The three Lancaster School Board candidates seemed to mirror one another’s campaign platforms – pledging fairness, commitment, an open mind and a resolve to work within tight budget parameters – at Monday night’s candidates forum.
Incumbent board President Kenneth E. Graber and two newcomers, Julie Gies Kaska and William Gallagher are vying for two seats on the seven-member board in the May 21 elections. The seats carry three-year terms, which begin July 1. Incumbent Brenda Christopher is not running again.
Graber, a board veteran who began his first term in 2004, stressed that he has been successful in his role, with other board colleagues and the school administration, in helping to make progress and work through budget challenges.
“I’m able to work with people, as evidenced over the last nine years, and have been able to bring people together to handle challenges,” Graber said.
Like others, Graber agreed that the budget woes faced by so many districts remain an especially tough challenge. “It’s beyond our control,” he said.
Graber said the district has set up reserve funds and worked out agreements with its teachers in an effort to manage in a tight fiscal climate.
“We’ve closed buildings and made hard choices. I know how to do it. I’ve been doing it with other members of the board,” said Graber, an attorney and administrative law judge for the state Parole Board, who has been a Lancaster resident for 33 years. “If we want to educate our children, we have to do it right. If it requires asking taxpayers for more money, that’s what we’ll do.”
Lancaster’s proposed $94.71 million budget for 2013-14 calls for a 3.96 percent tax levy increase. Spending is up by 3.5 percent, and the estimated tax rate increase per $1,000 of assessed valuation is 3.05 percent.
Kaska, a 12-year district volunteer, praised the district’s commitment to helping children with special needs. She vowed to help clarify parental concerns over the state’s new common core standards, which she said could be misunderstood, further leading to anxiety among students.
“I’m running because I’m a mom, a volunteer, and I want all of our students to succeed,” Kaska said, noting that special-education support has heartfelt meaning to her because of the help her sons have received. “I am very fair and open-minded.”
A former board member who posed specific questions for each candidate put her on the spot about whether she could ever vote to close Sciole Elementary School where she had previously been an active on the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. Kaska, at first, said how difficult such a decision would be. However, she said, “I would have to, if it came to that.”
Gallagher, a first-time candidate and a math teacher in the Frontier Central School District, portrayed himself as open-minded and able to work well with others.
He insisted that the common core standards are not as much of a problem as some opponents contend. “Parents hear common core and think it’s a bad thing, and not necessarily,” said Gallagher, who has lived in the district for six years. “It’s assessments that are changing. It’s a picture, just a benchmark, of one day.”
Gallagher said he is running for the board to give something back to the district, noting the help the schools have given to his oldest daughter, who was born premature. “It’s important to realize we’re here to serve the kids and make the decisions they need us to make to help them,” he said. “I can work with other board members and the administration.”