Tuesday’s Westhampton Beach Board of Education race will pit two men boasting decades of school district experience against one another.
Jim Hulme, a local attorney and a 20-year veteran of the board, is seeking his fifth five-year term. But he will first have to fend off a challenge from Stephen Wisnoski, a retiring, tenured history teacher who has taught at Westhampton Beach High School for the past three-plus decades. He will officially retire on June 30, a day before his term on the board would officially begin if he defeats Mr. Hulme.
The two men are competing for the only open spot on the seven-member board.
Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20, at the Westhampton Beach High School, in the large group instruction room that is located behind the district auditorium.
Mr. Hulme, 56, has a law practice on Mill Road in the Village of Westhampton Beach and has lived in the area since 1986. He’s been a resident of Westhampton since 2000. His three adult daughters, Emily, Elizabeth and Catherine, all graduated from Westhampton Beach High School, where his wife, Suzanne, was employed as a science teacher until 2010, when she moved on to another district. She now works at John Glenn High School in Elwood.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hulme said his biggest strength is his experience in the position, adding that the fiscal responsibility he’s helped maintain has enabled the district to provide a quality education to students without overburdening taxpayers.
“Over the years we’ve never even come close to a budget failing,” he said last week during an interview inside his law office.
Among his other accomplishments, Mr. Hulme includes increasing the number of Advanced Placement classes as well as improving technology.
Mr. Hulme noted that unfunded mandates, such as the state-mandated tax cap, have put increased pressure on school districts, explaining that one of his main goals for his next term would be finding ways to offset those restrictions.
“I am still very excited,” he said, referring to his longstanding service on the board. “Every day I get up and think about board issues and ways to make things better.”
Mr. Wisnoski, 59, will be retiring from his position as an American and AP European history teacher at the end of next month, ending his 36-year career in education, which included stints as the vice president and president of the district’s teachers’ union, the Westhampton Beach Teachers Association. Mr. Wisnoski, who also coached various sports teams and lives in Westhampton, serves as the district’s delegate for the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System.
Mr. Wisnoski said his experience working as a coalition builder within the teachers’ union, as well as his knowledge of the workings of the district’s finances and operations “from the ground up,” would help him better serve the taxpayers.
“I believe that there’s a lot of issues in education now that really need the attention of people who have been practitioners,” he said, citing examples such as the federal government’s Race to the Top fund, the new Common Core curriculum and the New York State tax cap. “I think it’s become overly politicized and [we’ve been] getting too many mandates from the state and federal governments.
“I would like to see if we can challenge those, or explore ways we can challenge that intrusion into local control of education,” he continued.
Although he has spent much of his past advocating for the district’s teachers, Mr. Wisnoski noted that, as a member of the Board of Education, he would work to address the needs and wants of all concerned parties—not just the educators.
“I know that there will be people that say, ‘Well, he’s a former union president, he’s a former teacher, so he’s going to take the sides of the teachers.’ No, I’m not going to take the sides of the teachers. In some areas I probably will, but in other areas I will not.
“I think that I’ve shown throughout my life,” he added, “and the people that know me know me as being very honest and very fair and very open-minded.”