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Chappaqua Voters Face Contested School Board Election

Left to right: Rhonda Kaufman, Warren Messner and Jeffrey Mester.
Left to right: Rhonda Kaufman, Warren Messner and Jeffrey Mester. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Voters in the Chappaqua school district will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide on which of three candidates running should fill the two spots up for elections.

Running are incumbent Jeffrey Mester, who has served since 2007; incumbent and current President Warren Messner, who has served since 2013; and challenger Rhonda Kaufman, who owns a dental practice in Putnam Valley.

The spots carry three-year terms, which run from July 1 to June 30, 2019.

The trio had a chance to make their cases last week at a forum held by the League of Women Voters of New Castle. Questions were offered from the league and from residents. The forum also included candidates for Chappaqua Library Board seats.

“Education has always been a part of my life,” said Messner, whose mother served as an educator for decades. Messner, who is retired, is the father of triplets who will graduate next month from Horace Greeley High School.

Messner touted his record in helping to bring about school budgets that only raised taxes by small amounts; he noted a .98-percent average levy as an example. Additionally, he touted the board's successful contract negotiations last year with all three employee unions.

Mester, whose three children have gone through the public schools, noted that being a board member is not a ceremonial position. Rather, members are expected to be prepared and to participate. A board member, Mester added, must have a passion for education and an understanding of the budget.

“I offer common sense with an uncommon commitment."

Kaufman, the mother of three current Greeley students, touted her experience as a small-business owner in making pragmatic decisions, along with her prior service on various boards, including the Putnam Valley Rotary. The challenger said that she wants to increase community awareness and engagement with the district's complex issues.

“Clearly, our community and kids are blessed with great schools."

For the most part, the trio did not voice major differences. Each voiced support for the upcoming $42.5 million bond package, which is up for a June vote and includes renovations and additions to each of the schools, along with the Chappaqua Library.

The candidates took different approaches, however, on special education, specifically on dyslexia, in response to a parent's questions.

Messner, who noted that he is not a reading specialist, said that the district works with students individually and if one is diagnosed with dyslexia they will get help. The incumbent president also did not believe that the economics of offering support are an issue in individual cases.

Kaufman, who has a dyslexic son, said she does not believe that dyslexia is diagnosed early enough in Chappaqua. She added that dyslexia is expense to test for and falls under the broad area. If elected, Kaufman offered to bring her experience to the board on the matter.

Mester, who also noted he is not an expert, voiced support for helping any child with dyslexia. Additionally, he laid out the procedural steps that special-education parents can take within the district to get assistance, such as going through a CSE.

Jay Shapiro, a former board member who served with Mester during his first term, asked the candidates about their experience in relation to being able to serve.

“We've come full circle,” Mester said, noting that he and Shapiro were taking questions at a similar forum nine years ago. He noted the big learning curve that joining the board entails and called experience a “big asset to the community.”

Messner also noted that there is a learning curve in joining the school board and called serving a “huge time commitment," with multiple committee assignments coming on top of regular work. Messner added that serving has been an “enjoyable experience.”

Kaufman, who noted that she was passionate about her previous board roles, argued that she will bring that passion to the school board.

Voting is scheduled on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Greeley gym. Voters will also decide on the proposed 2016-17 budget; details on it can be found here.

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