On May 21, three candidates will be running for two open seats on the Baldwin Board of Education. Incumbent Susan Cools is running for re-election, while Joel Press has decided not to run for a third three-year term. In a message to the Herald, Press — who served as the BOE’s president for the 2018-19 school year — said he recently started a new job that has made dedicating time to the board difficult.
“I felt that if I could not perform in my role as a board member to the level that I felt the community deserved, that I should not seek re-election, and that is what I have chosen to do,” Press said. “I will look to find another way in which I can continue to contribute to the Baldwin school community.”
Baldwinites Tom Smyth and Patricia Hinds-Mason are the other candidates vying for a spot on the board. The race is an at-large election, meaning the two with the highest vote counts will win a seat on the board.
Voters will cast their ballot while deciding whether to approve the proposed $134 million school budget for the 2019-20 school year. Voting will take place at Baldwin High School, 841 Ethel T. Kloberg Drive, on May 21 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Susan Cools, incumbent
Cools is running for her second three-year term on the board. “I feel like I’ve just gotten to the point where I understand everything there is to do with this,” she said. “I think people don’t realize what this position entails. It’s not just a meeting once a month, it’s a lot more than that.”
Cools said her incumbency would give her an advantage on the board because she understands the time commitment needed to be an advocate for children. “Either through laws for their safety or education requirements for their curriculum,” she said. “There’s a lot to understand.”
In her first three years, Cools said she’s proud that Baldwin has remained an above average school district — it out performs Nassau, Suffolk and the state in several categories, including graduation rates for students with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged, 78 and 88 percent, respectively, in 2018.
“The important thing is that really shows the educational equity we have in Baldwin,” she said. “It’s a goal that all school districts are trying to achieve, but many are not able to and we’re clearly achieving that very well.”
She also touted her connection to the rest of the community — there is very little Cools and her family are not involved in. She is the president of the Baldwin-Rockville Centre Rotary Club and is a member of the Chamber of Commerce.
Her daughter Samantha is on the Baldwin Civic Association’s executive board, and her husband, John, is a longtime firefighter and Sanitation commissioner. The Cools family have roots in Baldwin since 1923.
“I think there needs to be a bridge between the school district and the community,” she said. “If one does not succeed, the other doesn’t succeed.”
She said she would like to increase community involvement in the school district by making sure every resident — including those without children in the school system — are invited to community events. She said this would be done by increasing the district’s visibility online and in the community. “You’re paying the taxes,” she said. “Come see what your money is being spent on.”
Tom Smyth touted the fact that he’s the only candidate with children still in the school system. “The other two … may not be as aware of how things work in the school system these days,” he said. The other candidates’ children graduated Baldwin High School years ago. Over the past 16 years, Smyth has been involved with parent teacher associations, and has advocated for Baldwin schools on the state level.
Every year, he joins a busload of educators and students for a trip to Albany. There, they demand more state funding for Long Island school districts, specficially for Baldwin. “Long Island educates 17 percent of the kids, but only gets 12 percent of the school funding,” he said. “As a trustee, I would definitely use my role to further advocate for mandate relief from the state.”
He said unfunded mandates — such as the requirement to have defibrillators in schools, or increased number of English Language Learner teachers — has put a strain on the district that should be relieved by money from Albany. “Let the state take that out of the general pot of taxes,” he said.
Smyth has worked in finance for 30 years, something he said would benefit the board when developing budgets. “We could find a way to provide services without raising taxes inordinately,” Smyth said.
The music program at Baldwin, he said, is one of his favorite parts of the district. “It’s one of the unique programs in Nassau County,” he said. “It’s great they say, take 20 minutes to practice an instrument.” But he said he’s most proud of the rigorous curriculum in Baldwin. “My daughter, who is in college now, will tell me how much better prepared she is than her classmates,” he said.
Smyth is also bi-lingual — he learned Spanish while working in Honduras for a few years. He said he would use that skill to reach out to the 30 percent of the district that identifies as Hispanic.
“A couple of parents told me during the candidate’s forum that it was nice I spoke in Spanish for a bit,” he said. “I would be happy to talk to those parents and see what concerns they have.”
Patricia Hinds-Mason lives and breathes education — she teaches the subject at Molloy College, and has been involved in Baldwin schools as the president of the Concerned Parents of Baldwin, a group dedicated to bettering the school community.
“I have an in-house view of how schools work,” she said, “and the possibilities that can be created with affective administrators.” Through the Concerned Parents of Baldwin, she’s created several programs such as a speaker’s bureau at the middle school, where Baldwin alumni talk to BMS students about career options.
“I have that kind of innovative way of going around the issues that we have to deal with, without costing the district much money,” she said. “I come up with creative solutions, despite all sorts of restrictions.”
She’s also organized anti-drug seminars, discussions about bullying and more.
She said she would like to hold more discussions, specifically about how Long Island school districts operate. When she moved to Baldwin from Queens, she was unaware of how a public school district’s budget worked or how parents could get involved. “That’s something you actually have to break down for people,” she said.
She said, if elected, she would work to ensure the district is meeting all students’ needs. “Students need to be given every opportunity to academically progress,” she said. At Molloy College, Hinds-Mason specializes in special education — she said her experience in the field would help her advocate for all Baldwin children. “I know what it’s like to sit with a child one-on-one and be creative and innovative,” she said. “It’s all about never giving up on the individual child, and always advocating for them.”
One demographic that needs more attention, Hinds-Mason said, are the children of parents working more than one job. She would also ensure every budget dollar is spent to its maximum potential. “As you look at that budget line, you have to realize that’s a child or teacher that can be affected,” she said. “You have to think about what’s good for the overall? The different programs, sports and academics. How do you spread that money across to help out everyone?”