- By Dan Veaner
The three appeared at a 'Meet The Candidates' night Monday to talk about their vision of the district. About 20 community members attended. The session was moderated by Lansing High School Student Council Vice President Taylor Mikula and President Michelle Schaffer. A transcript of the session follows:
Moderators: Christine Iacobucci is a Professor of Sociology and has four children that have graduated from LCSD. She has been a long standing member of the Board of Education and has served in the role of Vice President and most recently President. Dr. Iacobucci would like to see LCSD continue to maintain our reputation of academic excellence, while being fiscally responsible and continuing inclusive collaborative decision-making. Additionally she would like to see LCSD continue to advocate for education and adequate state funding for public schools.
Susan Tabrizi has two children in LCSD and works as Associate professor of Political Science at Wells College. She is a member of many community groups including LTAPA and PTSO. Dr. Tabrizi believes LCSD has a strong community of parents and district residents that support our students and school programming. She would like to see the District continue to strive to be sure that Lansing's excellent opportunities are available to all students. Dr. Tabrizi would also like to see continued maintenance of the District's financial health and ability to attract top-level faculty and staff. She supports enhanced communication among school leaders, families, and district residents as all work together in the best interest of students and our community.
Aaron Thompson graduated from Lansing in 1992 and attended Tompkins Cortland Community College and SUNY Brockport. After college Mr. Thompson graduated from Monroe Police Academy and is now a deputy for Tompkins County. He has two children in the school district. Mr. Thompson believes that LCSD offers a variety of activities for students. He would like us to continue to understand and plan for the impact caused by the potential closing of the Cayuga Operating Plant. He would also like us to continue to have a high ranking school district, while still allowing for average families to afford life in the community.
Why is the position important to you? What separates you from the other candidates?
AT: I've spent my entire life in Lansing. My grandma went to Lansing and taught at Lansing. When this building (the elementary school) was built my grandmother had seniority, and was asked what classroom do you want? She picked what is now the library as her classroom.
As I went to Brokport and went away to the Academy up in Rochester I spent four or five years of my life away from Lansing. I came back, started working for Dryden Police, and then started working for Tompkins County, and realized how great a community Lansing is. And how close-knit we are. I'd like to continue seeing that.
With the power plant closing, it could make a significant impact on the community and on the school. I wanted to make sure I am part of that, to do what's best for the school and the community.
CI: I really like Aaron's story. When I first came to Ithaca it was to take a position at Ithaca College. I was so homesick that every day I drove up East Shore Drive I just wanted to go home. 'Yeah, that lake is not that beautiful... my home town is so much better.' After living here since 1989 I have just become totally in love with the area. As Aaron said, it is a great community. It's a great place to raise your children. I would have to say it's a great place to stay after your children go away to school.
I know that is one of the things that people worry about: people move in to the Lansing community to have their children go to school here, because we are the best school district in the whole area. And then people move out. I think that trend may be changing a little bit because this is a great community.
ST: Thank you all for coming tonight. I am very pleased with this first question. Why is this important to me? This is important to me because you are important to me: my children, their friends, those children who are coming up behind them.
I think we have a tremendous opportunity here in Lansing because of our size. To get to know each other. To get involved with each other. And to provide for our children, the children of our neighbors, and, for ourselves, a school that really sets a standard. Not just in terms of academics, but in terms of that very, very critical idea of community. What it means to belong.
Being a member of the school board will provide me the opportunity to make sure that, yes, our financials are secure. We have a fantastic team. We just heard a great presentation, talking about what it means to think ahead. And to make sure that those programs that are near and dear to our hears, academic, arts, special education, whatever they may be, continue at the highest level.
I appreciate the ability to talk with you, to listen to what you have to say, to represent you on the school board, and to be part of continuing Lansing's great reputation and service that provides for our children.
Moderators: Are there any pressing concerns about the school district that you would like to change?
CI: I don't have anything pressing on my mind. What I do worry about is that we might lose the momentum that we've started to engage in over the last three years. What I've seen happen over the last three years is the administration has taken a great school district that was struggling a little bit in terms of our morale and cohesiveness. The administration has pulled us together, fostered a caring community. A community that invests in our students as well as in our employees. I would like to see that continue to grow.
That is probably one of the biggest reasons why I want to stay on the board, to be part of something that is that positive and has that much potential.
What I fear is that if anybody does have an axe to grind in lansing, that could become divisive. I've seen it happen before. Sometimes a person comes in divides our community, and then they leave. I would really like to see our momentum continue in the positive direction that it's going.
ST: I would say that of course we have pressing concerns. We live in the real world. We have financial concerns that are pressing on us. We have social change. We have economic diversity growing in the district. These are all things that we need to be paying attention to.
In the most general sense our pressing concern is to keep pressing. To keep moving forward. To keep, not only the level of excellence that we have now, but striving for an additional level of excellence. No matter how great you are, you can always be better. I think the great thing about Lansing is we aren't resting on our laurels. We do want to see forward movement.
So pressing. Press forward.
AT: I've been coming to these board meetings for the last several months to prepare and see if this is something I would want to take on. Seeing from the board meetings the big project with the sewer, the cost of that and the process that goes into it. And the ballfields, the heating systems getting old... there are costs that have to come up, that have to be addressed.
On top of that is the importance of lansing being such a great school and offering so much to the students. And the teachers taking pride. The Lansing teachers stay. It was great to see that they come here, they like it and they want to stay. They don't move on to the next school. They don't move to their home town where they have grown up. they start teaching at Lansing and they want to stay at Lansing because it is a great school.
There is also the huge concern for me and a lot of other people that what happens if the Power plant goes down? How can we afford to do this with the cost of taxes as a reality in many households? The tax (assessment) increases that people got in the last couple of weeks... assessments went up. That's real. That affects people's pocketbooks. There's got to be a balance between what people want to pay and can pay, and what Lansing can offer. That's a real thing that I think the Board is really important to make that perfect balance.
Moderators: Would anybody like the option to rebut?
CI: I don't have a rebuttal. Again, Aaron brings up something that is really important. Dr. Tabrizi says 'excellence', but at what cost? We always have to be mindful that things have a cost and we have a community that we have to have a fiduciary responsible not to have the best of all possible schools here with no dollar amount in the picture.
I think we have to be very careful of our older people, our community members who are just making ends meet. While I do believe in academic excellence and teaching the whole child I think we always have to consider what people can afford in this community.
ST: if I may I would like to add my wholehearted support for that idea. When I'm talking about excellence I'm talking about holistic excellence, comprehensive excellence, excellence incorporates not just the idea that we spend money willy-nilly, but that we have an excellent financial team. We have excellent financial management. Financial management means making decisions, and sometimes means making very difficult decisions. We are likely to see some very difficult decisions come down the road for us, but the extent to which we work together as a community is going to make making those decisions less painful. Not not-painful, but hopefully less painful as we come together to determine what our priorities are, and where we can make sure that our finances are not only secure for the existing budget, but into the future.
Moderators: Where do you see the district in five years?
ST: I think there are multiple facets when you are answering a question like that. Can I predict our financial future? I can not. I don't know what's going to happen with Cayuga Operating Plant. I think it behooves us to think worst case scenario and to plan for that.
I see Lansing continuing to be the type of school that other districts look at and say 'Wow'. that continues to attract people who want to move here because the district is so good. that will, of course, as we saw in the budget presentation, help us a little bit, some of that loss from Cayuga Operating Plant.
i would like to see Lansing continue to be on the cutting edge of technology education. I would like to see even more collaboration with our local colleges that have so much to offer us, both in terms of the arts and other academic pursuits.
I see Lansing, in five years, growing. I think that's inevitable. I know from working on the Comprehensive Plan that the Town has been putting together for the past few years, that we would le to see a diversification of the economy here in Lansing to offset some of those losses which are likely to come from the closure of the plant.
My vision for Lansing five years from now is that it continues to be an inclusive, community-oriented school that provides excellence in education for its students, again, under high quality professional management.
AT: I think Lansing will continue to grow as a town and as a school. If you had asked me five years ago or ten years ago where Lansing would be and how the size of it... the Town has just exploded in size from when I went to school. It's grown, I think, for the better. I think the school programs have increased. I think they keep in touch with what the community wants and what the community feels the school needs.
I think academically the school will continue to be top-ranked. As students like (wrestler) Kyle Dake made it so high, I think Lansing can be proud of the sports programs. When I was in school there was Bill Carey. He graduated a couple of years behind me. He was another one that went high in baseball, I believe he was a catcher. Lansing is proud of the academics and proud of the sports and they're proud that they came to the school. I think it's going to grow.
CI: If you asked me where I saw myself five years from now I'd say I have no idea where I'm going to be in five years. The other thing is five years ago if you had said, 'guess what all four of your kids are going to be doing five years from now, i never would have guessed because they just go and do what they do.
I have a couple of ideas about some visions that people have mentioned. years ago there was a person here who had said the school district really is the center of the community. He worked for around 18 months trying to pull people into the Lansing School District -- senior citizens and other community members, more things to have them come in and feel welcomed here, because this is a welcoming place. I would really love to see that idea flourish five years from now.
It really depends on what happens to the power plant. That is looming, always there in the background. if we have more development and growth I don't know what that's going to mean for the school district. That might be a concern that we need to start to think about. Will these town houses and apartments and whatever else the developments are... are they going to bring in lots of children that need to be educated? And what impact is that going to have on our school district? I don't know. it raises the question.
Some people have been talking about natural tourism. For the first time I went to Salt Point and was just blown away by the natural beauty that Lansing has. That certainly could be shared in a very environmentally friendly way with people around here.
I have some ideas, but I have no idea what will actually happen.
Moderators: What is your goal as a Board of Education member?
AT: My personal goal is to work with the rest of the board and the school, including the bus garage and maintenance, to see what is really the best we can do for this school, the most fiscally responsible thing we can do for this school and not have an impact on the taxpayers that are paying for what we bring to the school.
CI: My goal would be to move forward, work with the other school board members and have the pleasure of continuing to work with this administration and our students.
ST: My goal is to serve the community. My goal is to listen. My goal is to learn. My goal is to help the board, the administration... all of us work together to make decisions that are in the best interest of our community.
Moderators: What is your opinion on how effective the change in the schoool start time was this year?
CI: Actually this is a question that came up at C-Day from our students. it has had zero impact on me directly. I did ask students if it caused any hardships for them. The students who came to the session said no. Some of them didn't even notice any changes. They got up at the time they usually get up anyway.
So somebody raised a really good question. I think (School Board Member Aziza benson) brought this up to the board meeting, too. When we make a change like that, we took a long time to make the change to make sure that we heard from everybody, and everybody had their say. And to go back to check in with people to see how it's working for them. So that's a good question.
ST: I would also have to say that from a parent's perspective the change was smooth. For my children -- I have a daughter in elementary school and a newly risen 5th grader -- they both adapted to the change in time well. I do know it was a bit of a hardship for members of the community as they had to adjust their schedules to accomodate that, but, again, in the best interests of the students. That's how the decision was made.
It wasn't 'oh we don't like this time any more for some arbitrary reason but we're looking to find the best foundation for academic performance for the children in the district.' I think, so far, it's been successful. Of course we want to hear more feedback, and we'd like to hear feedback from teachers and those who are actually doing the study to determine that.
AT: I work overnight. I get home at 7 o'clock in the morning. As I pull into the driveway my wife is going out -- she works at Southern Cayuga school. My daughter's bus comes a little after seven and my son's bus doesn't come until around 8:20.
It used to come at 8 o'clock. So now I have to wait another 20 minutes or a half hour before I can go to sleep. I sleep in the daytime.
I was the day care before they went to school, so I would work overnights and for eight years I would watch them until my son finally went to elementary school. I could finally sleep during the daytime. It was great for a year... now the busses come 20 minutes late!
So personally I get a little bit less sleep, but other than that it wasn't too awfully bad.
Moderators: What do you feel is the strongest aspect of the district, and what is the weakest? How can that be improved upon?
ST: The strongest aspect of the district is the fact that we have thoughtful decision makers. We have a community of parents, students, professional administrators, members of the board who are volunteers, PTSO that knocks me out, sports boosters, the CDC , the LTAPA group -- it is amazing how much work is done by members of the community to support the school.
This doesn't just happen anywhere. I have friends and family across the country. When I tell them about the opportunities that my children have in this tiny little town with only one light that you actually stop... (to Deputy Thompson) we all stop at it.
AT: Of course. Always.
ST: It's really amazing. That doesn't just happen because somebody wishes it to be that way. It happens because people will it to be that way and participate in that. I think the school is central to that.
The greatest liability in the district, I think, is our growing disparity of economic fortune. It is something that we see across the country. Lansing is not immune to it. We have children who are homeless in this district. We can not turn a blind eye to them. We have families that are struggling. We can not turn a blind eye to that. And the school is central to making sure our community not only sees them, but loves them.
AT: The strength of the Lansing schools is that the community pulls together when you see them on the ballfields, and when you see them at school functions, the Town pulls together. There is large attendance at any school functions and any Lansing Rec sports. You see a lot of parents and a lot of people involved. Talking with the Lansing highway guys and a little bit with the Town Board, it seems like the three work together, and it's all for the better of the community and better of the school, and better for Lansing residents.
I really like that. I'm really proud to say that's what Lansing's like.
The downfall, again, is the uncertainty of the power plant. It's the elephant in the room. It's the unknown about what to do if that closes down completely. That's a huge thing that every community member should look at and really say 'what if...' As a school board we have to step back and say plan for the worst and hope for the best. And go from there.
Hopefully we can keep the community together and the communication open between everyone and do what's best for the school and the Town.
CI: I would echo what Susan has said, but really want to focus on the caring of the staff, teachers, and administrators here. We have, certainly, qualified people here, but they genuinely care about our kids. You can't dismiss that. That's just what Lansing is.
I wouldn't say it's the weakest, but it is something I care about personally: that is there are always those families and children, whether it's because of economics or for other reasons, that are marginalized. They're not among the popular families. They're not among the wealthier families. They're not among the families who are really great athletes. They're not among the families who are in LTAPA...
I want to make sure that every child who comes to this district knows that we care about them, and that we find something for them to be engaged with.
Moderators: Short and simple: what is your favorite thing about Lansing?
AT: It comes back to the community and how close knit we are. I moved away for five years and came back and really appreciated the Town. You can go down to Salt Point and the scenery is here. And Myers Park and Music in the Park. The whole town comes together, and that's what I love about them.
CI: Favorite building: elementary school. Favorite event: musical. Favorite sport: cross country.
ST: I would have to echo what we have all repeatedly said tonight. Today I was out for a walk with my Mom on a Cornell trail. As we passed people who were walking by us, people looked us right in the face and said hello. That's Lansing, right?
When I see people out at Wegmanns, at sports events, at any of the events in the community they remember me. They recognize me. I may not remember everybody's name... I can't tell you how many times I've had a conversation with someone and my kids will say 'Mommy who is that?' And I will say, 'Um... someone I know from Lansing.' Someone I know from Lansing -- that's really a huge part of this community, because it's not just that I travel in my little circle. We travel in multiple circles together, overlapping over and over again. And we see each other as valuable and as the type of community that can pull together when, not if, adversity, unfortunately, comes our way.
Moderators: Now we would like to ask the floor if they have any questions to ask.
Ted Laux: What do you see as the role of a board member, especially in relationship to a superintendent?
AT: I see the role of the board member as almost a liaison between what the community wants and what the Superintendent wants. From coming to board meetings for many months, it seems as though there are ideas from Mary June (King, business Administrator) and Chris (Superintendent Chris Pettograsso). This is what we see Lansing going in as a direction, and as a board member to listen and come up with their own ideas and direction, and to work together with the Superintendent and each other and try to come up with what's best for the school.
CI: Legally individual board members have absolutely no power at all, and it's only as a corporate body that we work with the Superintendent. That superintendent will make recommendations to us. Then we either approve those or reject those.
But there are some community expectations that Lansing has, that every community has. We make sure that the Superintendent is kept abreast of those and acts within those parameters.
ST: I would, again, echo those sentiments. The rule of a board member is collaboration. Collaboration with the administration. that means working together. It means talking through ideas. Collaboration with the community. Bringing those ideas from community members who might be more comfortable talking to members of the board who may be their friends and neighbors than they might be bringing something directly to the administration.
So I think that the role of the board member is to be collaborative. It is not rubber stamp. It is not obstruction. It is collaboration.
Moderator: Any other questions from the community?
Ted Laux: Sure. Are you familiar with the open meets law specifically and the reasons that you may leave the public view and go into Executive Session?
CI: Yes, I'm aware. I think there are eight legitimate reasons, if I'm not incorrect. I can't list them all for you right now, but I do look at the school law book.
ST: Again, I cannot recite them to you. But I am aware that they exist and I believe that they are important. I think they provide the Board with the ability to deliberate on issues that are of public concern, but, perhaps, not for public dissemination in the moment. I do, however, believe that the Board should be as open and comunicative with the public as they can within the legal contraints that are placed upon them.
AT: I don't know the eight -- that's part of being on the Board for the first time. There's a lot to learn. There are classes that we are mandated to take and pass. And there's a learning curve continuing through any job or recreation or any hobby or other position, there's a constant learning curve.
Moderator: Any other questions from the commmunity?
Ted Laux: Considering the time requirements of the job are you comfortable that you are able to fit quite a bit of time that we require you to put you forward to?
ST: Yes, I have. In fact, the decision to put my name forward for your consideration was one that was made with a great deal of deliberation between myself, my family, considering the demands that my job and my children and all of their activities bring with them.
My decision to put my name forward for your consideration was because I am applying to you to serve you. I would take that extremely seriously. That is a demand, not only on my time, but on my energy. And, as officer Thompson suggested, my dedication to jump into that learning curve.
AT: I have thought long and hard about the time that it's going to take. I've wanted to be on the School Board for a long time. After my kids were born, but before they were in school I wanted to be on it, but there was no way between working nights and watching them during the daytime that I could put that much time into an additional thing. Now they're both in school, and they've been in school for a few years now. I've been going to board meetings regularly to see how that goes -- and that's just a portion of all the time we have to put into it -- to see if it works into my schedule and to see if it works into my family life.
And it does. I know it's going to be a few more hours a week to do it, but it's worth that much to me to put in the extra hours and to do what's right for the school and the community.
CI: I would say that the time isn't the most difficult part of the job. The most difficult part of the job, for me, has been speaking up when nobody else wants to speak up. It's been having my children in school being made fun of by their school chums because their Mom said something unpopular at a board meeting. It's been social relationships in this community that have waxed and waned because of my role on the school board.
I have to say that because of the good people who are here in Lansing, if they didn't at one time agree with me years ago, they have certainly buried that hatchet and they are willing to be friendly now. I think that speaks a lot to the character of a lot of people here.
But I have to tell you two, if you have a strong opinion on something, and I know you do... I know specifically, Susan, that you do. That is going to be difficult for not just you, but for your family.
Moderators: Do you think communication between the school district and the community can be improved? And how?
AT: It seems like it is good now. There is a lot of social media for school closings or school events or the PTSO stuff or this board meeting tonight. I think there is always room for improvement, or efficiencies. I can't say everything is always ever perfect, but if there's room to change things then absolutely.
CI: I think we have really made a lot of strides with communication. If anyone has any suggestions at all I know this administration is always listening and acting on people's suggestions.
ST: I would say yes, we do,. I think we can always be more open, more assertive in our communications. We're all busy and for me to search through and figure out how to use my Twitter feed or my Facebook or talk to others about what's going on is sometimes more time than I think I should put in getting those communications. They should come to me. Email. Newsletter. As you know the PTSO is doing a fabulous job with their newspetter. But we can always have more communications.
I don't think that we're in a situation where we have closed door, behind the scenes things that there are secrets that people don't know. But there are lots of great things yhat happen within the district and lots of decisions being made that we, as a community, could be more knowledgable about.
Moderators: One last question. How does the budget affect our education?
CI: The budget is everything because if you don't have the funds we don't have the money to support programs. has to walk that line of what we can offer our students here on the backs of our taxpayers. There are many of us on the School Board who are very sensitive to people with financial struggles, even people who aren't especially struggling, if the taxes are large they're not going to vote for whatever it is that we're proposing. That is why our Business Administrator and our Superintendent, along with our teachers and our staff... we work really, really hard to put a budget together that we think is fair. That we educate our children as best as we can and at the same time keep in mind what we are asking our local people to pay.
ST: I would echo that. The budget is central. if we don't have funds we can't offer programs. But at the same time, if we are putting a burden on our community to the point where we are stressing that community that we have all suggested is so central to who we are as a district, then we're missing the point. We need to find that balance. We need to find the ability to work in collaboration. To see those who are struggling. To recognize the value in the programsthat we offer, to continue to support our teachers who go above and beyond because they see they are valued and not just in terms of dollars.
So the budget is critical. Careful, professional budgeting has put us in a situation where the closing of Cayuga Operating Plant, while a huge concern for us, has not stalled us. That we are able to recognize that we can make these decisions together.
AT: I knew this was going to come up at some point. What Lansing offers, people are coming here and are willing to spend 10, 15, 20 thousand dollars a year in taxes to live in Lansing because of the programs and because of the school and sports programs and what Lansing has to offer. At the same time there are families that are living paycheck to paycheck that also like what Lansing has. Somehow that budget has to be balanced so that people who can just afford it want to live here and are able to live here, and there are still the programs and opportunities for the people who are going to pay 10, 15, 20 thousand dollars a year in taxes still want to come here.
That's the fine line that as a board member, as a superintendent, as a business administrator that we would have to work together to make both ends happy and be able to afford to live here. And the long term family names that have been here for a long time since half of the developments were corn fields can still have their future kids come here, and then still have the new families come here and be willing to pay what they pay.
Moderators: We'll take this time now to give you the opportunity to make your final statements.
ST: Again, thank you all so much for coming. This is exactly the type of forum conversation that we in Lansing pride ourselves on and want to continue. Should I be fortunate enough for you to support me in the election, I would pledge to you that my openness in that communication is a huge priority for me.
I am interested in running for the board here in lansing because I want to serve he community. I want to make sure that our financial stability is maintained. That every kid that walks through the door gets our best, not just those members of our community who are involved with everything, but those students who, perhaps, might need us the most. I am very thankful for this opportunity and hope that in coming out to vote you feel that your investment in us as a board is worthy of the investment that you have put into our community.
AT: My career is to serve the community of Tompkins County. In the last 17 years my job has been to make tough decisions from the information that I have. Both sides aren't always happy. Most times... rarely are both sides happy. But it's the information I have and it's the job I have to doto go forward with what's right. Being a board member is along the same lines. There are two sides of things, and as a board member you have to take the information on both sides and apply it and do your best to do what's right.
Lansing is my town. When people say where I'm from I say I'm from Lansing. I actually live in the Town of Dryden, but I'm in the Lansing School District. And people ask why aren't you from Dryden? I'm from Lansing. It's the school you go to. I'm a Bobcat. And that's what you are. That's why I want to be part of the Board, not the Town of Dryden Board so much, but the Lansing School Board is where I feel I can do my best service to my town.
CI: I really have enjoyed serving, even over the rough times. Now things are building. I would like to continue to strengthen that momentum. I think we are incredibly open and our superintendent has done a marvelous job communicating to our community, more than any other superintendent before her. And, believe me, it is really unusual for me to be raving about a superintendent!
Lansing is a beautiful place. It is welcoming and friendly. I don't want anything to happen to change that. And I would like to continue to serve our community.
Moderator: Thank you to everyone who came out, and candidates for answering our questions.