North Syracuse will hold its budget and board of education vote Tuesday, May 21. Residents will vote for three BOE members; four candidates are running. The polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; if you live north of Route 481, vote at Cicero Elementary on Route 31. Residents living south of Route 481 should vote at the district office, 5355 W. Taft Road, North Syracuse.
The budget itself is $144 million. The estimated tax increase is 5.33 percent; the tax impact is about $23.10 per $100,000 of assessed value. The budget includes full-day kindergarten.
The full budget can be found at nscsd.org.
Read on for profiles of the candidates.
Catherine Cifaratta-Brayton is a lifelong resident of the village of North Syracuse, currently residing at Centerville Court, 400 Sandra Lane, North Syracuse. She is a graduate of North Syracuse High School and the Beaux Art School of Beauty Culture, Inc. She is a New York state licensed cosmetologist and travels to serve senior citizens and the physically challenged on a part-time basis.
Cifaratta-Brayton raised five sons as a widowed-single parent. Her sons Joseph, Leonard (deceased), John, Peter and Philip are all graduates of the North Syracuse Central School District and all live in the North Syracuse Central School District with their families
Cifaratta-Brayton is a member of the North Syracuse Central School District Board of Education, a position she has held since 1982. Cifaratta-Brayton also serves on the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES Board of Education, which represents 23 component school districts, a position she has held since 1988. She also has served as a member of the Central New York Teaching Center Policy Board, representing 17 component districts, since 1988, merging with Oswego County Teachers Center in 2011, now representing 27 component districts.
She further is a board of education representative for the New York State Education Department as a panelist for hearings.
Cifaratta-Brayton was named to the 1995-96 Wall of Distinction, which honors North Syracuse Central School District graduates, in recognition of her significant contributions and continual involvement and support in her community. Cifaratta-Brayton was awarded the Community Service Award in 2000, for Outstanding Service Rendered to the Youth and Community.
Cifaratta-Brayton is a current member of the New York State Association of Computers/Technologies in Education, New York State School Boards Association, National School Boards Association, Career and Technical Education Advisory Council, Alumni Hall of Fame Selection Committee, and the SAFE Services and Facilities Evaluation Committee. Cifaratta-Brayton is a volunteer for St. Joseph’s Hospital, Crouse Irving-Memorial Hospital and NAVAC. She further serves as a judge for the Central New York National History Day, sponsored by the Onondaga Historical Association.
In her 30 years as a North Syracuse Central School District Board of Education member, she has served on many committees, and has attended workshops and conferences dealing with effective educational issues.
Why are you running for school board?
As a long term incumbent of the North Syracuse Central School District Board of Education, there is much more I would like to see our district accomplish. I believe that, as a long term member, I have a good perspective on a forward thinking direction for our district.
Why are you the best candidate?
My long tenure as a board of education member provides me a great sense of history on which to build for future accomplishments. I take my job very seriously as well, insuring that I’m very visible and accessible to community folks, and I like and attempt to resolve issues that are brought to me. I believe I have been and hope to continue to be, a good link between the community and the district.
Issues facing the district
The biggest challenge is the financial status of the district. Schools across the state are underfunded, and North Syracuse Central School District is no exception. Our board and our staff are constantly talking with legislators in order to bring more funding into the district, and our board scrutinizes each annual budget to insure that we have what we need to do the job of educating children. Our budget contains no frills, but we have a mission to accomplish, that of educating children.
Secondly, we have a great staff. I consider part of my job as a board member to insure that they have the resources they need to do the job.
Sandra Marie DiBianco
I have been a resident of the North Syracuse Central School District since 1974. I am 66 years old. My adult children, Jennifer and Richard, are graduates of North Syracuse. Currently, I am semi-retired and self-employed
as a grant writer. In addition, I tutor English Language Learners in the Syracuse schools and serve as an Early Literacy Volunteer in North Syracuse. At present, in addition to my Board of Education service, I sit on a number of non-profit boards: Chadwick Residence, which provides shelter, transitional housing, life skill, educational and vocational training and related services to homeless women and their children; the Syracuse Stage Guild Board of Directors; the board of directors of the Everson Museum of Art; and the Friends of the Can Teen. I have been a member of the board of education for 25 years.
Why are you running for school board?
I have had a lifelong interest in children, their education and development. When my children were enrolled in the schools, I ran for the school board as a progression of my activities as a P.T.O. and district-wide Parent Awareness Council officer, volunteer, tutor and substitute teacher. For the past 25 years I have had the privilege of overseeing and participating in the education of our community’s children. I have followed and applauded the development, accomplishments, and careers of our students and our staff. They and we have much to be proud of. I am committed to seeing that our limited resources are used optimally so that our students and staff can experience continued success. Although it is often difficult, particularly in these financially trying times, I consider board of education service to be a trust and an honor that is well worth the time and effort it requires.
Why are you the best candidate?
There are three open seats on the board of education. I believe that I’m one of the best candidates to fill a seat because I have experience, intelligence, an understanding of how schools are funded, what is possible and plausible under education law, Commissioner’s Regulations and our present circumstances. I understand instruction and have kept abreast of current methods, practices and trends. I understand the challenges and the difficulties faced by our students and teachers in dealing with huge changes and a multitude of new mandates from our state and federal governments in the face of shrinking resources and shrinking support from both. I know and love the school community and the surrounding community. I have lived in this community for nearly 40 years. I understand the financial challenges faced by our residents.
What are the issues facing the district and how will you address them?
This is a difficult time for public education and for educators. Many changes, a heavy emphasis on new standardized testing of questionable validity, a teacher evaluation system based to a large extent on testing, the new CORE Curriculum which has yet to be supported adequately by the state; new mandates, things that the state and federal governments tell us we must do, cost significantly more to do than we are given to fund them. Since 2008 our state aid has decreased and been subject to a GAP elimination adjustment that has reduced the gap in the state budget by creating one in our school budgets. This year’s “increase” in state aid brought us back to our 2008 state aid figure. As a result, more of the cost of funding the schools has shifted from the state to local taxpayers. In the last five years, we have cut 200 staff positions, eliminated and altered programs and our teachers and other educational units have taken pay freezes and accepted pay increases lower than the rate of inflation. We have had to face rapidly rising mandated costs over which we have little or no control and have had to take on new functions as a result of those mandates. We have cut sports and extra-curricular programs, reduced transportation, food service and maintenance costs. If re-elected, in the face of these financial challenges, I will seek to serve the needs of our students and to support our staff by continuing efforts to contain non-classroom related costs, to seek greater efficiencies, to advocate for mandate relief — the elimination of unfunded and under-funded mandates, and to seek greater equity in the distribution of state aid.
My name is Mary Scanlon. I am 49 years old and a candidate for school board in the North Syracuse Central School District. My husband Mike and I have been married 25 years. We reside in Cicero and have been residents in the school district since 1988. We have two children, Andrew and Corey.
Corey is a 2012 graduate of Cicero-North Syracuse High School. Andrew is a 2009 graduate of Christian Brothers Academy. Both sons currently attend Utica College, enrolled in undergraduate studies.
I am a graduate of East Syracuse-Minoa High School and attended State University College of New York at Geneseo. I worked in the financial service Industry for 27 and a half years, with a successful career as a senior business analyst at AXA Equitable, working in a team environment, on corporate initiatives with IT partners and business clients, involving project coordination and management. I’ve also held positions as life insurance underwriter and disability underwriter. In the fall of 2011, I retired due to family obligations. My husband Mike is employed by Sysco Food Services, is past president of Sysco Syracuse and is currently the president of Sysco Metro NY.
Why are you running for school board?
I’ve always tried to be actively involved in the community. Working full time and raising a family, I helped out with my sons’ school activities, events, and sports programs. Now that I’m no longer working outside of the home, I have the capacity to give more. Some of my most rewarding experiences have been times spent volunteering in our schools. I feel I have something to contribute, I understand the commitment involved, and I’m ready to take on this challenge and work hard for our district.
I’ve seen firsthand what this commitment involves. My mother-in-law, Sandra Lockwood, served on the Rome City School Board and the Oneida-Madison BOCES Board for a number of years, and was past president of the NYS School Board Association. I always admired her service and commitment to work hard for the young people in her community. She passed away last year, and I would like to honor her memory by following in her footsteps, with service on the North Syracuse board of education.
Why are you the best candidate?
With more than 25 years of business experience, I believe I can offer a new voice and fresh ideas to the issues facing this district. My experience as a business analyst would be a valuable asset to bring to the table. There is always more than one way to get to the desired results. I was trained to apply analytical thinking to problem solve, ask questions, dig down and think outside the box. Working in a team environment, we found solutions to challenges faced, and sought out ways for process improvement.
I also have past board experience, which includes three years with the Cicero Falcons Pop Warner Board, serving as fundraising coordinator, and four years with the CNS Touchdown Club, serving as secretary in 2011. During my service on the Pop Warner board, I worked with State Assemblyman Al Stirpe’s office to secure grant money to purchase an AED defibrillator and new equipment for the Falcons.
What are the issues facing the district, and how will you address them?
There are many challenges our district faces; however, there are two issues that I believe are the major issues facing our district today. The first and obvious issue is our budget. Over the last four years we have seen a significant reduction in funding from state aid. The impact of this has resulted in a significant increase in the taxpayer’s share of covering costs. In fact, the majority burden of our school budget is now the responsibility of our taxpayers. As I’ve campaigned for this election, I’ve spoken with many residents in our district and this is a source of great frustration. To be looking at a significant increase once again of over 5 percent for the 2013-14 school year will be hard to accept. Despite a reduction in staff and cuts to much-loved student programs, our budget is still going up every year. Our district has documented that we have had a marked reduction in staff over the last few years, but our salary budget and benefits budget continue to rise. We are making an effort, but it is not enough. I believe we need to look more at cutting costs by improving efficiencies within our current structure. Why can’t we get better without increasing expenses? There is room to improve. We should look at cost effectiveness of how things are done, and every employee in the district should be responsible to look for ways to cut costs. Save jobs by working smarter, eliminating wasteful processes and identifying better ways to get things done.
Another impact of the budget cuts in state aid is the depletion of our fund balance and reserves to an alarming level. As our district continues to tap into these monies to fill holes in our budget and off set tax levy increases we put ourselves at great risk. We cannot continue at this rate for long without suffering consequences. Other purposes for this money are to cover school district liabilities, emergencies and cash flow.
I believe the second major issue currently facing the district is that we are in a state of transition with education reform. With the new Common Core State Standard Testing and new teacher evaluations, this is a stressful time. New York, along with 44 other states, has adopted the Common Core testing method to raise academic standards and provide clear goals for students. This testing method moves away from memorization methods towards critical thinking and problem solving. This new method is said to help ensure students have skills and knowledge they need to be successful and competitive in the global economy, and is supported by the Obama administration. As in anything new, stress is a normal side effect when we are put outside our comfort zone. I do believe every employee (teacher) should be accountable for doing the job they are paid to do. However, the state tests are only a piece of the big picture and may be subject to other circumstances that affect the outcome and this should be taken into consideration. For example, what if a student performs poorly on the state ELA test because he missed part of the instructions on the test? This would not be a true measure of his ability or of his teacher’s ability to effectively teach the subject matter. What would be more important here is how the teacher reacts to the student’s mistake and could make all the difference in the world to that child. Sometimes the greatest impact a teacher makes is helping students over the rough spots and getting them back on track. The measure of this to me would be invaluable.
Candidate Patrick Svoboda did not respond to our request for information.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.