School Vote ’11: A look at the school board candidates


Only Mattituck-Cutchogue has a school board race, with four candidates seeking three open seats. The top two vote-getters will serve three-year terms beginning July 1. The third-place finisher will replace Debra Cahill, who resigned from the board this summer, for a one-year term beginning immediately after the election.


Charles Anderson of Mattituck, 58, has served three terms, beginning in 2001. He took one year off after his second term, returning to the board in 2008.

Mr. Anderson, the facilities manager at Suffolk County National Bank in Riverhead, was a junior high school soccer and basketball coach in the district before joining the board. He credits SCNB for encouraging him to devote time to community service.

His two sons, now in their 20s, attended Mattituck-Cutchogue schools.

“This board we have now is the most cohesive one I’ve been on,” he said. “We seem to all be on the same page.”

His goal is to “try to find the balance between good education, still realizing that the taxpayers are being killed,” he said.

Mr. Anderson said he believes the current board has done a good job of balancing those interests, negotiating smaller pay increases for teachers, shifting the district from self-insurance to the Empire Plan and decreasing staff in areas where the student population has declined, while adding programming to help enrich the student experience.

“I’m proud of where the school is now. That balancing act has to continue,” he said. “I’m an advocate of a well-rounded education. That was part of the reason I first ran for the board. I also wanted to make sure athletics didn’t get the short end of the stick.”


Jerry Diffley of Mattituck, 51, has served four terms on the Mattituck-Cutchogue board, and has been board president for several years.

The parent of an eighth-grader in the district, he first joined the board in 1999, when all three of his children were still in school.

He is a corporate director for Quest Diagnostics and served for 28 years as a firefighter and a critical care EMT with the Mattituck Fire Department.

He initially joined the board because “I just felt that it was something I needed to do to be more connected with the school,” he said this week.

Mr. Diffley also believes the current board works together better than at any time in his memory.

“We can disagree, but at the end of the night, we all see the other side and can walk out of the meeting as colleagues,” he said.

Mr. Diffley said he believes the board has done a good job in recent years balancing taxpayers’ needs with the needs of students, and believes the leadership and competence of both the board and district administration have helped the district run more smoothly.

“We’re in a good place right now,” he said.


Joan Ferris of Cutchogue, 63, is a school board veteran, have served three terms in the Mattituck-Cutchogue district in the 1990s.

Ms. Ferris, whose two children attended Mattituck schools, is a homemaker who has also served as vice president of the Parent Teacher Association, Girl Scout leader, church secretary and chair of the school’s gifted and talented committee. She has also worked in sales for Liz Claiborne.

Ms. Ferris was in charge of overseeing the Cutchogue East Elementary School expansion project during her previous tenure on the board.

“I loved being on the board. It’s a frustrating job at times, but when things come together, it’s so rewarding,” she said.

Ms. Ferris said she decided to run this year because she believes it’s important that the board include a representative who doesn’t currently have children attending the school.

“We’re all very concerned about where the money is going. The economy will never go back to the way it was,” she said, adding that board members need to push the state for mandate reform if Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2 percent tax levy increase cap is approved.

“Every district now has to be creative in finding revenue streams,” she said. “We have to be able to lobby a lot harder and faster for change.”


Laura Jens-Smith, 48, is the parent of a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader in Mattituck-Cutchogue schools. She was a nurse at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City for 16 years before moving to Mattituck eight years ago to raise her family.

Ms. Jens-Smith serves as chair of the elementary school special education PTA and has been involved with Boy Scouts, youth theater and the school’s shared decision-making committee. She was raised in Port Jefferson.

“Having Mattituck as their school district when we moved out here was definitely a plus,” she said of her decision to move to the North Fork.

“Everybody else who’s running has been on the board. I bring a fresh perspective, and I’m very committed to the community,” she said.

Ms. Jens-Smith said she wants the district to put its newly adopted mission statement, which pledges to educate students to be global citizens, at the forefront of the board’s concerns.

“I feel strongly about looking to improve and expand the education that students are receiving,” she said, adding that she wants to make more details of curricula available to parents so they are more in touch with the work their children are doing.

Ms. Jens-Smith said she’s happy with the compromises made by the district in next year’s budget.

“It’s good for the economy as it is now,” she said. “They did a good job of keeping it low.”


In Southold, two candidates seek two board seats. Scott DeSimone is running for a second three-year term. Southold Police Sgt. Scott Latham will replace Dr. Robert Walsh, who chose not to seek re-election.

Mr. DeSimone, 51, is a Southold attorney. His two children, ages 8 and 12, attend school in the district. For much of his term, the board has been focused on “putting out fires,” Mr. DeSimone said. But with the district’s financial house in order and what he considers a strong administration, he said it’s time to work on curriculum.

As head of the district’s policy committee, Mr. DeSimone has been involved in a major rewrite of the policy manual, a job he said he looks forward to continuing. He is also leading the effort to replace Aramark Food Service with a district-operated cafeteria staff charged with providing nutritious and more tempting food choices for students.

Mr. Latham is a member of the Southold Police Department. He has not been available for comments on his candidacy.


The district has only one seat to fill and it will go to incumbent Mike Mazzaferro, who is running unopposed.

A 1992 Greenport High School graduate, Mr. Mazzaferro is also a former district custodian. He works for the Suffolk County Department of Corrections and has three children in the school system. He has been a part of the board that worked with Mr. Comanda to structure a major building renovation that got under way this year.

As work continues on that project — replacing the building’s roof and boiler system as well as other major repairs — he’s looking forward to turning his attention to academics. He’s especially interested in the school’s science and technology programs.


Jeff Demarest and Janice Caufield are running for the seats currently held by Walter Strohmeyer and Kathy Syron.

Mr. Demarest, 49, owns a fuel oil company and has a daughter in the third grade at the Oysterponds school.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said of his decision to run. His brother, Carl, served on the Oysterponds school board for seven years and was defeated in his re-election bid last May.

Among the issues that concern Mr. Demarest are school finances and education decisions coming out of Albany. He said he’s prepared to listen and suspects he might change his views on some issues once he’s aware of more information than he has been able to garner by attending board meetings.

Ms. Caufield, 55, is no stranger to school administration, having served on the West Hempstead Board of Education. Since returning to the area, the North Fork native says she’s missed the type of civic activities she once was part of.

Although all four of her children are grown — the youngest graduates from college this year — Ms. Caufield is interested in developing a comprehensive five-year plan.

“The Greenport issues needs to be put to bed,” she said, referring to the decision about where Oysterponds secondary school students will be sent to continue their schooling. “It needs a solution, whatever that solution is.”


New Suffolk voters will send Tony Dill, 71, who is running unopposed, back to the board for another three years.

Mr. Dill, an architect and current board president, has held his seat for nine years. He says its his goal to solidify gains made in the past two years in the district, where enrollment has risen from 8 to 22 students and there are now three teachers instead of two.

When the student population began to escalate, Mr. Dill said he feared the school’s program might need more structure than in the past. But with three teachers, New Suffolk has been able to continue to provide closer teacher-student relationships, he said.

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