Seven candidates vying to represent their home neighborhood of Astoria in the City Council voiced their thoughts on the topic of schools during a forum hosted by Zone 126, an Astoria based nonprofit focused on eliminating the achievement gap for children, on Tuesday night.
Constantinos “Gus” Prentzas, Community Board 1 member and small business owner; Costa Constantinides, deputy chief of staff to City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows); John Ciafone, a lawyer; Danielle De Stefano, a volleyball coach at Monsignor McClancy High School and avid volunteer; Gerald Kann, a writer and teacher; Daniel Peterson, an administrator at a commercial real estate firm; and Lynn Serpe, an environmental consultant for various organizations including the Queens Library, have all thrown their hats into the ring and spoke on Tuesday.
Constantinides has the most experience in the political world and spoke with confidence. The other candidates came off as passionate and knowledgeable in their own brand of politics, though Peterson stumbled to answer questions and seemed uncomfortable in the limelight in the first forum for this election.
Topics ranged from transportation to overcrowding, technology, parent-teacher relations and testing.
Ciafone, a former president of Community Education Council for School District 30, advocated for the schools on “the other side.”
“We need to pump some oxygen into this side of the district,” Ciafone said.
He said many of schools west of 27th Avenue that serve a higher percentage of disadvantage youth are not getting the extra resources they need. These resources, as most candidates agreed, are prekindergarten classes and beacon programs.
Ciafone also advocated against powerful special interests, including the United Federation of Teachers, which he said control policies.
“The UFT’s interest is not always that of the parents,” he said.
Constantinides wants to find money in the budget to decrease class sizes and eliminate trailers.
“Queens has become the king of trailers,” Constantinides said.
On a larger scale he would like to tackle clean-air issues, saying that many of the students in the area miss school because of asthma flare-ups stemming from the pollution created by the several power plants in Astoria.
He also would like to see iPads, computers and Smartboards in the classroom, something Prentzas thought was outlandish when fundamentals such as failing grades and large class sizes still need to be addressed.
De Stefano would want to eliminate the Common Core curriculum, saying that it takes the teaching out of teaching by discouraging creativity, and bring back the school board system where positions were decided on via elections. Prentzas also disagrees with the Common Core.
De Stefano stated a statistic saying that each student costs $19,000.
“Where is the money going?” she asked saying she wants to find a way to bring back more homework help, music, art and other extracurriculars.
This independent called on parents and residents to step up at the schools by volunteering and making sure teachers and parents have open communication.
Prentzas wants both sides of 27th Avenue to perform at the same level. He wants to focus on equality, looking at why some schools are underutilized as much as why some are crowded. He would work to open closed community centers by using private and public partnerships. “This is one community,” he said, adding that he would advocate for a new chancellor.
“The chancellor is a businessman,” he said. “We want the next chancellor to be a true educator.”
Serpe would focus on opening community centers and adding extracurriculars such as gardening and learning how to grow healthy food. Another top priority would be to add hours to the libraries. “There is money in the budget,” Serpe said. “Not private money.”
Kann said “it all boils down to money” and corruption. If elected he wants to increase taxes on the rich to pay for more programs in the western part of the district.
“This city needs transparency. It’s corrupt,” he said. “I think I can shake it up.”
He wants to simplify the government and get rid of community boards, but instead have smaller paid councils.
Peterson, “though a conservative Republican,” said he believes more funding should go to education.
However, he said many of the problems in the school system stem from parents not being educated. He would like more resources for parents to learn English and other curriculums.“Parents need to put in the effort,” he said.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) represents District 22. Vallone, who is running for borough president, has reached his maximum years in the position and cannot run for re-election.
The Democratic primary will be on Sept. 10 and the general election is on Nov. 5.
Here’s the very condensed version of the seven candidates’ positions:
John Ciafone, Gus Prentzas and Costa Constantinides are Democrats, Danielle De Stefano registered as an Independent; Gerald Kann as a Populist; Lynn Serpe with the Green Party and Daniel Peterson, former New York Young Republican club president, with the Republican Party.
Ciafone thinks special interests pollute policies.
De Stefano wants people to volunteer and do the right thing.
Kann wants more taxes on the rich for programs and less corruption.
Peterson will call on experts to help him with educational policy because it didn’t appear to be his strongest subject.
Serpe wants extra programs from art to afterschool chess, which she believes could be funded by cutting fat from the budget by instituting green initiatives.
Constantinides presented solid plans and ideas, though he came off idealistic at times.
Prentzas wants to focus on the fundamentals before tackling the extras.