Islip budget and trustee vote next Tuesday
On Super Tuesday, May 21, Islip residents will head to the polls to choose trustees to fill two open board seats. Incumbent candidate Danielle Flora, a lifelong resident of the hamlet who now has three children in the district, is running for another term unopposed. Kristian Woppel is challenging incumbent candidate Matthew Clareen. Voters will also decide on the budget for the 2019-2020 school year.
The total proposed budget on the ballot is $86,231,623, which represents a 2.71 percent increase over last year. Since the district’s cap this year is 3.23 percent, it is below the state cap. On an average assessed house, taxes are expected to increase by $183.20 annually or $15.27 per month. The polls will be open that day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gymnasium.
Clareen is running for his second term on the school board. The lifelong resident of the hamlet, who graduated from Islip High School in 2011, is currently a social studies teacher at a Long Island Catholic school. He said he has worked hard serving his community and would like to continue doing so.
He said he initially decided to run for office to bring in another perspective. “I felt the board needed someone from my generation to represent the community,” he said.
During his three-year tenure, Clareen has served on the legislative committee, which advocates for public education. He’s focused on getting full Foundation Aid funding for the district. “It has been severely underfunded for the past 12 years,” he said. The formula for the funding is an important aspect of getting the right amount of state aid.
Clareen said he has requested the state establish a state aid reimbursement for school safety, which would help the district to incur the cost of installing security measures such as surveillance. “It’s to ensure the safety of students and staff,” he noted.
In addition to academics, Clareen said he’d like to see more programs that help students learn leadership skills as well as more diverse programs that deal with character building that he said, “educate the whole student.”
Of the challenges ahead, Clareen said he is part of the district’s 2020 committee that is now evaluating elementary school class sizes and how to deal with the population disparity in some of the buildings. He said the committee would be making a recommendation soon.
Clareen said the district has long dealt with the issues surrounding drug and alcohol use and now vaping, which over the past year, has seen an uptick on Long Island, especially among school-age kids. He noted that as a member of Islip Drug and Alcohol Awareness, the program has helped to educate students about those dangers. “I’m very proud Islip is tackling those issues head on.”
Clareen noted that another challenge is the district’s steadily decreasing student population. “However, we have seen an increase in the diverse needs of our students,” he said, noting that there are more special education and English language learners as well as an increase in the free breakfast and lunch population. “The socioeconomic needs in the district are changing,” he said.
Though academics are a primary focus, Clareen said the district has opened up to vocational training, such as a new business and a cosmetology program that prepares those graduates to enter the workforce upon graduation.
“I’m very proud of the learning opportunities that are open to our students,” the candidate said. “Each year our students are experiencing success.”
Aside from his work on the board, Clareen is a member and volunteer for several local organizations, such as the civic group Islip North Community Watch, Keep Islip Clean, and he’s a board member of the Historical Society of Islip Hamlet.
A lifelong resident of Islip, Woppel is a 1989 graduate of Islip High School. The father of two preschool children, he said it was the right time to get involved with the school district. “When you have children, your focus changes,” he remarked. “I want to be proactive by being involved and giving back [to my community].”
After 14 years as a Wall Street trader, Woppel returned to piloting on the Great South Bay as a captain for the Fire Island Ferries. He said his experience in business, where he could navigate the fiscal ups and downs of the market, is what makes him a good candidate for school board trustee.
He said the fiscal health of the district is one that would be a challenge moving forward. “That’s the biggest problem,” he remarked, noting that he’d work to make sure the district receives the amount of state funding needed, especially to handle the increasing special education and ELL population. “I believe in a sound school budget that enriches every child in the district,” he said.
And he believes funding for security measures will also be important. “We need to ensure our kids are safe,” he said.
Woppel is against the Common Core standards. “We should just let teachers teach,” he said. He added that teacher evaluations should never be tied to those standards, either.
He said the district is one he admires for the success it has had with its students. “I had a great experience, great teachers in Islip,” he noted, adding that’s something he would like to see continue.
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