Kerpen, Smith and Gilliar vie for 2 school board seats

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Dave Kerpen, Rachel Gilliar and Peter Smith

Voters will head to the polls next Tuesday to elect two new Port Washington school board members and to decide whether to approve the district’s $151 million budget for 2017-18.

Dave Kerpen, Rachel Gilliar and Peter Smith are vying for two seats on the Board of Education, with the top two vote-getters winning election.

Alan Baer and Christina Nadolne did not file to run for re-election.

Kerpen, who taught math in New York City from 2004 to 2007 and is the CEO and co-founder of Likeable Media, a company that does social media marketing, said he wants the board to interact more through social media.

Kerpen said Port Washington will use social media better than any other school in the country “in terms of getting the word out and making sure we drive action.”

“I have a unique background that’s perfectly suited for the board,” Kerpen said.

A Port Washington resident for seven years, Kerpen, who has published four books on social media and communications, briefly ran for Queens borough president in 2009.

At the League of Women Voters’ Meet the Candidates night last Tuesday, Kerpen pledged to help the board interact better with parents, and said he supports parents whose students opt out of state exams, even though he and his wife had their children take them.

Smith, who has lived in Port Washington for more than 50 years and owns a construction management business, said he will use his knowledge to help the district with its planned infrastructure improvements.

“In the next 10 years, there will be a lot of construction, and I can be an asset to the board because I am familiar with construction,” he said. “I can lend my expertise and knowledge of construction to the board in many different ways.”

Smith first got involved in public service as the commissioner of girls lacrosse in Port Youth Activities, and is currently the president of the Vikings Sports Foundation.

He is also a board member and treasurer of the Port Washington Business Improvement District.

“Everything I do is for the community,” he said.

During Meet the Candidates night, Smith said he did not opt his two daughters out of state exams but if he could do it over, he would.

Gilliar, a lawyer who has lived in Port Washington for the last eight years, said she is running because she wants to improve the district and improve the education students are receiving.

She said her experience as a parent to young children will set her apart from other board members.

“I think it’s rare for a parent of young children to run, but it gives me a different perspective to bring to the board,” Gilliar said. “I really have strong impetus to push for improvements to happen because there is a chance it will affect my children.”

Gilliar also said her law career allows her to work and learn about other people’s situations and help their interest, a skill she said would be vital as a school board member.

Although her children are not old enough to take state exams, Gilliar said, she is in favor of students opting out as the exams limit teachers’ abilities to do their jobs.

When asked about recent anti-Semitic events occurring around the North Shore, especially a student finding a drawing of a swastika in a Paul D. Schreiber High School bathroom, all three candidates condemned the acts.

“I don’t think there is any room for this type of behavior,” Smith said. “What better way to end it than to get programs started with funding that teaches them at an earlier age that it will not be tolerated.”

Kerpen agreed, noting anti-Semitism does not come out of nowhere and said it’s important to teach emotional health and well-being at an early age.

Gilliar said she doesn’t know if there could be additional funding because she is not familiar with the funds going toward the cause, but “there is a great deal being done on anti-bullying and inclusiveness and that’s important.”

Along with the school board election, Port Washington residents will vote on a $151 million budget that calls for a $4.5 million increase in spending and a 1.01 percent tax levy increase.

The budget calls for medical insurance spending increases from $19 million to $21 million as insurance rates increased this year, Mary Callahan, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said.

The district allocated funds to hire two new administrators for the district, including a new elementary assistant principal and an associate administrative literary specialist, as well as a district-wide nurse and 15.4 instructional positions, some of which will split time between schools.

The proposed hires include a high school English teacher, a high school art teacher and music, health, foreign language and physical education teachers, as well as general teachers.

Teacher salary spending increases by $1.4 million in the budget, jumping from $20,750,499 to $22,181,178.

The budget calls for slight increases in spending in other areas, including spending for programs for students with disabilities.

“I think everyone was very pleased that the Board of Education saw the need for additional staffing, understanding the growing enrollment in the district,” Callahan said. “And people who have attended the meetings so far have been positive. I have not heard anything negative thus far.”

Residents will vote on the 2017-18 budget and school board candidates on May 16 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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