By Lisa A. Johnson
A week before Tuesday’s school board elections, a Depew candidate announced the end of his campaign after his employer – the New York State Police – refused to allow him to run.
Steven Brady used his allotted time during Tuesday’s Meet-the-Candidates Night at Depew High School to explain the situation to voters and to step aside, leaving five candidates to vie for the three open seats. After the meeting, he explained that he followed procedure by submitting a memo that outlined his intent to run and serve on the board in his spare time. The plan was approved by his local supervisors but halted by State Police leaders in Albany because employees cannot run for an elected position.
Brady does not agree with the decision and is working with his union leadership to encourage a change in policy so he can run in the future. The decision upsets him because, while he understands that employees cannot run for paid elected positions, school board membership is on a volunteer basis and no party affiliations exist.
He said he is particularly disappointed because as a 1991 graduate of the district and a parent of children attending the schools, he looked forward to the possibility of helping Depew as a Board of Education trustee.
“You want to give back and serve your community in an off-duty capacity, and you’re limited,” he said.
Whether Brady’s name will remain on the ballot is uncertain. District Clerk Jessica Neischel said that officials will contact the Erie County Clerk’s office for a decision.
The remaining hopefuls had a chance to introduce themselves to voters by outlining their platforms and answering questions posed by students from the high school’s Leadership Class, including Manda Macaluso, Holly Spoor and Miranda Walinski. Candidates were invited to the podium in the order they will appear on the ballot.
Political newcomer Gabrielle Miller spoke first, explaining that as a parent of two Depew graduates and a 24-year volunteer in the schools and village, she is running to continue her service to the community. She added that her business experience and 15 years of attending school board meetings would be assets. As a board member, she would hope to eliminate unnecessary spending.
“I believe I will be able to make the tough decisions,” she said.
Patrick Law, a 16-year resident of the district who served as an interim trustee in 2012, hopes to serve again to continue the board’s track record of successful budgeting. He lauded the board and Superintendent Jeffrey Rabey for balancing student programs with unfunded state mandates while remaining fair to the taxpayers. He hopes to continue that work if elected to a full term.
“Everything we do has to be fiscally responsible,” he said.
Nancy Fumerelle, a 1981 Depew graduate and two-term board member, hopes to continue her service to the community. She is influenced by her mother’s mantra that “your community starts right outside your driveway,” and she strives to assist her neighbors through her service. Also, with Diane Benczkowski leaving the board after 12 years, Fumerelle feels she can provide history and experience.
“I think I can bridge the old with the new,” she said.
John Spencer, a 1976 Depew graduate, has been a trustee since October 2006 and is seeking re-election because he feels experience is necessary in a board member. He touted the capital improvement project that resulted in the renovation of buildings and the sports complex as accomplishments, as well as increased technology in the classrooms. He added that he is committed to balancing budgets with student and taxpayer needs.
“Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve had six responsible budgets,” he said.
Newcomer Nicole Simon has lived in the district most of her life and has two younger children in the schools. She is driven to run for a seat because she hopes to help provide an education that prepares students for the future. She added that she sees the students, teachers and community as the experts on what they need from the district, and she will seek their input when it comes to budgeting and procedures.
“I know I don’t know all the answers,” she said.
All the candidates had the same answer when asked by the students if they support standardized testing as the primary gauge of teacher and school achievement: No.
The consensus was that testing is a necessary evil, but it should be used in addition to other measurements, including career and college placement trends after graduation, the availability of well-rounded educational opportunities and the life skills lessons provided by the district.
The school board election and budget vote will be held noon to 9 p.m. May 21, at Cayuga Heights Elementary School.
In addition to the candidates, voters will consider three propositions, including the $38.9 million budget for 2013-14. The spending plan includes a 2.97 percent tax levy increase. The second proposition involves the district’s use of $460,851 from a reserve fund to purchase two school buses, four vans and a plow truck for the Buildings and Grounds Department, while the third would authorize the district to sell the Terrace Elementary School building for no less than $700,000.
For comprehensive info about who and what is on the ballot in each district, visit School Zone blog.