York-based real estate investment and development firm. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for Temple Beth Israel in Port Washington.

Smith and his wife, Jenny, have three children who attend district schools.

Block is a professor of public health at New York Medical College. Block has a Ph.D in health economics from Harvard University and worked for five years on ObamaCare and five years in private practice for health plans and hospital systems.

He also operates his own business, Charm Economics, which builds financial models for digital health startups.

Block and his wife are both graduates of Schreiber High School and moved back to Port Washington in 2016. They have three children attending district schools.

He said he is “action-oriented” and has pushed the district to make strides and developments quickly.

“I think one of the things that I do well on the board is provide some urgency,” Block said in an interview with Blank Slate Media. “Which basically means, we’re not going to do this in three years, we’re going to do it soon – within the next year or so.”

Melkonian, along with her husband, Matt, moved to the area in 2000, with all three of their children passing through the Port Washington school district. She has spent time as an elementary, secondary and post-secondary special education teacher.

She serves as chair of the school district’s curriculum committee.

Melkonian said the philosophy that drives her actions on the board stems from two questions: What are we doing well and Where can we grow?

Block said the board has been effective in moving the school district forward over the past three years.

Accomplishments both Block and Melkonian highlighted included the establishment of the Twilight Program, which provides an alternative education setting for high schoolers who don’t thrive in traditional education settings.

Block also highlighted the after-school programs at the elementary schools to assist parents’ work schedules.

Another project Block and Melkonian have been working on is changing the homework policy on the recommended number of minutes of work for the first time in more than 20 years and is seeking to bring that policy to implementation if elected to another term.

An accomplishment Melkonian noted was the pupil personnel services audit to analyze services for students with disabilities and identify areas where further development is needed. She said now she wants to work to implement those initiatives identified if re-elected.

Melkonian said a goal of hers upon joining the board was bolstering communication with families and community members, which she said has been achieved through the addition of meeting summaries and providing translation services for all Board of Education meetings.

Priorities Melkonian identified are the further growth in professional development for teachers and fostering safe and supportive climates on campus for students. She said strides have been made in these areas but looks to continue their progress if re-elected.

“These initiatives have all begun and they’re in their infancy in a lot of ways, and I’d like to really help bring that progress along as an educator myself and as a person who has had three children go through the entire K-12 system,” Melkonian said. “I really understand the long view of our students’ experience here and can really bring some insights to the conversation.”

Going forward, Block said his goals are to increase consistency across the schools and their classrooms, observing differences as his twins go through the district.

Smith wrote on Facebook that the school board has experienced three years of “significant growth and achievement” while he’s served, and is seeking to continue that momentum by maintaining his seat on the board.

Also featured on the ballot is a vote to adopt the school district’s budget with a 4.55% tax increase that exceeds the tax cap by 1.16%. This requires a 60% approval vote to pass.

While the decision was difficult, Block and Melkonian said this was necessary to preserve programming and prevent impacts on students and staff.

Block said this tax increase amounts to about $200 per median household, which he found was more desirable than cuts the district would have had to make instead.

Melkonian described it as a decision that the board didn’t arrive lightly at.

Block applauded the district for its strong financial planning developments in the prior years and said he seeks to continue these efforts if re-elected.

“I want us to set us on a pathway so that we will have systems in place so that we have strong financial planning as a part of our DNA,” Block said.

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  1. No one reached out to me for comment or to solicit my opinion on any of the matters discussed. This is a puff piece that says more about the editor’s choices than about the upcoming election. The truth matters. Honesty and accountability too. The district is ridden with fiscal problems and inefficiencies. Please watch the YouTube BOE channel to familiarize yourself with the on the record discussions. There should be a hearing for the community to present the budget cap override, on May 6th unless the District and the Board attempt to scrap it (don’t)! The educational level has dropped dramatically as well since Covid. Our district is in trouble and the current Board has allowed for that to happen.

    • We attempted to reach out to you and all the other school board candidates in the one day we had after the Monday 5 p.m. deadline for submissions.
      But we were unsuccessful in reaching you. Other candidates reached out to us before the deadline.
      We have reached out to you and all the other candidates we were unsuccessful in reaching last week and will have a story focusing on those candidates who respond this week.
      We will also be doing stories May 10 and May 17 in addition to covering the results of the election on May 21 in our May 24 edition.

  2. How many districts need to “pierce the cap” this year?
    If Manhasset and Great Neck can keep their budgets within the cap, why can’t Port?

    Poor financial planning?
    Inquiring minds want to know


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