MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac School District voters will choose from among four candidates to fill three seats in this year’s school board election.
With no in-person voting this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, residents will receive ballots by mail this week and must return them to the district by June 9.
Here’s a look at the four candidates seeking your vote for three-year terms:
Ben DiLullo is a 24-year resident of Mahopac. The father of three has been president of Mahopac SEPTO (Special Education PTO) since 2018 and has worked at a major pharmaceutical company for 30 years as a contract development and project manager. His wife is a fourth-grade teacher at Fulmar Road Elementary. He graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in economics and has an M.B.A. from the Stern School of Business, New York University.
“I want to make a difference and prepare our students with every available means to succeed in an undefined future,” DiLullo said when asked why he’s running for school board. “Conventional methods are no longer enough.”
DiLullo said it is crucial for district voters to pass this year’s school budget.
“Austerity options are untenable and would wreak havoc on our schools, property values, and community reputation,” he said. “The student is the center of our universe. Their health and safety is the undisputed priority. Anything less is unacceptable. Our children must feel both nurtured and challenged to grow into the people they are meant to become.
DiLullo said there are two key components to his platform: attracting the best educators to Mahopac and community involvement with the schools and Board of Education.
“The Mahopac Way means being the best. The best-in-class educators and administrators should teach our students,” he said. “Attracting and retaining top educational professionals must be a priority in order to build continuity for our academic programs.
“And full participation yields full representation,” he added. “The Board of Education needs to reach out and facilitate open dialogue and community participation in the education policy decision-making processes.”
DiLullo said, if elected he would bring integrity, passion and common sense to the board
“At SEPTO, we raised the awareness of the needs of special-education students and their families and funded tools and programs for both general and special ed students,” he said. “I love working with people to solve a problem and get to a goal. I have led many successful projects with diverse stakeholders. I shepherded these teams with perseverance and passion.
DiLullo said that as a board trustee he will look after the best interest of district residents and the children.
“When the ballots arrive at your home via mail May 27 and 28, please vote for me and the school budget, and return the ballot via mail so that it arrives before June 9,” he said.
Tanner McCracken has lived in Mahopac for 14 years, graduating from Mahopac High School in 2017.
“My family moved here all those years ago because my parents understood the importance of growing up in a beautiful community with a great school system,” he said.
McCracken studied political science at SUNY Albany where he served as a member of the Board of Finance and Appropriations Committee for the 501(c)(3) non-profit Student Association Inc., where he prepared and managed a budget of $3 million. He currently works full-time for the New York State Senate.
“In my time so far, I have worked under multiple state senators in Albany and here in the Hudson Valley, gaining valuable experience in legislation, constituent correspondence, and budget/data analysis,” he said. “I am running because I strongly believe a recent graduate is needed on the Mahopac School Board. My educational journey, from my first steps into Austin Road all the way to my high school graduation makes me a byproduct of the Mahopac school system. I would like to bring forward my insight on how certain decisions look from the perspective of a 21st century Mahopac student.”
McCracken said he believes it would be a great reassurance to the parents of the district to know that a member of the school board was recently in the same shoes their kids are in now.
“My platform consists of many plans that I believe will improve our school district and enhance the education and experience of our students,” he said. “I believe in improving our education to better encapsulate real-world preparation for the future. I will advocate for a personal financial management class for juniors/seniors, job training programs, and an improvement in special education so our students have the skills they need after graduation for any path they take.”
McCracken said that the safety of the students is his No. 1 priority, and he will be ready to help the district adapt to the ever-changing world COVID-19 has placed us in.
“Outside the pandemic issues, I believe one of the biggest challenges facing the district is the presence of drugs and substance abuse in our community,” McCracken said. “Nothing good comes from young people getting their hands on drugs and studies have shown that there is a link between substance abuse and poor classroom performance. My solution is training our parents and guardians, so they have the tools they need to recognize the problem and help their kids.”
McCracken said that as the district recovers from the pandemic shutdown, the best way to bounce back is to not increase taxes to “fill the school budget.”
“A smaller tax burden will incentivize more families to move to Mahopac to raise their kids which, in turn, will provide us with more tax revenue in the long run,” he said. “That is how we will best recover from this pandemic.”
McCracken said the school district needs to remain a top-performing district.
“I am ready to work with the superintendent and the other school board members in supporting the teachers and non-academic workers who make Mahopac so special,” he said.
Gilbert McMahon moved to Mahopac from the Bronx in 1981 with his wife and two children. He is the founding attorney for the McMahon Advocacy Group, representing special needs children and their families.
“I have always been involved with the youth of Mahopac,” he said. “I began coaching MSA when my children were young and have coached CYO basketball for the last 37 years. I now serve as the co-coordinator with my son, Thomas, of the St. John’s CYO Program.”
McMahon has been a trustee of St. John the Evangelist Church and is the president of the Finance Council and Administrator of the food pantry, as well as a member of the Mahopac Communities That Care. He founded a youth drug prevention group with four Mahopac teens.
“I have long thought about running for the Board of Education, but recent events made me feel the need for experienced leadership on the board, leadership I can provide,” he said. “I appreciate that Mahopac has been recognized as an excellent school district but going forward we have to find ways and opportunities to allow our students and the schools to keep getting better. Standing still is going backward. New programs such as certification for drug abuse counseling and classes in sixth and ninth grade to enable students to adjust to the changes and challenges of a new environment are perfect examples of pushing forward.”
McMahon said that the pandemic will pose significant issues for the school district.
“Obviously, we have to ensure the safety of the students and staff while trying to get the children back to the full experience of school, which means being educated by a teacher in person and developing socially and emotionally in a school building,” he said. “The second issue is the financial burden due to the unsettled outlook of state aid and, in the short term, the lack of information upon which to base budgets. The current Mahopac School budget attempts to maintain staffing levels, class structure and extracurricular activities, but superior financial constraints may come into play with changes to state aid initially and over the next several years.”
McMahon said he has always been available to the community through volunteerism and will continue to be as a school board trustee.
“I recommend voting ‘yes’ on this year’s budget and I have endorsed incumbent Michael Simone for the board, as we share a common work ethic and vision for the next three years,” he said.
Mike Simone is the lone incumbent in this year’s race, having just completed his first term as a school board trustee. He has been the town highway superintendent since 2000. He’s a lifelong resident of Mahopac. Starting with his parents, three generations have graduated from Mahopac High School. He graduated from New England College with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
As well as a school board trustee, his resume includes president, Putnam Prevention Council; president, Westchester/Putnam Highway Superintendents Association; board member, Community Cares; and executive committee member, NYS Association of Town Highway Superintendents.
“I am very proud of the changes that have taken place in the district during my time on the Mahopac School Board,” he said. “Programs and facilities have been enhanced; communication, as well as relationships with the bargaining units and community have improved. Individual students have been exposed to a new world of opportunity via innovative programs and technology.
“Furthermore, we have developed strategies to offer more to our students with existing resources to reduce or maintain the budget-to-budget yearly increases,” he continued. “I would like to continue on this path especially considering the challenges that the School District is now facing with COVID-19.
Simone said some of the things the board has achieved in the last three years include:
• A $54 million bond for capital improvements, with zero impact to the taxpayer
• Nine-period day, which enhances the learning experience
• Strategic roadmap for the district
• Foreign language in the middle school
• Readers/writers literacy program
• Math coach
• K-5 STEAM coach
• Project Lead the Way
• Modified sports
• Substance abuse certification course
• PSAT tests for grades 10 and 11
• SAT prep course offering
• MMS Summer Academy
• Director of guidance
• Expansion of guidance programs in grades K-12
• MHS Elective Fair
• 7/7 contracts negotiated
• 1:1 Chromebook Initiative
• Network infrastructure and wireless upgrades
“Please support our budget,” Simone said. “ I have endorsed Gil McMahon for the board as we share a common vision.
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