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Shala Pascucci

File photo by Rita J. Egan

By Amanda Olsen

Kings Park Central School District residents will vote on the 2022-23 budget and select two school board trustees when they head to the polls Tuesday, May 17.

Trustees Pam DeFord and Dan Tew are not seeking reelection, so two seats are up for election. These seats are at large, meaning voters can select any two candidates.

The budget for next year is $102.24 million, an increase of 1.94% over last year. This will result in a 2.99% tax levy increase, or $23.39 more per year for the average taxpayer. This includes a state aid package of approximately 19%. 

The budget allocates additional mental health resources, including an additional high school social worker and a regional behavioral health center for students. It maintains all sports, extracurricular clubs and activities. The funding also ensures each elementary school has a full-time librarian. It increases cybersecurity protections, internet filtering and security cameras, and supports the vehicle fleet, including the purchase of two new large gas buses, one smaller gas bus and one dump truck. 

There are also some cuts. From a staffing/teacher perspective, the district is reducing by three elementary teachers and three secondary teaching equivalents. This reduction is to adjust for declining enrollment, according to the district. 

Douglas Cerrato

Douglas Cerrato

Cerrato became more involved with the school district during remote learning. He is a financial adviser in Huntington village and this is his first time running for the school board. Cerrato is seeking more transparency in how the board is run and interacts with the community. He believes his experience and understanding of budgets will be an asset to the board. The candidate views himself as impartial and unencumbered by relationships with outside organizations. 

According to Cerrato, Kings Park has too many administrators when compared to neighboring districts serving more children.

“Enrollment is down 30 percent [over the last 10 years], but [in the same period] the budget is up 30%,” Cerrato said.

He outlined a plan to streamline administration by possibly eliminating positions and redirecting those funds.

“The goal is to reduce the administrative budget by $1 million, and redistribute the funds saved to front-line employees,” he said.

Cerrato also wants to form resident-led and parent-led steering committees that will increase community input and have a net-neutral or net-positive impact on the budget. He hopes to bring the average cost to educate a student [$28,411] down to the county average [$25,638] and reduce reliance on state aid. He plans to follow the desires of the community when it comes to mandates and divisive curriculum decisions.

Jaime Lelle

Jaime Lelle

Lelle is the mother of three boys, a parent and alumnus of Kings Park school district. She has been in an administrative role as the pediatric nurse educator of Stony Brook Children’s for the last two years and was a bedside pediatric nurse for the previous 14 years. She believes this career has made her a strong advocate and an effective listener. Her job often involves performing reviews and revisions of policies and procedures. 

“I believe I can provide those same skills to the Kings Park board of education creating a more just and fair representation of the community at large, while providing the appropriate checks and balances in decision making, ” she said. 

Lelle believes the biggest issue with the district currently is transparency and representation. Some of her plans to address this need are developing an electronic system to gather feedback from the parents and community, and establishing policies focusing on communication would provide more transparency and address issues in an appropriate timeframe.

When it comes to the budget, Lelle wants to reduce the scope of the administrative costs.

“I believe the budget can be reduced with a smart strategic comprehensive review with either a net-neutral or net-positive impact on the students and community,” she said. “Looking at the budget and district through a lens of the private sector will bring in negotiation and competition by going out to market, therefore reducing the costs and overall budget.”

Patrick Hanley

Patrick Hanley

 Hanley has resided in the district for 15 years, has three children attending schools in the district and is section manager in electric operations for Con Edison. 

“I welcome the opportunity to help progress the district,” he said. “This would be a meaningful way to serve my community and make a difference.” 

In his current position at Con Edison, Hanley has been heavily involved in budgets, personnel and general management, skills he believes will benefit the district going forward. 

“There are some communication gaps that need to be addressed,” he said. “The last couple of years have been a real challenge. We need to connect with people on a personal level and get out beyond the board meeting.”

To that end, he said he plans to reach out to and engage with parents and civic organizations in the district for input. 

When addressing the budget, Hanley said he planned to be sensitive.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “We need responsible management to make sure we get the most value.”

Shala Pascucci

Shala Pascucci

She has been a resident of Kings Park school district for 22 years and has two children in Kings Park schools. She holds a master’s degree in social work and is both a social worker and a certified secondary education teacher.

Pascucci is a founding member of Kings Park Advocates for Education, a board member of the Smithtown Youth Bureau and sits on the New York State Allies for Public Education and Long Island Opt Out steering committees. 

She is also co-president of the Kings Park Robotics Club.

Pascucci was not available for an interview before press time. According to her campaign website, she “started advocating for whole-child learning almost 10 years ago because I hated the idea that education was moving in the direction of treating kids like they were no more than standardized test scores.”

Her website also states, “My goal is to help the community and our district heal, regroup and focus back on our kids and their education.”

Voter information

Cerrato and Lelle are campaigning together, so are Hanley and Pascucci.

Voting takes place on May 17 between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. at Kings Park High School back gymnasium, 200 Route 25A.

Candidates are vying for two seats on the Board of Education.  Each seat is for a term of three years, commencing July 1, 2022. Voters registered with the Suffolk County Board of Elections can vote on the budget and candidates.