SHRUB OAK, N.Y. – Five candidates are vying for three seats on the Lakeland Central School District Board of Education.
Incumbent trustees Denise Kness, Glen P. Malia and Rachelle Nardelli are being challenged by Michelle Browne and Gnesia “Genie” Feliu. All five candidates were asked the same questions and their responses are below, in alphabetical order.
The budget and trustee vote takes place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 16—at Van Cortlandtville Elementary School.
Who are you? Provide a brief overview of your background, education and experience to introduce yourself to voters.
• Michelle Browne: I am a graduate of SUNY Purchase and I have lived within the school district for more than 21 years. I am a married mom with three amazing children.
My oldest son attended Lakeland schools and graduated from Walter Panas High School. My 11-year-old attended elementary school from kindergarten through 2015. My youngest son is 3 and will start kindergarten in two years. I have dedicated a great amount of my time to volunteering. I contributed time in each of my son’s classrooms, joined the PTAs and assisted in countless PTA-sponsored events. I spent over five years as committee co-chair of our very successful after-school activity program. I am deeply dedicated to our community and committed to being involved in the constantly changing educational needs of our children. I am an open-minded listener and I will do my best as YOUR elected representative.
• Gnesia “Genie” Feliu: I have lived in the Lakeland Central School District for over 18 years. I came to Cortlandt Manor by way of Rego Park, Queens, where I attended both Copper Beech and Walter Panas. I am a mother to three wonderful girls ages 9, 7 and six months. The girls have kept me busy as I have volunteered many hours in their school, as well as run two Girl Scout troops. I am also a trained parent advocate; have attended a number of workshops and seminars regarding Common Core and public school curriculum; and have the experience of homeschooling my child.
• Denise Kness: I am seeking re-election to the Lakeland Central School District Board of Education. I have been a volunteer for the Lakeland Central School District for 13 years. I have two children in the district that attend Lakeland High School. I have an associate’s degree in marketing, merchandising and management from the Tobe Coburn School of Fashion in NYC. I have completed the two required certifications from the New York State School Boards Association on Finance and Governance. I have attended the New York State School Board Associations three-day conferences held in NYC. I continue to be a lifelong learner. My position on the board has certainly given me a wonderful opportunity to study educational law, school board governance and finance protocols.
• Glen Malia: I am a 26-year district resident living in the town of Cortlandt. I am a graduate of Hendrick Hudson High School (1976), the University of Pennsylvania (1980) and Brooklyn Law School (1983). Since 1986, I have had my own law firm, which is presently located in Peekskill, but had been located in Cortlandt Manor from 1998 to 2016. My wife, Donna, and I have six children, the five oldest having graduated from Lakeland High School and my youngest, a sixth grade student at Copper Beech, will attend Walter Panas High School. I have been on the Board of Education for 12 years. I have been vice president (2013-2014) and president (2014-2015). I am presently on the Audit, Construction, and Sick Bank committees. I have in the past been on the Policy, Special Education and Legislative Action committees.
• Rachelle Nardelli: I am seeking re-election to the Lakeland Board of Education. I live in Yorktown Heights and have three children attending Lakeland schools. I have a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Albany and a master’s degree in elementary education from Manhattanville College. I am a state-certified elementary education teacher and was a teacher in the Briarcliff Manor School District. I have volunteered in Lakeland for the last 13 years as a PTA co-president at Thomas Jefferson, co-president of the district Parent’s Council and a Lakeland Education Foundation board member. As a current Board of Education trustee, I serve on the Finance, Policy, Wellness and Goals committees. I’m especially proud to be part of the Goals Committee, where board members, administrators, teachers and parents are working together to re-examine the vision and mission of the District to ensure that we preparing our students for future success.
Why are you running for election/re-election to the Lakeland Central School District Board of Education?
• Browne: I have decided to run for board of education for numerous reasons, most importantly, to ensure our children have access to the best education possible, to prepare them for a successful future, with more alternative and challenging enrichment programs for all children. I will also contribute and prepare a responsible budget to ensure our tax dollars are being utilized in the best interest of our children and our community; analyze our current financial procedures and create more effective checks and balances for all transactions; and use multiple avenues to make our district’s public information more readily available online to our community. I look forward an to opportunity to serve on our board, as a member that is accessible and I will listen to each member of our community, by building more open communication between the Board members and our Community. The continued success of our children and our community, depend on open communication and collaboration.
• Feliu: I am running for election on the Lakeland Central School district Board of Education for a number of reasons. I feel I have fresh perspective as my children was introduced to the Common Core curriculum in kindergarten (the first year it was implemented). I am also well-versed in the law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 504 accommodations, as well as Behavioral Intervention Plans. With that experience, I have sat in on a number of Individualized Education Program determination meetings (including my daughters’). Since I homeschooled my oldest, I am also both familiar and comfortable with state curriculum requirements.
• Kness: I am running for re-election because I want to continue my passion for being an advocate for children and public education. Children are our future and I truly feel that what we nurture today will determine our tomorrow. To see students develop, grow and be the best they can be makes serving on the board of education a priceless position. I am the biggest fan of teachers. I feel they are our most valuable asset. If both students and teachers are given support emotionally and financially it can only lead to good things. I also have a profound level of respect for our support staff including bus drivers, mechanics and facility workers. It takes all of our employees every day to bring their “A” game to work in order to ensure our students receive the best we can offer.
• Malia: During my tenure on the board, we have improved the education provided to our students; have increased the opportunities, both scholastic and inter-scholastic, available to our students; have expanded the facilities; have developed and instituted cutting-edge special education programs; have improved our financial position (and bond rating); and have consistently kept the tax increases well below the tax levy cap and the surrounding district’s tax increases. I want to continue contributing to the good work that the board is doing.
• Nardelli: I am running for re-election to the board because it is important. Although it is a volunteer position, it carries great responsibility. The Board of Education oversees the overall operation of the district and is part of the group of stake holders responsible for educating our students. My experience as a classroom teacher helps me to bring a unique perspective to the trustee position. I feel my teaching background and dedication to improving the quality of education for all Lakeland students make me an essential part of the board. I continue to be impressed by our students in the classroom, on stage and on the athletic field. Watching students succeed and participate in activities they enjoy is inspiring and I would like to continue my service to the Lakeland community to help provide a well-rounded educational experience.
What do you believe is the function of a school board member?
• Browne: Our community elects each board member to represent our public interest in our schools. With the knowledge of the sacrifices made by each and every member of our community, they create a responsible budget to maintain the highest quality of education for our children and the future of our community. Each member is entrusted to hire the most qualified, dedicated individuals, to provide the best education for our children, in a safe, nurturing environment.
When issues arise between the community/parent with our school staff or district administrators, when all other administrative avenues have been exhausted, the board is our community’s safety net. As our publicly elected officials, they are in office to protect our children and our parents, and make decisions in the best interest of our community. The board members are the policymakers who protect our ability to have a voice in how our children are educated.
• Feliu: I believe that the role of a board member serves many different functions. First and foremost, a member must be a voice for the public they are elected to serve. They must work collaboratively as a team to come up with solutions, support hiring decisions, as well as maintain a fiscally responsible budget.
• Kness: I have learned that the function of a board member is to govern without prejudice or personal motive. A role of a successful board member is to represent the entire community, be a steward of the district’s resources, exercise leadership and most of all an advocate for public education. You must be trustworthy, confidential and goal driven.
• Malia: The first and foremost function of a school board member is work cooperatively with the other school board members and the district administration. A school board member helps craft the vision for the school district; helps craft policy and make budgetary decisions in accordance with that vision. In making any decision, a school board member should consider the affect that decision has on ALL of the students of the district, not a specific student or group of students.
• Nardelli: A board member has the responsibility of overseeing the operation of a district. The board creates the policies that allow students to receive a quality education in a safe secure environment. When making decisions, trustees need to consider what is best for all students and not be biased or motivated by personal agendas. The board also reviews district finances to ensure the responsible spending of tax dollars. Board members should represent the values of the community, be aware of what is happening in education on the state and local levels and be advocates for Lakeland and public education. In addition, attendance at district events is important to show support for Lakeland students and staff.
Identify a top priority for the Lakeland Central School District over the next three years.
• Browne: As elected officials, I feel a top priority is building a more open communication between the board members and our community. The continued success of our children and our community depend on open communication and collaboration, and finding solutions to issues that help everyone.
• Feliu: Over the next three years, I would hope to see more diversity in our school district. It seems to be a subject that isn’t often addressed, but as a Hispanic woman, I know how important it is to have diversity in strong roles and leadership positions.
• Kness: I believe we have three top priorities while we continue to be fiscally responsible. In the next three years, I feel we should continue our focus on mental and emotional health programs, execute and implement successfully the technology bond and continue our efforts to add student enrichment programs.
• Malia: The top priority for the district over the next three years is the same as it has been during my whole tenure on the board: to provide the best education and facilities for our students in order to give them the opportunity to reach their full potential while keeping the taxes down as much as reasonably possible. Over the next three years, due to new regulations, e.g. minimum wage increases, and the need to make significant capital improvements due to our aging buildings, the financial constraints will be very important. The board and the administration will have to come up with creative ways to ensure that the educational opportunities provided to our students continue to increase without increasing the tax burden on the residents.
• Nardelli: Lakeland is in strong financial health. Good planning and responsible spending have contributed to our financial stability. However, the unpredictability of state funding and the fluctuating cost of fuel, healthcare and retirement contributions are always concerns when building a budget that maintains quality programs. Mental health and wellbeing should also continue to be a focus. Recently established programs and clubs have helped to identify and alleviate some of the stress and anxiety felt by students. We also need to successfully implement the remaining phases of our long-range technology plan and oversee the capital improvement projects that will be taking place at all of our schools in the coming years to repair aging infrastructure and provide a safe learning environment for staff and students.