BBP BOE RACE: Daniel Bertran v. Brian Johnson (incumbent)

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The Suffolk County News asked the community in online forums to submit questions to the Board of Education candidates.

The compiled questions were then sent to the candidates via email and given a week to respond.

Here are their answers:

What do you find problematic or lacking in the current Board of Education’s performance in serving the community? How will electing you to the Board specifically address that deficit? (For incumbents: what have you accomplished in your tenure as a trustee that you feel has had great impact on the community?)

BERTRAN: I have heard the voices of many BBP residents that have felt that the Board has not sufficiently heard their concerns. I believe the Board has a responsibility to advocate for the entire community, including all parents, all students, and all faculty and staff. I believe insufficient transparency is the cause. I intend to not only listen, but to ensure full transparency on all decisions affecting the district and community.

JOHNSON: Prior to being elected, our school district was on the NYS Comptroller’s Fiscal Stress List after four years (2012-2015) of annual budget deficits of over $1 million per year lowering our reserves by nearly $5 million to 14.3%. Since joining, we have worked with Dr. Hearney to accomplish budget surpluses in five straight years and added $6.5 million to reserves which are now at healthy required levels. We have done this while still being able to double the school security budget, expand to our athletic/music programs, add over a dozen new clubs, double transportation offered, offer BOCES to both 11th and 12th graders, and establishing universal pre-k. We have also significantly increased the number of guidance counselors and social workers to further expand social emotional initiatives. Our governance team has accomplished this while completing a $30 million bond and staying within the tax cap (even coming well below it in the last two years).   Additionally, the board pursued and approved an energy performance contract that will add an additional $7 million in revenue to the district and provide additional flexibility to grow reserves, expand programs and/or lower annual tax increases.

I am proud to be part of the team that hired Dr. Timothy Hearney to lead our district. Under his leadership we were recognized a federal Blue ribbon school district. Our graduation rate (96%) and percentage of AP scholars rank amongst the best in Suffolk County and we are the #1 district in Suffolk County in student graduation within at least five years. Although the pandemic provided a difficult challenge in educating students, our district leadership and staff rose to the occasion

 Please define, in your own words, what Critical Race Theory (CRT) is. Please explain what you believe its role, if any, is appropriate the K-12 curriculum of your school district. If you do not believe it has a role in the K-12 curriculum, please explain why.

BERTRAN: Open and honest dialogue about race in America is important. American history has numerous examples where real teachable examples of racism existed and had an impact in our how country was shaped: Dred Scott, the 3/5ths Compromise, Brown v. Board, Tulsa Massacre, The American Civil War to name a few. CRT is (as described to me by self-described progressive proponents of CRT) a master’s level theory (or perhaps ideology) and as such ranges beyond the proper scope of relevant and productive K-12 education. Therefore, I do not believe it is an appropriate part of a K-12 curriculum.

JOHNSON: Critical Race Theory is a controversial topic; a myriad of perspectives and definitions are provided as a definition for CRT. From my personal research, I have concluded it as an academic premise that has been around for approximately 40 years at the post graduate level. The principles and core ideas are that racism may not just be a product of individual bias, further, it examines whether it may be part of larger social construct in society. As a BBP trustee for six years and a proud father of two BBP students, I am confident that critical race theory does not exist in our robust curriculum in our school district, more importantly, there is not a plan to incorporate it. Our curriculum is written based on NYS Next Generation Standards, NYS Social Studies Framework, and is locally driven by our district professionals. Our goal for our district’s curriculum is and will continue to be, we do not to teach our students what to think, rather, we teach our students how to think in order to prepare for the 21st century.

 Please define, in your own words, what Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) is. Please explain what you believe its role, if any, is appropriate in the K-12 curriculum of your school district. If you do not believe it has a role in the K-12 curriculum, please explain why.

BERTRAN: The school district should have a common definition so that we can work off of a framework. DEI means different things to different people. What it means to me isn’t necessarily the standard definition that all or even most can agree on. A respectful, compassionate learning environment is important to address unconscious bias. Parents should have some input into developing the understanding of DEI. That stated, standards for learning still need to be met for Regents, AP exams, etc. Students must be taught that other people will have different lived experiences and that shapes how they see the world. Our kids need to be prepared for this interaction later in life. It is our job to prepare them for this eventuality.  

JOHNSON: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is the acceptance of all individuals,’ regardless of race, sex, cultural, religious, or social differences. The goal is to provide fairness and equity to all while ensuring all individuals are treated with respect, dignity, and compassion. Starting in 1996, I have been affiliated with the US Army and US Air Force, two organizations, in our history known for championing diversity, equity and inclusion. As an officer, I was taught and instill in my serviceman that the greatest strength our armed services have, is the diversity of its soldiers and airmen. Diversity, equity, and inclusion has a vital role in our curriculum, furthermore, our great district has a “Cultural Advocacy Respect and Empowerment” (CARE) Committee. Working in collaboration with staff and community members, the committee ensures our curriculum is vetted along with providing our students the best opportunity to be successful long after graduation. The greatest teams are diverse, dynamic, and consistently work collectively towards the same overarching goals.

 Please define, in your own words, what Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) is. Please explain what you believe its role, if any, is appropriate in the K-12 curriculum of your school district. If you do not believe it has a role in the K-12 curriculum, please explain why.

BERTRAN: Kids should be taught how to communicate effectively, learn to control their emotions, etc. At what age these topics are explicitly addressed can be discussed by all stakeholders. However, there is nothing to say things like “self management, self awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision making” cannot be introduced organically or as part of a larger learning curriculum. Most of these are already introduced one way or another in the home from a very early age and are well developed by the time students enter formal education in kindergarten.

 JOHNSON: Our district has and will continue to be extremely supportive of all stakeholders. Our tight knit community always puts our children first and continues to place students’ needs and interest at the forefront. Social & emotional learning is vital to the social development of well-rounded students. These skills assist with developing and managing emotions, achieving personal goals, and creating and maintaining supportive relationships. Collectively, these character traits allow our students to make responsible and caring decisions. Over the years, Dr. Hearney and his administrative team has provided each student with a go-to person, this allows every student to have a trusted adult that provides opportunities for students to speak with and count on in moments of need. Having trusted adults and peers ensure students will view themselves in a positive manner, thus providing students the best opportunities to be successful in and out of school.

What role do you believe the school district plays in protecting and accommodating LGBTQIA+ students? Do you have any examples where you believe the district overstepped or underplayed their role in serving in LGBTQIA+ students?

BERTRAN: All students rights should be respected and protected regardless of orientation. All students should be socially and emotionally supported and accommodated with resources the school has at its disposal, including counseling services, and clubs etc. For these services, the school has a responsibility to ensure equity of access. Thus far, BBP has met its obligations and done the best it can do in the face of state requirements that are ever-changing. That said, the state must do a better job fleshing out any new requirements. We would look forward to having those discussions with the state and sharing the input and concerns of our district families.

 JOHNSON: Our district has and will continue to support all students. As a welcoming and inviting district, we accept all students and will continue as we have always done in the great community. It is the responsibility of the school district to protect and accommodate all children regardless of their sexual orientation or how they identify. Bayport Blue Point is a school district and community that accepts all children as equal.

In June 2019, New York removed the religious exemption for students regarding vaccinations. Do you believe the state was within its scope to mandate vaccinations for students? Please explain your reasoning.

BERTRAN: I believe that ultimately parents have the right to decide what is best for their children. These rights should be respected and protected by the school. I intend to advocate for these rights as needed.

JOHNSON: As members of a school board, we along with the district administration are not medical experts who advise the State of NY on health policy or requirements. Additionally, we are not a legislative branch, whom votes on laws impacting NY State constituents. While members of the Board of Education are allowed to advocate as a community member, I do not believe the role of the Board of Education should advocate for or against public health matters. Throughout the pandemic and going forward, our districts goal was and is to have as many students in person as possible, this is where students learn at their best.

Do you believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandated for children aged 5 and above? Why or why not?

BERTRAN: Right now it is premature to have this discussion until these particular vaccines are fully approved and not just under emergency use authorization by the FDA.

JOHNSON: As stated in the previous answer this is not the role of the BOE. This is a personal decision that should be discussed and determined by families and their pediatrician. The goal is always to keep all students in school with our first class educators. Alternative options (similar to those given to unvaccinated staff) should be available to students, in lieu of any mandates.

Do you believe that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccines should be mandatory to attend public school?

BERTRAN: This is currently NYS law and the BoE cannot change or challenge this.

JOHNSON: Please see prior two responses as this is the same question on different vaccinations. A trustee has many roles within the scope of school governance, the most important (in my opinion) is putting forward a strong budget which funds educational programs to maintain excellence while being fiscally responsible to the tax payer. However, determining the necessity of vaccination mandates is not one of these roles.

 Do you believe any votes or policies decided by the Board of Education should be kept private or classified from the parents/community? If so, what circumstances would warrant this?

BERTRAN: Transparency and honesty are always the best policy. Only potential HIPPA law situations (or anything that violates similar privacy laws and protections), and anything that violates open meetings laws should warrant keeping BoE matters classified from the community at large.

JOHNSON: As a trustee for six years, I along with my fellow trustees and administrate team will continue to be transparent and provide our great community with all legally allowed and pertinent information. Under Dr. Hearney’s leadership our district has been a model of transparency and open communication. New York State Law dictates what is allowed and what is not allowed while in executive session. All items listed below should remain confidential and not shared as to ensure confidently of personnel and the safety of all individuals. All other areas of discussion not listed below should be discussed and voted on in a public session.

  • Matters that would jeopardize public safety if disclosed.
  • Topics that disclose the identity of a law enforcement agent or informer.
  • Information about current or future investigations or prosecution of a criminal offense that obstructs effective law enforcement if revealed.
  • Details of proposed, current or pending litigation.
  • Collective negotiations pursuant to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law.
  • Details of medical, financial, credit or employment history or a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.
  • Exam preparation, grading or administration.
  • The proposed acquisition, sale or lease or real property or the proposed acquisition, sale or exchange of securities, but only when publicity would substantially affect the value of these things.
  • Evaluation of the superintendent
  • Board of Education Retreats

Do you feel parents’ voices and concerns have been heard by the Board of Education in the past two years? If no, what concerns have not been heard and how would you have approached it differently?

BERTRAN: Not in every circumstance. Examples include the best way to handle the mask mandate from the state and the most appropriate way to engage the entire community on large spending projects.

JOHNSON: The concerns of parents are always valued and respected by the Board of Education. In the past two years, the Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools have received hundreds (if not thousands) of emails and phone calls from dozens of parents regarding a myriad of concerns in the past two years. Both the Superintendent and the BOE President have personally and promptly responded to each and offered to speak directly to those parents about their concerns. While some of these concerns were within the scope of the BOE to assist, many were not within our control as they related mandates from NYS government.

What is your definition of Parental Choice? What is included in parental choice and what is beyond its scope? Do you believe Parental Choice applies to curriculum, attendance, homework?

BERTRAN: I believe that parental choice includes parents’ right to decide what is best for their students. Ostensibly over the last two years this would include mask mandates and other health decisions. With regard to curriculum, parents respect the expertise and experience that our educators bring to the table. At the same time, involved parents will always want to be aware of what their children are learning in schools so as to best support, contextualize, and reinforce subject matter at home. Parents should have a voice. Partnering parents and teachers is the best way to do this in the face of state laws, requirements, and other academic complexities.   I will advocate for this partnership.

JOHNSON: The Bayport-Blue Point School District and Board of Education values and welcomes all parent’s perspectives, ideas, and opinions. A strong school to home partnership is a main reason our district is a Blue Ribbon School. Our district is one of the best in NY State because of parent involvement in their child’s educational experience. I am proud to be part of a community where parents are welcomed on a multitude of committees such as the BBP CARES, Transportation, Enrollment, Reopening, and Wellness, along with an accessible teaching staff, administrative team, and Board of Education that allows for all voices to be heard and represented. All of these opportunities will allow parents to play a vital role in how our school district operates on a day to day basis.  

Would you support additional investment into the BOCES/trades program at BBP High School so that more students are able to pursue BOCES education in 11th and 12th grade? If yes, where do you think the funding should come from? 

BERTRAN: I would love to explore this further. I would have to examine the budget closely see where funding could be provided for these programs. BOCES trade programs have taught a great many LI students invaluable skills and set them on career paths that would not have otherwise been available to them.

JOHNSON: I have a history of always supporting the expansion of BOCES for our juniors and seniors when the opportunity arose years ago. We supported a student a few years ago to enter into a pilot’s program and an article was published a few years later detailing her success. This year thirteen additional students entering 11th grade next year requested admission to BOCES. The Board of Education supported and funded this request in the budget for next year. I understand the importance and value these opportunities provide to students who want to pursue these skills as future careers. We must cultivate desire to fill these critical needs. We are appreciative of the BOCES aide provided each year by New York State which allows additional students opportunities to learn and utilize these skills for a trade once graduated. Receiving approximately 50% aide per student from New York State allows these significant opportunities to be fiscally manageable within our current general fund expenditures.

 Anti-bullying is a strong component of the Bayport Blue Point School District curriculum. How have you personally conducted yourself to minimize or admonish bullying? How have you influenced other parents to remain respectful? How do you demonstrate to your children (if any)/students proper decorum?

BERTRAN: Respectful and empathetic discourse is the only acceptable way for adults to conduct themselves. Our children observe how we behave in person and on social media. For children (and many adults), what happens on social media (facebook, Instagram, etc) is real as are the effects of this discourse. We must be very cautious here. These lessons must be responsibly taught in the home and reinforced appropriately in school whenever the opportunity arises. Numerous publicly available scientific studies support this view.

JOHNSON: Parents are the beacon and moral compass for their children and they must set the example on how (students) conduct themselves and treat others respectfully. This has been a challenging past two years and it is important that we all take a step back and reflect on how to better interact as community members. It is important to realize that we all have common goals for our families while we might go about achieving them differently. The best way to teach our children how to be respectful and empathetic to others is for us, as parents, to model that behavior.

 What endorsements have you received from organizations, elected officials, or other community leaders?

BERTRAN: At the time of this writing, I do not have any public endorsements.

JOHNSON: Over the years, I have received multiple endorsements from well-respected and well known community members. In addition, I have been supported by the Bayport Blue Point TA and the CSEA in past elections. I will seek their endorsement after they have been able to do their own due diligence after the PTA Meet the Candidates Night and after they have met with all interested candidates to determine what is best for their organization.

Do you believe only someone who is a parent can themselves can serve on the Board of Education?

BERTRAN: I believe that to be the most effective board member, it is helpful to have an idea of the inner working of the schools. This includes some measure of knowledge of the curriculums, the teachers, and administrators. As a parent, one tends to have more exposure to this information. I believe many district families would prefer a BoE member who has this experience. That stated, the current qualifications to serve on the Board do not require being a parent. I would not be interested in changing this policy unless the BBP community wanted the policy amended.

JOHNSON: No, I believe the Board of Education should be available to all community members that meet the requirements. While parents are a large group of stakeholders in the district, so are retirees that pay school taxes and younger community members that benefitted from a great education at BBP and want to work toward improving and continuing its excellence. An organization benefits greatly when they have members that are diverse and bring different mindsets and perspectives while working together toward common goals.

 Do you think more informal meetings should be held with Board of Education members to communicate ideas with the community? (e.g. a meeting in the public library)

BERTRAN: Informal town hall style meetings are a great way to keep the parents of the community engaged and may allow for easier exchange of ideas and information than simply waiting for the BoE meetings themselves. 

JOHNSON: I am always open to meaningful discussions with concerned community members. My first year as a trustee we had these meetings open for community members. However, it is important to note they were not very well attended and serving as a trustee is at least a 40 hour a month commitment between meetings, committees, correspondences, etc. I have no issue expanding my commitment for this on a monthly basis as long as the interactions are civil and productive.

Do you feel Dr. Hearney and the Board carried out appropriate actions in enforcing the mask mandate? If not, how you feel it should have been addressed?

BERTRAN: The BBP School District 2021-22 school re-opening plan on 8/17/2021 included a mask mandate for K-12 students approved by the Board prior to a NYSDOH statewide mandate on 8/27/2021. Board members Johnson and Kroog both voted for this district imposed mask mandate. While I realize the district must adhere to New York State directives, the BBP Board should not mandate medical protocols until mandated by the government.

JOHNSON: The Board of Education and Dr. Hearney take an oath each year to uphold the Constitution and all New York State Laws. Each trustee and administrative team member has their own perspectives and opinions, fortunate or unfortunate, these personal opinions must not interfere with your ability to uphold laws and mandates provided by the state. If our district disregards laws and mandates, this would open our district up to litigation and potential forfeiture of state/federal monies.

Do you believe COVID-19 was a serious threat to the community and specifically our students?

BERTRAN: Science and our own lived experience both locally and abroad has clearly shown us that COVID-19 is a genuine health threat. I do not know of anyone who is denying these dangers. It should also be noted that this threat varies from person to person. It should also be noted that COVID is endemic, like many other health dangers that exist in the world. Our collective response to this danger must be measured and balanced. We must be cautious in our collective approach to COVID.

JOHNSON: I do believe it was a serious threat. Nearly 1 million people in the United States have died in a two year period. While the disease was not a serious threat overall to the mortality of school age children, there was the threat of children spreading it to the elderly and other at risk adults with various health conditions prior to the availability of vaccinations. Luckily the worst is behind us and we can continue to get back to the normalcy we enjoyed prior to March 2020 and be 100% focused on the business of educating students.

 Do you support the redistricting plans presented by Dr. Hearney, commonly known as the Princeton Plan?

BERTRAN: There’s pros and cons to this but a full cost benefit analysis would have to be conducted and thoroughly reviewed prior to making a decision. This would also have the potential to lock teachers in to certain grades, so to speak, and limit communication between the teachers with regard to curriculum development and other needs. These are questions I would have to see fleshed out and answered as well. To do this properly, public input from all stakeholders including teachers, parents, and administrators would be needed.

JOHNSON: Currently the enrollment committee is researching multiple avenues and options for our district to save monies while effectively continue to educate all students at the highest level. Once the committee is completed with their research, I look forward to hearing and viewing their results. It would be premature to comment on any options prior to fully understanding all aspects of our options. If any changes are recommended, I believe any redistricting, grade clustering, or boundaries should be placed as a referendum so the community can vote on such an impactful change.  

Do you support bringing back the 5th grade Washington D.C. trip?

BERTRAN: Yes. This is a valuable learning experience for children and parents alike.

JOHNSON: Field trips are an extension of the classroom; I support all opportunities to expand educational experiences of children beyond the classroom. Field trips are a tremendous tool to enhance learning by giving students real world experiences beyond a text book. If the logistics are plausible, Washington DC is amongst the best locations to bring students for this type of experience

Would you renew Dr. Hearney’s contract if the Board was in a position to do so? Why or why not?

BERTRAN: Any new Board must have an opportunity to review a complete performance assessment and also allow an opportunity for Dr Hearney to advocate for himself before a decision of such importance could be fairly made.

JOHNSON: Absolutely! Dr. Heaney is one of the most respected and admired educators in state. There are numerous districts that would hire him away from our district if he were willing to leave. Dr. Hearney has taken this district to another level over the last 10 years as the Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum and District Superintendent. Some of his accomplishments include a National Blue Ribbon designation, 96% graduation rate, AP scholar rate which is amongst the best in the county and a five year graduation rate which is #1 in Suffolk County.  He has done a tremendous job navigating our district through the Covid-19 pandemic. That being said, he has faced unnecessary criticism from several parents in the form of emails to him and the board arguing that he should not be following mandates relating to students wearing masks. His largest criticism has come from several members now running for seats and/or their spouses. This election is about more than four trustee seats and who ends up in each. It’s about whether or not Dr. Hearney and his leadership team continue to lead the Bayport Blue Point School District to greater levels and future success.

We’ve sadly met with great tragedy in our school district this year with multiple suicides. What programs would you support to implement to help parents, guardians, caregivers identify at-risk students? Why initiatives or programs would you support to help students seek and receive help for mental illness?

BERTRAN: I would first like to hear from our school counselors. Do we have enough? Do they have what they need to best accomplish their mission? How are we supporting the kids in the social and emotional environment? Do the children have the equity of access I mentioned earlier? What is a snapshot of what we have in place now? I would like to know how can we build on what we already have in place before making large scale structural changes.

JOHNSON: With regard to this matter everything is on the table and there is no limit to resources and time I am willing to contribute to this issue. Currently the school district is working with Family Services League to assist in educating parents on metal heath issues, warning signs and how to address any red flags with their children. The district will continue to expand and build this required program. Additionally, in the current budget up for vote the board has earmarked at least $250K to build a wellness room at the high school and hire two new social work positions which will allow the district to have at least one social worker in each elementary school.

Do you feel parents should be able to insist that a book they find objectionable be removed from the school library?

BERTRAN: No. However, it may at times be well advised to ensure materials that are inappropriate for certain age children not be available without parental guidance/notification.

JOHNSON: Parents are encouraged to speak with their child’s teachers and principal at any time they feel a book is objectionable. At the same time, parents have rights to exclude their child from certain curricular material they do not agree or deem unacceptable. The district has a process in place for parents/guardians in order to provide such an objection.

 

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