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Kerner Seeks Irvington Board of Education Seat

IRVINGTON, N.Y. – Irvington school board elections are Tuesday and The Daily Tarrytown is preparing by asking the candidates questions about the issues, what they hope to accomplish and why residents should vote for them.

Incumbents John Dawson and Robyne Camp face challenges from Robyn Kerner, Maria Kashkin and Della Lenz for two seats on the Irvington Board of Education.

Questionnaires were sent to each candidate and will be published on The Daily Tarrytown as they are returned. The following questionnaire was filled out by Kerner.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am Robyn Kerner, 49-years-old, and this year I am candidate for the Irvington School Board. I have enjoyed living in Irvington for 13 years. My husband, Lou, and I have three children: Max, 13-years-old, Cole, 10-years-old and Jack, 8-years-old. I am currently a mother and active volunteer of over 10 years for the schools.

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I am excited to have the chance to again return to the board, having previously served for six years on the board of education, including terms as board president and vice president. My involvement in the schools spans many years, organizations and committees. This current year, I am a member of the Dows Lane parent action committee, the Irvington Middle School Site Committee and the district budget task force. In addition, I am the PTSA third-grade level parent this year and a class mom. During my six years on the board and 10 years volunteering in the district, I have served on many committees within the district, including curriculum, world language, finance and communications committees. I have participated in the Tri-States Evaluations and attended a host of math seminars targeting teacher professional development. I am equally familiar with the day to day school experience as with the management and oversight of the district. I would bring a much needed longer term perspective and insight to a relatively young board and to a new, incoming superintendent.

In addition, I bring a wealth of business experience: 25 plus years of finance, marketing and strategic planning. I received my BA in mathematics from Dartmouth College followed by an MBA from Stanford University. I have held executive positions at The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures/Universal Studios and spent many years in children’s marketing.

What would you like to accomplish if elected?

My primary goal is to deliver the best education for our children at the lowest taxes.

I would implement a long term, overarching plan to guide us and to ensure we manage our resources effectively and efficiently. It is no longer possible to effectively budget year to year, we will not be able to move the district forward and keep up with the ever changing world of education and technology. We need this overarching plan to guide us and ensure decisions are made with long term vision and planning.

One of the most important jobs we have is to prepare our students for the challenges they encounter after Irvington. I would make this a priority as we plan and budget for our schools. We need to utilize our recent graduates to help guide us and improve our efforts moving ahead. We need to strengthen our guidance department. The role of the guidance department has become increasingly important in the competitive world of college admissions, now is not the time to be reducing in that area.

I would work with administration to support their day-to-day efforts to work towards improving student achievement and providing a strong foundation for our students.

I would focus on reintroducing board coffees and ensuring ample opportunities to encourage comments, suggestions and input from the community. It is my job as a board member to reach out to you and to be sure your concerns are addressed.

My “to do” List for the next few years is long and there is much work to be done. I can “hit the ground running” and quickly begin to work toward meeting our goals and best positioning us for the future.

If something had to be cut from the budget to meet the state tax cap, what would you cut?

In order to keep taxes below the state tax cap, difficult choices are inevitable. We cannot, however, sanction cuts that affect the students in the classroom, nor can we afford to lose some of our best teachers as a result of layoffs. I would first look to cut non-essential additions to staff. This year’s adopted budget includes the creation of a new custodial position, with the rationale that “hopefully over time it will save the district money.” Twenty-five percent of the budgeted salary pays benefits. I believe that 25 percent should be redirected to the classrooms and we can continue to pay for additional services as needed with overtime, meeting our needs without adding a non-essential position to staff. This would be the most efficient use of our limited funds this year. Additionally, the budget assumes a July 1 start date for the new assistant superintendent of curriculum. By pushing that start date back until Sept. 1, to coincide with the school year, we would save $27,500.

I am concerned about the decision to incorporate senior human resources responsibilities into the assistant superintendent of curriculum position. This year, an outside consultant was hired to review the district’s human resources department. The resulting recommendation emphasized the need for a Senior HR – the laws and intricacies of this area put us at risk legally and financially with no senior, experienced person attending to this area. Adding the title to another job, with a very different skill set will not operationally solve the problem. We need board members who will find solutions that work.

What are the three biggest issues facing the schools today and what would you do about them?

Challenge: The biggest challenge the district faces is how to continue to deliver the quality education we demand, while maintaining the low to no tax increases we require. It is not sufficient to merely maintain existing programs, we need to enhance our curriculum, our classroom experiences, and our teaching strategies – we need to embrace the Common Core mandates that have been set forth. Our first priority is the education of our children. We must continue to ensure our teachers have the best tools and methodologies.

My approach: It is impossible to effectively pick and choose where to cut each year, this cannot be an annual exercise. We need an overarching plan to guide us and ensure decisions are made with long term vision and planning. I was disappointed the budget this year included cuts that affect the classrooms. I believe we need to work harder to ensure we do not erode the very foundation of our schools, the opportunities that distinguish us and set Irvington apart.

Challenge: Fiscal constraints remain a top challenge for the foreseeable future. With each passing year, it becomes harder and harder to find additional cost savings. For the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school budgets, during my board tenure, we delivered two of the lowest budget increases in all of Westchester, for two years in a row. We must continue to deliver innovative and cost savings budgets.

My Approach: To find savings at this juncture we will need to look towards increased efficiencies and integration of technology. We will need to be more creative and wise about how we spend. Increasing revenues to offset costs becomes a priority. I will aggressively pursue ideas for revenue generation, such as rentals of facilities, corporate sponsorships and creation of volunteer grant writing teams. The key is to put smart people on the board who have a history of creating workable solutions, not simply providing a laundry list of what they want without regards to how to make it happen.

We must also continue to explore sharing of services, or job functions. While this has been a challenge, we need to continue to try. As concerns about cuts to high school classes rise, we need to approach our neighboring districts to share these upper level courses or utilize distance learning strategies.

Challenge: As a result of our fiscal challenges, along with the predicted declining enrollments at the high school, the district is challenged to maintain the breadth and depth or course offerings at the high school.

My Approach: We need to make a commitment to the students. We need to find a way to guarantee they will have the opportunities to succeed. I suggest we begin to explore alternatives to traditional course offerings. I would begin to explore sharing high school courses across the quad villages, as well as looking into other opportunities for distance learning, including online learning and fostering relationships with local colleges.

In summary, the current landscape in public education is unlike any we have seen before. There are many important challenges we must address in order to maintain the quality education we require for our children. We must continue to support our students with a wide range of course offerings, updated and enhanced teaching methods and curricula that continue to improve to meet the needs of the global society we live in. In order to achieve this, in the short term, we must quickly and effectively establish strong leadership at the top. I am hopeful the new superintendent will be the visionary we require to move us forward and establish long term planning and goal setting. He will also set the tone for the district at this critical time. As a board member, I will support him in his efforts and work to ensure he is quickly and completely brought up to speed on the pressing issues and past challenges we encountered. I am uniquely positioned to help achieve these goals. I understand the complexities of being a board member, and the challenges of addressing the needs of the community. I view issues from many perspectives. The candidate selected to serve on the School Board will have a significant impact on our children’s education. We need leaders who create practical, implementable solutions and will work together as at team with the rest of the board for the good of the district. I am that candidate.

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