Cambridge School Board candidates speak on the issues at forum

Saturday May 18, 2013

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Two candidates for one seat on the Cambridge Central School board shared their views during a "meet the candidates" event at the school Thursday.

Board member Paul Baker-Porazinski is finishing his first three-year term on the school board while challenger Sean Cossey is seeking that seat in his first bid. The two candidates agreed on most terms during an amiable forum that contrasted with recent conflicted school board meetings. The election and budget vote is Tuesday, May 21.

Paul Baker-Porazinski

Following time as an art and ESL (English as a second language) teacher, assistant dean, and principal, the latter position at Salem High School, Baker-Porazinski said his role as school board member had been "one of the most frustrating and rewarding experiences" simultaneously.

Running three years ago for his first term, the coach and father of three said the most critical issue then was to stabilize the administration at the school. Turnover at the top had resulted in turnover of teaching staff, a dip in academic rankings, and increased discipline rates.

"Now we’re back," Baker-Porazinski said Thursday, among the top schools in the region. "We have an extremely stable administration," he continued, and "fantastic" building principals.

Speaking later during the forum, Baker-Porazinski said that stability also allowed the school to successfully take on mandated Common Core Learning Standards. "It’s collaborative. ... Here, I think it’s been embraced specifically because of our building principals."

How to recruit and retain qualified staff at a small school district? Baker-Porazinski said the primary factor was not money but leadership, "the importance of strong leadership (which) makes you comfortable and satisfied with your job." He evidenced the statement with the CCS faculty’s offer to organize extracurriculars without compensation -- a giveback agreed-to by the school teachers’ union last year that has been accepted again for next fall.

One area where Baker-Porazinski disagreed with his opponent was on the topic of extracurriculars being a challenge at a small school. "It’s an opportunity," he said, with a smaller student body allowing a greater percentage to participate in multiple sports and clubs.

With the school the community’s most important asset, the incumbent said budgetary matters were a constant struggle and "balancing act" but "our (primary) job is to provide the best education to our kids."

Sean Cossey

A lifelong town resident with three young children, Cossey said his involvement in the community included the Cambridge Valley Rescue Squad, the Cambridge Lions Club, and as a coach for youth soccer and little league. He is currently a senior program coordinator for Mobile Hyperbaric Centers, an Ohio-based medical company with services at St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy.

"The school board has an extremely important responsibility," he said, representing the community and school district.

Queried about the most challenging issues facing small districts like CCS, Cossey said it was balancing extracurriculars, budgetary issues, and retention of teachers.

"That is a challenging issue," he said, affording students opportunities while not "taxing people out of here."

With regard to the Common Core, Cossey said the greater depth would benefit students later in life. "I’m not a huge fan of (state mandates) ... but if it’s something we can build on and use and benefits our students, I’m definitely for it."

Regarding Annual Professional Performance Review staff evaluations, Cossey said he didn’t think standardized tests should be used for grading teachers. "I’d rather have them teach the subject material," than teach toward the assessments that factor into APPRs.

Asked about budget priorities if the spending plan is defeated next Tuesday, Cossey said he looked at line items to trim down in his professional work. But the budget on the ballot Tuesday "seems to be a decent balance," he said. After Tuesday’s budget hearing, "it’s solid in my mind."

As for the most important issue over the next year, Cossey said it was to make sure the board represented the people who voted them in.

Asked after the forum why he was running for a seat now, Cossey said he wanted to be involved in positive change serving on the board.

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