Manhasset ed board candidates talk staff retention, budget challenges

Manhasset ed board candidates talk staff retention, budget challenges
Marianna Bruno and Maria Pescatore were elected to the Manhasset School District's Board of Education. (Photo courtesy of the Manhasset School District)

The three newcomer candidates running for the Manhasset Board of Education identified issues like staff retention and fiscal responsibility within the district at a forum Wednesday, all identifying a passion to take these on if elected to the board.

Eileen Bauer, Marianna Bruno and Maria Pescatore are all running for two open seats on the board of education. The two seats are left by Vice President Jill Pullano and Trustee Erin Royce who are not seeking re-election.

The three answered community questions during a forum Wednesday hosted by the League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset.

Bauer, a 16-year resident of Manhasset, has two children in the Manhasset School District. She worked in directed consumer marketing, working for companies like Saks 5th Avenue and Coach. She has been a teacher for the past 14 years where she has taught classrooms including English language learners and special education students.

If elected, Bauer said she would focus on fostering excellence for students and staff, fiscal responsibility and greater transparency.

“I’m running for the Manhasset school board because I believe that my unique background will allow me to offer workable solutions that tackle the ever-evolving challenges and the changing landscapes of our schools today,” Bauer said.

Bruno, who has four children in the school district, is a healthcare professional and patient advocate. She said in this role she oversees a multi-million dollar budget, team management and policy oversight.

Bruno’s three campaign focus points are academic excellence, resource transparency and budget oversight.

“I am truly passionate about making an impact wherever I can,” Bruno said.

Pescatore previously worked in construction management, where she oversaw budgets, bidding process and business operations. She has three children attending district schools.

Pescatore said her involvement in the school district so far would lend her to bring an “insider perspective” to the ed board. She said responsibility and accountability are the values driving her vision as a school board trustee.

“If elected, I will continue to do what I’ve done since day one: champion for all of our children, work tirelessly to ensure the best educational experience possible,” Pescatore said.

Bruno said staff retention is one of the biggest challenges the district is facing, saying it should be a focus on not only keeping top talent but also drawing them in to join the district.

Bauer and Pescatore agreed, with Bauer saying that finding a solution requires a deeper analysis.

“There’s some digging to be done into looking why we’re not potentially retaining that talent and to see what we need to do from the top down to make sure that our teachers are inspired, that they are happy and that they are doing the very best they can every day because that will translate into our students being happy students, successful students and learning in a way that is exciting to them,” Bauer said.

Pescatore echoed that staff retention is an issue that affects everyone in the district from the top down.

One resident posed that a potential reason for the turnover is a poor relationship with the school’s administration.

Pescatore said through conversations with staff she has found a disconnect, and resolutions can be sought through listening to employees.

Bauer said while she is not informed of the root of the issue, it is the board’s responsibility to find out and address it. Bruno said the root of the issue can be sought out through candid conversations.

Bauer said another district challenge is its budget, which needs finer attention to make budgetary changes.

In light of the district’s budget that cuts 14 teaching assistant positions, Bruno said more budget cuts are to be expected next year and will require a more holistic view to mitigate effects.

Bruno and Pescatore said the district needs to monitor the impact of removing those teaching assistants over the next year to mitigate student impacts.

All candidates said a deeper analysis needs to be taken of the budget next year to plan for future financial stresses.

The candidates also stressed that more needs to be done to aid students seeking alternative career paths and supporting students overall.

Pescatore, who said she has a child who is not on a track of higher education, said there needs to be more positive affirmation and opportunities for students who seek alternatives to college after graduation.

“I think it’s very important that kids feel comfortable in whatever career path they choose,” Pescatore said. “And they have to see that it’s not taboo or incorrect that they feel that they want to be an electrician, a mechanic, a body shop owner. Whatever that may be, we should continue encouraging that in addition to attending college.”

Bruno said conversations can be shifted in the schools to foster diverse post-grad opportunities and amplify exposure to these career paths. Examples she included were providing a wider array of trades at local career fairs and inviting local tradespeople to present at the schools.

“I think as they see it within their community and are exposed to it, it builds that comfort level and that confidence,” Bruno said.

Bauer agreed that more can be done for these students, adding that mental health services can also be amplified to ensure students feel accepted amid high academic competition. She said one way to offer this is through teachers’ connections with students to aid them in finding their right path.

Eligible voters can vote for two of the three candidates and the school district’s $111 million budget on May 21 from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. in the high school gymnasium.

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