With seven individuals in the running for three open seats, this year’s race for the Northport-East Northport school board vows to be a spirited contest.
From a 22-year-old Northport man looking to flex his political muscles to a 15-year veteran school board member vying for his sixth term, the slate spans a spectrum of backgrounds and candidates tout a range of experiences.
“It’s going to be a party,” Stephen Waldenburg Jr., the long-serving board member who is seeking re-election said in a phone interview.
Three seats are open — those of board members David Badanes, James Maloney and Waldenburg. Badanes and Waldenburg are running for re-election, while Maloney is not running, according to district clerk Beth Nystrom.
Other candidates running include former school board member Tammie Topel, Josh Muno, Peter Mainetti, David Stein and Michael “Bruno” Brunone.
In interviews this week, the candidates discussed issues including the Long Island Power Authority’s (LIPA) litigation challenging the value of the Northport power plant — a lawsuit that if settled unfavorably could mean double-digit percentage increases in taxes for district residents. Candidates also discussed the recent green-lighting of full-day kindergarten next year and the board’s recent budget decision to nix the district’s visual arts chairperson position in next year’s budget.
Stephen Waldenburg, Jr.
Waldenburg said he’s running for many reasons, but mainly to help newly appointed Superintendent Robert Banzer transition smoothly. Waldenburg has served on the board since 2000 and said he’s got some unfinished business, such as working on the LIPA litigation and ensuring the arts program isn’t impacted by the loss of the chairperson position. Waldenburg voiced opposition to the move. “I’m very concerned about that. I kind of want to be here to make certain the program isn’t allowed to diminish at all.”
The veteran board member said he was instrumental in getting a robotics team established at the high school. He said he’s also got his eye on declining enrollments, which could prove to be “a very scary thing” for the district, particularly if buildings need to be closed.
Waldenburg works for American Technical Ceramic in Huntington Station as a customer service manager.
Former school board trustee Topel is looking to make a comeback.
The Northport resident, who was on the board up until last year, decided not to run again last year for personal and health reasons. If elected, she’d be interested in exploring cost savings in special education and working on the LIPA issue.
She said if she was on the school board she would have voted to axe the arts chairperson position as well, just based on numbers — most chairpeople at the district manage a department of 40 or so teachers, while the arts chairperson was managing a department of about 16 teachers, mostly veterans.
“My heart is really in Northport, in the school district, and I just want to be there again.”
Topel is the director of two nonprofits — K.i.d.s. Plus, which offers sports and therapeutic recreation programs for kids, and KIDS PLUS, which works with adults with disabilities.
The youngest out of the pool of candidates, Muno, 22, said he’s running because he feels the school board is “a little inactive on important issues.”
He’s critical of the Common Core Learning Standards and said he felt the curriculum doesn’t allow children to expand on their passions.
“The state, I think, is really overstepping their boundaries for this.”
Muno questions the need for the number of assistant superintendents currently at the district.
A Suffolk County Community College student, Muno lives in Northport and was raised by his grandmother. He works as a site safety captain at the Northport Hess gas station.
Stein is credited with successfully lobbying the school board to bring about full-day kindergarten funding for next year’s budget. He started going to the meetings last year, interested in a state comptroller’s audit that claimed the district overestimated its expenses to the tune of millions over the course of several years.
“In short, I’m a big proponent of honest budgets. And I think that the prior administration … became fairly adept at adopting budgets that were not entirely transparent.”
Stein said he feels the district’s been neglecting putting money into things it should, like its physical plant and sports facilities. He thinks the district needs capital improvements. He’s also interested in seeing school board term limits.
Stein is a retired New York City Police Department lieutenant.
Mainetti said he’s running because, “I’m not happy with what the current board’s doing, quite simply.”
He said he was greatly disappointed by the school board’s decision to get rid of the arts chairperson position. He called it a “terrible decision.”
He said he doesn’t support the budget because he wants to send a message to the board that what they’re doing, particularly with the art and music program, is not acceptable. He’s in favor of greater community involvement at board meetings and wants more board-back efforts of community outreach.
Mainetti is a baker training specialist at Panera Bread. He lives in East Northport.
In his first term, Badanes said he feels he’s brought about positive changes on the board.
He said he was heavily involved in the interview process that ultimately resulted in hiring the new superintendent, slated to start this summer.
Badanes also mentioned that he’s one of two trustees charged with overseeing teacher contract negotiations, and to that end there’s been a tentative resolution that has to be approved by both sides. “I think I was a positive person in that role,” Badanes said.
Badanes is also a member of the policy committee. Looking ahead, he wants to focus on resolving the LIPA litigation issue and keep offering a wide array of electives and opportunities at the high school.
Badanes is an attorney who practices mostly matrimonial, some criminal and a little bit of real estate law.
Michael “Bruno” Brunone
Brunone, born and raised in Northport, said he’s running because he wants to give back to a community about which he feels strongly.
Brunone said he believes the school board’s done a good job with the budget and he wants to step up to help out.
“I think what I could bring to the board is I’m a good team player, and when it comes down to a board, I feel it’s all about coalition building,” he said.
He said he supports the decision to get rid of the arts chairperson position, and he’s also supportive of the decision to create full-day kindergarten at the district. He wants to focus on “the triple A” if elected — athletics, academics and the arts.
Brunone is the vice president of Huntington-based Taglich Brothers.