COMMACK, New York, May 7
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
As Tuesday night crept on, it became more and more clear that the two candidates vying for one seat on the Commack school board this election season are cut from different molds.
Jarrett Behar and William “Bill” Marchesi may have certain issues they agree upon, but at Burr Intermediate School where the annual “Meet the Candidates Night” was hosted, the two candidates established that they’re running on different platforms, come from different backgrounds and believe they’re both qualified to fill that lone seat for differing reasons.
Perhaps most obviously, the biggest difference comes physically between the two candidates.
Behar, a father of two young children – one of which is currently enrolled in Commack – is 38 years old and has lived in the district for nine years; he supports: the continued expansion of Commack’s educational and extracurricular programs, long-term district planning in assembling school budgets and a push for continued involvement in the community by school board members.
Marchesi, has a son who graduated from Commack just as he himself did, and joins the election at 62 years old and as a district resident for 56 years; he supports: the push to keep taxes low for Commack residents, ensuring that academically average students are given a voice and taking a more “transparent” approach to district practices in hopes of drawing greater community participation and involvement.
This is where the first disagreement in platforms emerged on Tuesday during the panel, which was run by the Commack PTA Council and moderated by the Huntington League of Women Voters.
“I’m running for the school board because I want to be an advocate for the children and for this community,” Behar, who also ran in the 2013 election, said. “We’re entering a unique set of times now and there are challenges that are facing our school district, our community and our children that people who haven’t gone through [them] really don’t have the knowledge to deal with them.”
That’s not to say that Marchesi doesn’t want to be an advocate for the children and community, he said, of course, but he’d also like to give a voice to those residents living in the district that no longer have a child enrolled at one of Commack’s schools.
“I think their voices need to be heard as much as the students’,” he said. “Commack is really changing in the last 10, 15, 20 years. We need someone [on the board] that does not have a student in the district… [so to] have a clearer vision on some of the decisions being made.”
Professionally, the two candidates have enjoyed differing career paths.
Behar, currently a partner of Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina, LLP in Central Islip, believes his work as an attorney could give him the insight and experience needed to fill the seat on Commack’s school board.
“As an attorney I’ve spent my career advocating for my clients and I want to take that and use it to advocate for our children and our community,” he said. “Negotiating contracts is something that I do for a living – not just contracts, but settlements of multi-million dollar litigations.”
Marchesi, who worked for 39 years with the labor union International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), said he gained valuable experience during that time that could make him an asset on the school board.
“I [conducted] negotiations for the last 20 years of my career,” he said.
One of the “biggest threats,” as Behar called it, facing the Commack school district is New York State Common Core standards and how they should be handled during a time where record numbers of students have been “opted-out” of standardized testing by parents across the state.
Here, the two candidates once again differ.
Behar, who chose to opt his son out of testing, believes the tests to be inappropriate and, therefore, a “statement” was being made in choosing not to sit for the tests.
“[We’re] telling the government that this is not what we want in our schools,” Behar said. “We don’t want this regime of standardized testing turning our teachers into, essentially, robots.”
Though while Marchesi agreed that Common Core standards need to be reevaluated in terms of how they evaluate teachers, he said he does not condone opting out.
“I think you can disagree with the program; if you’re not in favor of Common Core or if you are in favor, that’s your business,” he said. “But I think we have to teach our students from an early age that you have to do what you have to do.”
Despite the disagreements, just as it’s said that opposites attract, when the panel came to a close, both candidates turned, smiled to each other and extended their arms for a handshake before heading home.
Voters can cast their say on both the Commack school board election and school budget on May 19.
Originally published: Long Islander News: The Record
(Thursday, May 7, 2015; A2)