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Meet the School Board Candidate: Diane O'Brien

She discusses views on the Common Core standards, Garden Street School and the property tax cap.

Four residents are running for two seats on the Brewster Central School District board of education, and the vote is next week.

Polls at Brewster High School will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 21. Voters will decide on a $85,713,070-budget—which carries a 2.29-percent budget-to-budget increase and a 1.94-percent tax levy increase—for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Here is a list of the candidates:

  • Daniel E. Armstrong: Click for a video of Armstrong, who ran last year 
  • Elizabeth Cullen: 48 years old, elementary school teacher who has lived in Southeast for 12 years
  • Diane O'Brien: 48 years old, stay-at-home mom who has lived in Southeast for 20 years
  • S. Peter Pastore (incumbent): 48 years old, New York City firefighter who has lived in Southeast for 13 years 

Patch reached out to the individuals listed above. Each person who replied received the same set of questions. Here's what O'Brien had to say:

Bio

  • I am currently a stay-at-home mom.
  • I have lived in the Town of Southeast/Brewster Central School District for a little over 20 years.
  • I have one child currently in 11th grade at Brewster High School.
  • I have been a member of the PTA for 11 years and volunteer at many of their functions and events.
  • I am the treasurer of the Brewster Performing Arts Booster Club.
  • I was chairperson of the Drummin’ to Dublin Fundraising Committee and I spearheaded all fundraising events/raffles for the Brewster High School Marching Band’s trip to Dublin this year. With the help of the committee we were able to bring in more than $76,000 to help reduce the cost of the trip.

What strengths would you bring to the board? 

What I will bring to the board is a new energy and creativity. I have good listening skills and negotiating skills and I am extremely organized. I know how to work with a team and I know how to set a goal and achieve it. I know how to accept a “no” answer as well as how to say “no.”

What issues facing the district do you feel most strongly about? 

Presently there are several issues that face our school district that I feel present a big challenge—unfunded mandates being the top issue. When it comes to these mandates I strongly believe that our community must be made more aware of them and what they cost the school district. Also, I believe in order to improve this situation the community needs to start contacting our local politicians and demanding that they start taking action. A second issue is cutbacks, which are due to the current economic climate. Unfortunately the general theory is that the district must do more with less. No one wants to see valuable programs cut, teachers let go or class sizes grow to unmanageable numbers, but the district needs to get creative and be fiscally astute when making decisions in these economic times.

Describe the quality of education you think students are getting in the district. Are there measures you would take to improve upon it?

I believe overall the quality of education received by our students here at the Brewster Central District is very good. I believe that most of the student population is provided with a well-rounded education. Those students choosing to pursue a college degree I feel are being properly prepared for it; the curriculum offers the necessary challenges for growth and learning. I do believe there is room for improvement, especially in the area of science. I would like to see the curriculum across all the schools be more consistent so that students in the upper grades would have a strong foundation on which to build their future studies.

Contract negotiations just wrapped up. Describe how you see the current state of labor relations in the district.

Overall, I believe the current labor relations in the schools are good, especially in light of the recent contract agreement reached between the school district and the teachers.

What do you think the long-term impact of the tax cap will be on Brewster schools? (Do you support or think it's hurting public education?)

I believe the tax cap is hurting the Brewster schools and public education as a whole. In theory the idea sounds like a good one, but in reality it does more harm than good. Schools are being forced to cut necessary programs to stay under this cap because putting a budget out that is over the cap could be a huge problem. Right now the general public believes that 2-percent is the cap, when in reality it is 3.1-percent for Brewster. So when voters see a tax levy of 1.94-percent some may think the district just squeaked under the cap when really they did more than slide under it; they were under by 1.16-percent. I believe that every school district should be fiscally smart, and if they are not the voters should let them know.  Simply putting a cap is not going to make a district fiscally smart or fiscally sensitive. That is up to the voters.

What do you think about the Common Core standards? Will they benefit Brewster students?

I believe Common Core standards are a thing for Brewster because it will make our students more competitive nationally and globally. The world we live in today is much bigger than the world I grew up in and therefore the schools need to educate students in a way to meet these needs and I think by establishing standards nationally it will help level the playing field for our students.

Are there specific ideas you would support when it comes to the future of Garden Street School?

With respect to Garden Street, I would support the sale of the property, which dependent upon the Brewster Village Planning Board, should be turned into something that the community needs or could benefit from. Some ideas would be a performing arts school, senior housing maybe a recreation facility for the residents.

Is there anything we haven’t asked that you would like the public to know about you or your candidacy? 

I am a huge proponent of public education. I believe we need to invest in our students today so that the future of Southeast/Brewster is a bright one. I feel we need to really look out for the students and this is exactly why I am running for the Board.               

Check back with Patch in the coming days for posts featuring the other candidates.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for style but not substance.

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