Candidates offer varied responses to Lew-Port's challenges
By Terry Duffy
Five candidates vying for three open seats on the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education spoke their minds Wednesday on the state of the district, its challenges and its future during a "Meet the Candidates" night in the high school auditorium.
The Lew-Port Partners in Education organized the event. Candidates Michael Skowronski, Marcia Dorian, Lance McGlynn, Gabriela McCann and Cindy Duke engaged in an interactive forum, answering questions presented by Lew-Port high school students.
Board incumbent Skowronski has served on the Lew-Port BOE for three years, while Duke was appointed to the board last September following the death of board member Keith Fox.
The two joined with candidates Dorian, McGlynn and McCann in presenting their backgrounds and their goals and ambitions. All spoke with optimism and resolve in addressing the many challenges of the district as they presented themselves and their goals ahead of the May 19 election.
"It's a great endeavor, a great job," said Skowronski, a student job developer at Niagara University with a 30-year background in higher education. Like the others, he spoke of what he sees as "the challenging times" facing Lew-Port, particularly with regard to the district's significant financial constraints. Noted were Lew-Port's struggles with respect to the state's Gap Elimination Adjustment and reduced funding from the state; the ongoing problem of unreimbursed aid; unfunded mandates; the continued challenges in providing a quality education to Lew-Port students; the "fiscal stress" Lew-Port has in maintaining its budget and operations; the ongoing problem of a shrinking student enrollment; and the continuing stress these matters put on taxpayers.
The district "needs a creative approach" to deal with these issues, said Dorian, a 1977 Lewiston-Porter grad and mother of three. "We must work as a group" with a focus for the best interests of all students, she said.
Common Core was a concern that saw differing opinions from the candidates.
"Its idea was noble, but its implementation was a disaster," said McGlynn, whose profile appears in today's Sentinel. Among its many problems, he faulted Common Core's linking of teacher evaluations to student testing results and the methodologies used.
"I don't like it," said McCann, a mother of three, including a physically and developmentally disabled student in special education at Lew-Port. McCann spoke of the difficulties she and other parents have in trying to help their children through - from homework to testing.
"Its entire implementation is wrong; it confuses more than helps children," she said.
Duke called Common Core "a great concept. But in reality, it's a huge change." For the Lew-Port district, she said it has become an unfunded mandate to implement. Still, she urged support for Common Core in the future.
So did Skowronski, who said Lewiston-Porter needs to work with it. He said, "It's progressive, difficult," but, "it's data driven; (it) helps on focused teaching, changes that students need. It's here to stay; Lewiston-Porter has to - needs to - adapt."
Dorian said that, with Common Core being so new, parents can and do want to help their children through it, and it's up to the district to provide parents with better tools.
The issue of a shrinking student enrollment at Lew-Port and how to address it was also raised. Lewiston-Porter, which decades ago had a student enrollment of well over 4,000 students, today numbers 2,077. It faces a projected incoming kindergarten enrollment of a mere 120 students and the prospect of consolidating, including closing buildings. Candidates were asked if they favored Lew-Port merging with a neighboring district, such as Wilson, to help Lew-Port address the issue in the face of mounting costs.
Again, the responses differed.
Duke said she did not favor a merger, but would support shared services.
"Any merger would have to involve a drastic savings," she said, noting she liked the smallness of Lew-Port and its identity.
McCann also said she preferred Lew-Port to remain as-is.
"Lewiston-Porter will lose its charm if it changes," she said.
Others appeared more on board with the idea.
Skowronski said he would favor a merger if it was done right.
"The state offers incentives on consolidation," he said.
As to shared services, which the district already does to an extent, he added, "Lew-Port needs to be proactive on this." But Skowronski also said Lew-Port needs to maintain its identity.
"This (shrinking enrollments) affects all districts," Dorian said. "We do have to look at it (mergers or consolidations); it's a reality; something that Lewiston-Porter needs to look at. Let's get the statistics, look at the trade-offs."
McGlynn said he would favor a merger it comes to that, but he wanted Lewiston-Porter to maintain its identity.
"Lewiston-Porter needs to explore its options," he said.
On their goals for the district as board members, all candidates said they wanted to help Lew-Port improve in the future. Mentioned were ultimately addressing Lew-Port's fiscal problems; guiding Lew-Port to have even greater focus in providing a quality education; expanding the community's involvement with the district; working at growing the student population; and bettering the district as a whole.
"I want to leave Lew-Port in a better state than how I found it," McGlynn said.
All candidates echoed that sentiment.
Voting for the Board of Education, as well as the district's $14.707 million budget, will take place from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, in the Community Center Boardroom.
For more on the candidates and the budget, see district's Link online at www.lew-port.com.