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Four Questions For Kat-Lewisboro School Board Candidate Holbrook

Jeff Holbrook is running for Katonah-Lewisboro school board.
Jeff Holbrook is running for Katonah-Lewisboro school board. Photo Credit: The Daily Voice/Contributed

LEWISBORO, N.Y. – Jeff Holbrook has lived in Pound Ridge for more than five years and has twin children attending Meadow Pond Elementary School. He has earned degrees at Miami University in Ohio, and New York University. He is employed by Citigroup in the human resources division.

What would you bring to the Board based upon your life experience as a parent or community member, or in your occupation or profession?

Since my twin children will be in the KL schools for the next 10 years, I have a vested interest in building upon the high-quality education of our district while focusing on the necessary balance between effectively and conscientiously managing the budget. While I will work hard to decrease spending throughout the district, I will not simply look to cut the budget for the mere sake of cutting it. Rather, I will make prudent decisions that reduce costs without compromising educational excellence.

I have an extensive background in finance, budget preparation, communications and resource management.  My personal demeanor, extensive background in negotiating with multiple stakeholders, and planning and running meetings that respect attendees’ time and that result in actionable outcomes, regardless of the personalities involved, will allow me to create a more collaborative, transparent and professional environment in which to address the serious financial issues facing our district, while maintaining or enhancing the high quality of education one expects from our district.

I will bring a greater sense of professionalism to the Board. I have experience working with people whose views are different from mine and part of my job is to respect the viewpoints and concerns of others. These skills will help me build consensus. I am level-headed, organized and a good listener. As such, I would like to shift the focus from negative politics to the extraordinary teaching and learning that occurs every day and which requires careful resource management to ensure that it can continue in the future.

Considering the current budgetary limitations, what should the Board's main priorities be?

The district must maintain its academic excellence despite challenging financial constraints. Specifically, the district needs to effectively negotiate the three expiring union contracts. Over the last seven years, district enrollment has declined 12 percent, headcount has declined 17 percent, yet the budget has increased 11 percent. This is not a sustainable trend and it is driving up our cost per pupil. In addition, through avenues such as the school utilization committee, the district should be able, after careful consideration, to streamline its footprint and make more efficient use of its physical resources. I am confident that the negotiation, collaboration and communication skills that I have honed over the past 15 years will help to achieve results that are fair to all stakeholders.

There must be greater transparency and communication between the Board members themselves, the community, the administrators, the teachers, and the union leadership so that there can be greater collaboration and a positive future for the district. There must be balanced and informed decision-making that preserves the high-quality education for our children in a budget constrained environment. Professionalism and respect must also be restored to the Board. ?

What special challenges are there in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District and how would you address them?

The primary challenge of the district is to maintain its academic excellence despite challenging financial constraints and declining enrollment. These issues must be fairly addressed via collaboration with the unions with an outcome that is reasonable and sustainable. I am experienced in collaborating with those of varying opinions and backgrounds and am adept at finding common ground amongst those with opposing viewpoints. Further, my finance background and experience in developing budgets in a cost-constrained environment will be useful in putting forth budgets that are respectful of the financial times in which we are living.

Also, the district is uniquely challenged by its geography, size, weather and roads which have resulted in the loss of many days (and half days) of education for our students. It is likely that our children will receive less than 180 days of education this year. This will cause the district to lose approximately $50,000 in state funding. It is unfortunate that the majority of the BOE (led by Mr. Lipton and supported by Dr. Treyz), chose not to reinstate two school days in February after the various Unions had agreed to do so. I would have voted to reinstate the days. I would focus on creating a calendar to ensure the uncompromised education of our children.

Also, I would use my skills and experience to provide leadership that more effectively, efficiently and thoughtfully manages critical district issues and resources.

Is there any particular project or program you’d like to see introduced to the educational system?

Overall, KL students are receiving a high quality education. In the near term, however, I would like to see the district add full day kindergarten; re-introduce foreign language into the elementary schools; and look at more diverse and challenging academic offerings for higher performing students in middle and high schools. I would work with teachers, administrators and other Board members to achieve these goals to make our district more competitive with our neighboring districts. This will have a positive impact on property values.

I would also expand the creation of departmental leaders who can offer meaningful recommendations as to what programs and resources are effective as well as those that are required. This is of particular importance as we look at vertical integration in the context of Common Core.

Importantly, while these are my goals, I will leverage my work experience and skills to understand the needs and desires of various constituencies. I am also realistic that the challenges of meeting many unfunded State mandates while also remaining below the tax cap may make achieving these goals difficult, but not impossible.

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