Amid the backdrop of what some are calling an austerity budget that punishes special education students, one incumbent and two newcomers are vying for three open seats in the Lackawanna School Board race set for noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Voters also will weigh in on a $45 million spending plan adopted by the school board for the 2014-15 school year that cuts spending by 5.22 percent from the current budget. It also calls for staffing cuts that most heavily affect special education in the district.
Incumbent Board Member David M. Joyce, seeking re-election to a second term, joined Kenneth S. Motyka in voting against the budget, which was adopted by the board in a 5-2 vote in late April. As the father of a middle school student who receives special education services through the district, Joyce was particularly unnerved by the budget.
“This budget, in my opinion, was just done maliciously. They balanced this budget on the backs of children with special needs, and I think it’s unfair,” said Joyce, a 22-year veteran of the Lackawanna police force.
He will appear on Tuesday’s ballot alongside first-time candidates Anthony R. Catuzza – another Lackawanna Police Department veteran – and Jennifer Nahrebeski, a school counselor at Buffalo’s Stanley G. Falk School.
All three are lifelong residents of Lackawanna and each products of the city’s public schools. Each also has concerns about the board’s adopted budget that will go before voters on Tuesday.
Nahrebeski said she has been trying to obtain information about a 1989 class-action lawsuit in which the district was ordered to provide proper services for special education students, in order to determine if Lackawanna Schools might end up out of compliance with state mandates.
“I have attempted to contact several people to be provided with a copy of that lawsuit,” Nahrebeski said. “They’re basing a lot of staffing cuts around this lawsuit that I cannot obtain from anywhere.”
Catuzza offered some sympathy for the predicament in which the board found itself. “They were pretty much forced to do this because previous boards opted to have a zero percent tax increase,” he said.
As far as the cuts to special education go, Joyce expressed concern over what he described as the large number of students in the district who require special education services.
“I mean, there’s roughly 500 children in our district who are serviced by our special education department. That’s out of an enrollment of about 1,800 students,” which, Joyce said, is roughly 28 percent of the district’s enrollment,
Nahrebeski and Catuzza both share that goal. If elected to the board, Nahrebeski said would like to help introduce some of the special education training available at the Stanley G. Falk School, particularly for students with behavioral problems and those might be able to benefit from pursuing vocational diplomas.
Catuzza would like to see a better-informed school board in place. If elected, he will suggest that each board member chair a committee aimed at enhancing board members’ knowledge about education, finance and architecture, which will aid in decision-making.