Two contested races headline voting day at Floral Park-Bellerose

Two contested races headline voting day at Floral Park-Bellerose
The Floral Park-Bellerose UFSD currently has a projected budget of $36 million for the upcoming fiscal year. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Two contested races headline the ballot for the Floral Park-Bellerose Union Free School District alongside propositions for two schools budgets and capital reserve fund proposals from the district and the Sewanhaka Central High School District, respectively.

The $36,013,163 adopted proposal is a 5.38% increase in spending from the current fiscal year and the proposed tax levy increase of 2.69% falls below the allowable tax cap. 

In the Board of Education races, incumbent Michael Culotta is running for re-election for a second three-year term against challenger Matthew Sexton. 

Culotta, a lawyer who moved to the district within the past 10 years, first got involved with the area during the redevelopment project at Belmont Park.

One of Culotta’s initial focuses when running in 2019 was to make sure the small property that connects the end of Crocus Avenue, Floral Park-Bellerose School’s playground and the north lot of Belmont Park would be preserved and not interfere with the quality of life for residents. 

With the UBS Arena opened, both the Village of Floral Park and district have reached out to elected officials to maintain the area, called “the Triangle”, with greenery and allow the school to be granted an easement in parts of the area for class use. 

“I felt like there was work to be done in a place in the district that we needed some more advocacy,” Culotta said.

Two other issues that Culotta said he ran on three years ago were universal Pre-K and expanding the two schools in the district, which was eventually secured with the help of a $17 million bond. 

Culotta said the district is currently in a transitional phase, naming the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to a sense of normalcy as one aspect while also calling for the need to engage in long-term planning.

The incumbent said increased enrollment, aging infrastructure and the need to expand special education were a few of the many reasons for the community to sit down and plan ahead for what’s needed.

“I would love for us to develop our long-term strategic plan for the next three to five years and reimagine the educational experience for our kids,” Culotta said. “We can establish new priorities, goals and just raise the bar to maintain the quality of life that we have here in Floral Park.”

Sexton is a licensed clinical social worker who works as the director of social work for a health care company servicing patients throughout New York City and Long Island. He said his career as a social worker partly entails helping create community-based programs for both his clients and the local area. 

The challenger has been involved in the district as secretary of the South Side Civic Association as well as an opponent against the Belmont Park redevelopment project. Sexton said he helped create a coalition of surrounding communities to speak against the plans and promote “smart, sustainable development that would benefit the whole community.”

Sexton said that one of the reasons he is running is to keep taxes down. If elected, Sexton said that he would not vote on budget proposals that increase taxes from where they are currently.

“I’m not going to support any tax increases because we are again going to get record foundation funding,” Sexton said.

The foundation aid formula, established in 2007, uses factors like pupil needs and regional costs to help determine how much state aid a school district should receive.

A second priority Sexton has is letting the district, not the state, control district matters and referenced state-funded universal pre-K as one of the examples. Sexton mentioned that studies have shown there are poor outcomes when states have control of universal pre-K. 

“The right way to do it is to have local control, which is what the city of Boston did with great outcomes,” Sexton said. “The main hypothesis why is if you have local control of a program, you can make changes and tailor it for the community as opposed to doing exactly what the state tells you to do.”

Sexton said he believes his professional skillset would serve him well if elected. The challenger wants the community to know “I’m going to do everything within my power to hold the line on property taxes and not make any sacrifices inside the classroom.”

In 2005, Sexton submitted a letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent which barred him from associating with any National Association of Securities Dealers.

Sexton is a previously registered broker who was accused of effecting unauthorized purchase and sale transactions in customers’ accounts without their authorization, knowledge or consent. 

Sexton said all accusations were “dismissed without prejudice.”

After nine years on the board, Trustee Douglas Vigo is not seeking re-election. Running to fill his vacant seat are Rosemarie Peltonen and Michele Vincent. 

Peltonen, a community resident for 21 years and former teacher district, said she believes she can bring a valuable perspective to the board. The candidate has been an elementary educator for over 30 years and was a parent in the district. 

If elected, Peltonen said she would commit to maintaining and enriching the services for all children with an emphasis on the importance of early intervention services. In addition, Peltonen said she would focus on making students exceed grade-level expectations while being fiscally responsible.

“I believe the central considerations should be how will this decision impact each child, each classroom and each resident’s bottom-line and how will we provide clarity, transparency and understanding to every community member about the decisions made,” Peltonen said. 

Other issues Peltonen mentioned included valuing discussion, transparency and accountability as hallmarks of the board and pushing to hire “people that work directly with students daily” when budgeting allows it. 

Vincent, a licensed social worker who works in a Long Island elementary school and has a part-time private practice, is a district resident of eight years and parent to two at John Lewis Child School.

If elected, Vincent said she would advocate for academic interventions to meet the needs of students that are identified with learning loss.

In addition, the candidate said she would like to see the district focus more on the Multi-Tiered System of Support to determine what resources are needed for students. 

“As a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, I have advocated strengthening our academic intervention reading program through increased resources, such as using a multi-sensory approach and exploring the use of a certified reading teacher,” Vincent said. 

Another priority Vincent said she has is pushing for curriculum reviews and lobbying for teacher support and training in light of the new literacy curriculum while maintaining financially responsible. 

Also on the ballot for Floral-Park Bellerose is a proposal to expend $1,995,000 from the capital reserve fund in order to convert HVAC utilities districtwide, install security improvements, interior renovations and paving work.

For Sewanhaka, two propositions include their $227 million budget proposal and the district’s plan to spend almost $6 million in capital reserves to upgrade the kitchens and cafeteria at Elmont, Carey, Floral Park and New Hyde Park high schools. 

Voting for the district will take place on Tuesday, May 17 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at John Lewis Childs and Floral Park-Bellerose schools. 

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