Brentwood school board incumbent Gail Kirkham and newcomers Ana Martinez and Keith Allison told roughly 140 people at a public board of education candidates’ forum [co-hosted by the Long Island Civic Engagement Table] Wednesday night that they are running as a slate partly because they want a change in leadership that better embraces Brentwood’s diverse population.
“I’m tired of what’s happening at the school board,” Allison said. “There’s infighting, back biting. There’s an image that our children are not learning and not achieving, and that’s not true.”
The other three candidates did not attend the forum at the public library. Stephen Coleman, a 22-year incumbent, said he’s been battling a serious health issue and was seeing his doctor during the forum.
Candidates Michael Houlihan and Harold Allen did not return requests for comment.
The session in advance of Tuesday’s election was designed to allow candidates to answer questions about diversity, the budget and school environment posed by the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Long Island Latino Teachers Association and the Long Island Progressive Coalition, as well as other organizations.
Martinez, a fourth-grade teacher in Southampton, said volunteer and nonprofit programs should be used to help offset sweeping budget cuts. Allison said he doesn’t want to raise taxes, and added there is still fat to be cut in the budget. Kirkham said teachers should forego raises to avoid further program cuts.
“We all have to work together to give back and make cutbacks,” she said.
When asked about past allegations of racism on the school board, Martinez said the board needs to create a culture of trust with the community.
Allison said he would embrace the district’s largely minority population, adding that he would incorporate a Spanish language translator at board meetings.
“Brentwood is a mixed, diverse community and we have to embrace that,” he said.