Four candidates vie for two seats in Floral Park-Bellerose trustee election

Four candidates vie for two seats in Floral Park-Bellerose trustee election
From left to right: Jaclyn O'Donohue, Linda Grein, Beth Kierez, Michele Vincent. (Courtesy of the candidates)

The Floral Park-Bellerose School District will be holding a contested trustee election May 21, as incumbents President Beth Kierez and Vice President Jaclyn O’Donohue face challengers for their seats.

Michele Vincent is running to replace Kierez, while Linda Grein is opposing O’Donohue.

The deadline to file a petition to run for the Board of Trustees closed Monday at 5 p.m.

District residents are set to vote on the proposed budget and elect two trustees May 21.

Kierez, the current president of the board, has lived in Floral Park since 2005. She is a high school assistant principal, Floral Park-Bellerose trustee and Sewanhaka trustee. She currently has four children in the district.

“Education truly is a passion for me. Making sure that children have a smile on their face at the end of the day, that they’re happy, that they’re enjoying school, that they’re enjoying learning,” Kierez said. “I think that if a child leaves school and they feel supported, that they feel socially emotionally well, that they feel at the end of the day that their voice matters, then you’ve done your job.”

Kierez said she has worked as an educator for more than 20 years. If re-elected, she hopes to continue to combine two schools into one seamless, holistic district and remain fiscally responsible while bringing in new academic programs.

She said she is happy with the current adopted budget. Kierez said her priority is to avoid piercing the tax cap by holding on to a small cushion in the budget.

“I think that my track record has proven as an educator and as an advocate for the last not just three years but 21 years that at the end of the day my goal is to always put the children first,” Kierez said.

Challenger Vincent has two children, a sixth grader and a second grader, in the district. She said she has more than 20 years of experience in social work and education and is an active member of the community.

She said she has served as the sixth grade co-chair for the PTA, a member of the strategic planning committee, a member of the John Lewis Child School shared decision-making committee, a member of the budget advisory committee for the district, the committee chair and den leader for Cub Scouts Pack 482, Vice President of the Wednesday Mother’s Club and a volunteer for Liz’s Day and the Hance Foundation.

Vincent said she will advocate for a full review of special education practices throughout the district as trustee. She said she will also push for more transparent discussions during board meetings.

“I will continue to advocate for equity within the district. While progress has been made, there continues to be noticeable inequities between the two schools,” Vincent said in a statement. “I will work tirelessly to align the two schools even further while maintaining the traditions unique to each school.”

For the vice president spot, both the incumbent O’Donohue and challenger Grein said they believe their career experiences make them a perfect fit for the board.

O’Donohue said she brings her own unique career experiences to the table.

“My career as a nurse has given me a unique perspective that I am pleased to share with the Board of Education, as well as the staff and families of our community,” O’Donohue said in a statement. “It is important to have a board with different viewpoints and one that is not entirely made up of educators.”

O’Donohue is a lifelong Floral Park resident who has served as a trustee on the Floral Park-Bellerose board during the past three years. She graduated from Floral Park Memorial High School and went on to achieve a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in nursing.

O’Donohue has three children in the district, a freshman at Floral Park Memorial High School and a fourth grader and first grader at John Lewis Childs School.

She has served as a member of the district strategic planning committee, president of the Wednesday Mother’s Club, board member for Liz’s Day, treasurer for Pack 482 Cub Scouts and Girl Scout troop leader.

She is a member of the John Lewis Childs PTA and the Floral Park-Bellerose PTA.

One standout accomplishment O’Donohue mentioned is the district-wide communication improvements during her three years as a trustee, such as offering board meetings via Zoom and hosting family meets and greets at all grade levels.

O’Donohue did not comment on the adopted district budget in her statement.

“In the future, I hope to have the Floral Park-Bellerose school district be the leader in educational excellence for all children. I want our district to be the one other districts look to as an example,” O’Donohue said in a statement. “With our excellent staff and strong community support, we have the capability to achieve anything for the betterment of our children.”

Challenger Grein said her extensive educational experience makes her a good fit for the board. She said she moved to Floral Park in 2019 with her husband and three young children. Her youngest twins are in pre-kindergarten and her oldest is in kindergarten in the Floral Park-Bellerose School District, she said.

Her husband was raised in Floral Park and she has grown to love the town and its sense of community.

“I knew he grew up in a really loving community that focuses on education … and I’ve been getting to know the community through my own eyes and my own experiences and have met some amazing people, some great friends,” Grein said.

Grein has worked a variety of jobs in the education industry. She was a teacher at public city schools in New York City and Boston, teaching first and second grade and working with special education teachers. She was the assistant principal at a school in Chicago, where she said the district was underperforming when she took the job and she left the school academically outperforming other nearby schools.

“It was around shifting the culture of belief around mathematics, an expanded definition of what it means to be good or smart at math, and then also providing a different form of instruction to kids, so that math was hands-on, engaging, connected to their life,” Grein said. “They felt like it had purpose.”

Her goal is to be a part of the same transformation in the Floral Park-Bellerose district.

As the district is preparing to implement a new math curriculum, Grein said she wants to get involved with the onboarding process of this new curriculum. She said she believes the curriculum resources in the district are not up to current research standards.

As far as the adopted budget, Grein said she does not have opinions on the budget yet.

“I would hope [residents would vote for me] if people are looking for someone with deep experience in education and fresh eyes to Floral Park,” Grein said.

During the trustee election, district residents will also be voting on the board’s adopted budget.

Floral Park-Bellerose board members adopted a proposed 2024-2025 budget of $39,539,684, which is up 1.72%, or $666,887, from the 2023-2024 budget of $38,872,797.

The proposed tax levy increase is 2.73%, which is under the state tax cap. This tax levy increase would cost taxpaying residents approximately $205 extra per calendar year, or $17 extra per month, Assistant Superintendent for Business Linda Macias said.

The district is expecting an increase in state aid. The adopted 2024-2025 budget estimates $9,804,446 in state aid, which is a 4.04% or $396,274 increase from the $9,408,172 in state aid included in the 2023-2024 budget.

The district will be seeing a drop in state aid from what Gov. Kathy Hochul initially proposed, yet will still maintain an overall increase. The district will go from a 4.97% increase to 4.18%, according to the state budget adopted by the New York State Legislature nearly three weeks late Saturday.

It is unclear how the new state budget will affect the current adopted budget.

Residents are set to vote on the budget and elect two trustee members on May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the John Lewis Childs School on Elizabeth Street in Floral Park and the Floral Park-Bellerose School on Larch Avenue in Floral Park.

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