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A Q&A with the candidates for NENUFSD Board of Education trustee

Schools by: Chrissy Ruggeri, May 11, 2022

The candidates for trustee as they appear on the ballot: Frank Labate, Allison Noonan, Larry Licopoli and Thomas Loughran. Images courtesy of the candidates.

On Tuesday, May 17, Northport and East Northport residents will be voting to fill three open seats on the Board of Education. There are four candidates running: Frank Labate, Allison Noonan, Larry Licopoli and Thomas Loughran.

Below is a description of each candidate’s educational and occupational background, followed by candidate answers for six questions presented by the Northport Journal. Each candidate was asked the same questions and their responses are posted below verbatim.

Frank Labate: Frank Labate is a Nassau County Police Officer and New York State Certified Field Training Officer. He has lived in the Northport-East Northport area for six years and has two children, including a kindergartner at Fifth Avenue Elementary School. He has been attending BOE meetings since August 2021, since his daughter entered public schools.

Allison Noonan: Allison Noonan has been a secondary educator in the Syosset Central School District for the past 27 years. She has been a resident of Northport since her twins, who are seniors at Northport High School, entered kindergarten. She is seeking her third term as a BOE trustee.

Larry Licopoli: Larry Licopoli’s professional career has been in education, with 12 years as a classroom teacher, 10 years as a building level and central office leader (including the roles of principal and associate superintendent), 23 years as superintendent of schools, and four years as an educational consultant. He has lived in Northport for 20 years, raised four children, and has two grandchildren who live in Northport. He has served on the BOE for three years.

Thomas Loughran: Tom Loughran is a senior litigation paralegal for a large regional law firm with an interest in the public and private sectors. His firm specializes in corporate litigation, insurance defense, professional liability, real estate and corporate governance. He has lived in the Northport-East Northport community most of his life, graduating from Northport High School in 1997. He has served on the BOE for three years.

1. What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the district right now and how are you qualified to help address and manage this challenge?

Frank Labate: When the pandemic restrictions removed parents from our schools, this created a spirit of distrust between the community and the school administration. Right now the BOE needs to work on gaining back the trust of the parents and community. I will work to open lines of communication between parents, teachers, administration and the school board and get parents involved in their children’s education to the fullest extent. As a police officer I build relationships with residents, public servants, religious leaders and local school staff within my post. I understand that trust needs to be earned, and with the trust of our residents we can work towards a common goal of providing educational excellence in our public schools.

Allison Noonan: Some of the greatest challenges facing the district is the LIPA settlement, the tax burden shift to the taxpayer, the closing of neighborhood schools and mitigating the learning losses as well as ensuring the social-emotional well-being of our students and staff affected by two-plus years of interrupted education. We need to be sure our students and staff are supported in the buildings that have absorbed the closing of Dickinson and Bellerose while being sensitive to the different needs of all our learners.

Larry Licopoli: To be sure, while we have challenges, we also have far more achievements and successes to be proud of. Nevertheless, aside from the challenges regarding fiscal planning and declining enrollment, as an educational community our essential challenge and priority is to ensure that all students are receiving a quality education that is consistent with our district vision and mission statements in a safe and secure environment. Additionally, we need to determine the degree to which the pandemic has disrupted and impacted student learning, academically and socially-emotionally, and respond quickly to what we learn.

As a retired 50+ years professional educator (teacher to superintendent and consultant), I offer a wealth of experiences from a scholarly, practitioner, experiential, and personal perspectives that will add value to board governance and participative leadership (parents-teachers-administrators and others) that engages commitment and optimism through collaboration, focused on our mission, goals and more.

Thomas Loughran: I believe there are currently three significant issues facing the Northport-East Northport School District. (1) social/emotional and academic learning deficiencies resulting from pandemic shutdowns, quarantines, mandates, and sickness; (2) the conclusion of LIPA Glidepath and finalization of the tax shift within our community; and (3) increasing capital improvement costs for our aging infrastructure. I am qualified to help address and manage these challenges because I have immersed myself in the issues and engaged in the work to address these challenges. Building relationships within the district, community, and larger educational community to make sure we appropriately advocate for the resources our students and community need.

2. How will you continue to promote forward momentum in areas like mental health support and equity in education?

Frank Labate: We can do this by making a commitment to keeping our schools open, keeping parents involved, and putting protections in place for our students in the case of future state mandated restrictions.

Allison Noonan: We currently have in place a Belonging and Dignity Committee that is in the initial stages of working with the CORE Collaborative in an effort to assess the well-being of our students and staff. We know this pandemic affected our learners in different ways – and we also know our most vulnerable learners were affected the most. It is my hope that working with all of the stakeholders in our community, we can address issues of equity in order for each and every one of our students to have a sense of belonging.

Larry Licopoli: This school year the board and superintendent established a goal for fostering a sense of belonging that is consistent with our policies regardless of race, religion, national origin, economic or social level, sexual orientation, gender, age, or physical capabilities. The district has contracted with a consultant from the CORE Collaborative to help us bring this goal to fruition, starting with the formation of a school community team for the 2022-2023 school year. In addition to analyzing various surveys and data we may use to assess mental health needs and growth, we need to understand what resources we have and/or need in response to student social emotional issues, due to any reason, at the moment it occurs.

Thomas Loughran: I will continue to listen to teachers and parents through PTA meetings, personal interaction, and sideline conversations about our students’ experiences and needs in mental health support, equity in education, and families struggling with the district reorganization. In addition, there is work and data to be gathered and analyzed to ensure our efforts are impactful and meaningful. Ultimately, I will bring all those conversations and conclusions to the Board of Education and Superintendent to craft a budget that continues to help us reach our goals and then set loftier goals for achievement.

3. If elected, how will you advocate for the students and families struggling since the district reorganization?

Frank Labate: I want to hear from students, their parents, and teachers. We need open lines of communication so that we can identify issues caused by the reorganization and give our teachers the resources and tools they need to educate effectively.

Allison Noonan: I really hope we are able to continue to keep the lines of communication open with people in our community most affected by the closing of Dickinson and Bellerose. We need to assess and evaluate how this year went and steps that we can take to support these families in the spirit of continuous improvement.

Larry Licopoli: For us to understand what the issues are because of the reconfiguration plan, our administration needs to frame and implement a plan that includes our staff and parents and assesses what worked and the degree to which the plan may have been problematic for students and their families. A corrective action plan should follow. Proactive evaluation of district initiatives is a marker of school excellence we should expect in our oversight of the school district.

Thomas Loughran: I will continue to listen to teachers and parents through PTA meetings, personal interaction, and sideline conversations about our students’ experiences and needs in mental health support, equity in education, and families struggling with the district reorganization. In addition, there is work and data to be gathered and analyzed to ensure our efforts are impactful and meaningful. Ultimately, I will bring all those conversations and conclusions to the Board of Education and Superintendent to craft a budget that continues to help us reach our goals and then set loftier goals for achievement.

4. Do you believe that CRT and the indoctrination of students is an issue for our K-12 students? If so, please explain why it is an issue and if/how you would work to prevent it.

Frank Labate: I don’t think that it has been an issue in our district. I advocate bringing parents back into the fold and allowing teacher/parent collaboration through curriculum committees. This way we can rest assured that our students are being taught in a manner consistent with community values and educational excellence.

Allison Noonan: Critical Race Theory means different things to different people. I think a good start would be to define what exactly we mean by the term and why some people are using this term as a political issue to divide communities. We cannot deny we are participating in larger social institutions and systems that are imperfect. However, we cannot improve these institutions and systems without the freedom of intellectual curiosity and honesty.

Larry Licopoli: Yes, but only to the extent that CRT has become a hot national political topic that has veered into the educational lane alleging that CRT poses a disruptive threat to schools. Because the publicity of CRT is so varied, I believe by creating a safe setting where concerns and questions can be honestly addressed, and facts can be clearly articulated, will enhance collaboration and trust. Consistent with the ongoing development of our revised policy on Curriculum, I think that some of the following steps would be helpful:

  1. With comprehensive curriculum planning and evaluation, convene a committee or task force consisting of representative parents, respected community members, school board reps and staff for the purpose of seeking areas of mutual understanding and common ground on the issue.

  2. Identify the definitions, perceptions, and implications.

  3. Try to identify areas of agreement. For example, can we agree that American history should be examined honestly and accurately, based on facts, including times when the nation failed or fell short of its ideals? While teachers should never attempt to indoctrinate students on any political or religious belief, is there a body of work that supports teaching and learning strategies where students can study this history and frame their own perspectives? Such a committee or task force can also help frame the curricular outcomes about how “history” will be taught in the district/school, citing National and State Standards, the Bill of Rights and other relevant source documents. Finally, when any common agreements are reached, these can be publicized and shared with the wider community.

Thomas Loughran: I do not believe CRT, and the indoctrination of students is appropriate for K-12 students. Instead, I think public education should help students develop the basic skills necessary to be successful in life and positive contributors to society. To achieve this, we should teach facts, circumstances, and results. Deliver to our students the ability to be critical thinkers and come to their own conclusions in their own time.

5. In your opinion, what role does the Northport BOE play in state vaccine mandates and other protective measures in place for Covid-19?

Frank Labate: Local school boards are compelled by the state to implement certain health regulations. That said; we have an obligation to our residents to protect their medical rights. In the very bad case of a Covid-19 vaccine requirement, our BOE needs to have an easy, transparent, and fair system through which students can be granted medical exceptions. Other “protective measures” need to be implemented in a way that doesn’t obstruct a student’s access to full time, in person schooling, and all of the other educational and recreational opportunities that are normally available.

Allison Noonan: The Northport-East Northport Board of Education has to uphold the New York State Education Department’s requirements for vaccine mandates and other protective measures mandated by the state and required by law.

Larry Licopoli: Fundamentally we have no formal role other than carrying out the law, statutes, requirements, mandates etc. as they are determined by the agencies that govern local school districts such as NYS Department of Education. Nevertheless, as a school system, we can advocate and lobby for what we believe are our interests in these areas.

Thomas Loughran: I do not believe the Northport-East Northport Board of Education plays any role in vaccine mandates and/or other protective measures for Covid-19. The Board of Education is in place to provide K-12 education to students within the community under the laws and rules of the State of New York. I believe public and personal health should remain between doctors and patients.

6. In your opinion, how can the district practice better fiscal responsibility in the years ahead?

Frank Labate: We need to be flexible and agile in our spending decisions, and able to adapt in order to protect the taxpayers. If we were fiscally responsible now, we wouldn’t be waiting so long for a plan to bring in revenue from either of the two closed schools that are now severely under-utilized and a drain on the budget. Revenue from those buildings could be easing the tax burden right now but it’s not. This is a total fumble by the current BOE and administration. If the reorganization were done right we could even have expected a budget decrease while improving the quality of our education.

Allison Noonan: I hope our Long Range Financial Planning Committee will be able to come up with a plan going forward that will help the community as we navigate through the LIPA glidepath as the tax shifts to the taxpayer. We are fortunate enough to have people in our community who have the expertise to help guide us through the next few years. We also need to advocate for continued additional funds as well as a mechanism for a reserve fund for communities that are dealing with decommissioned power plants and/or power plant tax certioraris.

Larry Licopoli: We have charged an evolving School Community Team task force with developing a multi-year financial plan aimed at balancing declining enrollment, school utilization, projected (not legislated) increases in state aid where we become “whole,” and a LIPA glide path that will end. The task at hand is to ascertain and project the sum and substance of educational programs we need to preserve and add with what our community can afford. The financial planning goal is to be in place when the glide path ends, and with the projected increase in state aid and strategic precision with expense side planning, we have an educational plan that the community values and can afford. I am optimistic that we can achieve this because we have a supportive community committed to our children along with exceptional teachers, support staff and administrative leaders who put our kids first. I remain confident that when working together we can meet this challenge.

Thomas Loughran: I believe it is crucial for the district to adopt and be guided by a Long Range Fiscal Plan that takes into consideration our Educational Program, Capital Improvement Responsibility, and Current and Future Funding Constraints. I look forward to continuing the work with our parent/community-based committee to bring that work to the Board of Education and the community.

The 2022-2023 annual budget vote and election of trustees will take place on Tuesday, May 17, from 6am to 9pm. For information on how and where to vote, click here.