by Terry Duffy and Tiffany Hyman
Lewiston-Porter voters spoke their minds Tuesday, approving the district's 2010-11 budget plan and cost control referendum, and electing candidates with a general focus on addressing spending and maintaining educational quality.
Results from tabulations finalized at Lew-Port Friday morning, according to District Clerk Elizabeth Bajor, were 2,031 in favor to 740 against for the $40.094 million budget plan that eliminated positions, and reflected a $1.8 million loss in state aid while also maintaining programs.
Overall, it brought a decline of more than $100,000 in the district tax levy, but will still result in an increase for some Lewiston property owners due to assessment variations, and a decline in Porter.
Also approved was a voter cost-control referendum by a count of 1,806 in favor to 874 opposed. The measure now allows for a public vote whenever a contract with the superintendent or a district staff union would involve an increase of $100,000 or more.
Congratulations were shared by the three Board of Education winners, newcomers Dr. Jerome Andres and Jodee Riordan, who along with incumbent James Sperduti persevered over challengers Ed Lilly, Dr. Dennis Bonnette and James Hildreth in a race that saw high interest in the district, but slightly lower overall actual voter turnout and participation compared to earlier elections. Official final tabulations as of Friday morning, which include validation of all affidavit ballots by the Niagara County Board of Elections were: Andres, 2,174 votes; Riordan, 1,918; Sperduti, 1,908; Lilly, 981; Bonnette, 964; and Hildreth, 907.
BOE incumbent Keith Fox withdrew from contention last week. He garnered 185 votes.
In conversations with the three victors, all had their focus on two main issues. One was the passing of the $40 million budget, a plan intended to cut costs by decreasing spending. The other was the voter cost-control referendum. With this, the school board is now authorized to hold meetings with the superintendent to call for a public vote when a staff union contract would result in increases of $100,000 or more.
Riordan, Andres and Sperduti were all upbeat on passage of the highly anticipated budget plan.
Riordan said she felt the $40 million budget was very fair. She called the plan "a new experiment," one she is anxious to see the results of.
Along with cutting costs, Riordan said she wants to see student nutrition improved within the school district. Being a mother herself to a student in the district, Riordan expressed concern on nutritional values, saying she knows how many schools don't serve students the correct nutritional foods. She felt that it could be a long process until pure healthy food is served, but that starting now is very important to help students lead a healthier, longer life.
Riordan described her winning experience as incredibly good. "The process seemed like it was a long time even though it was only a month until we found out the results, but it was worth the wait, seeing that it lived up to its expectations," said Riordan.
Andres, who is well known in the Lewiston-Porter area, has been an active member of the community for a number of years and said he will continue to do so as he serves on the board. Like Riordan, he was delighted on the passing of the budget. It "really gives the public a sense of control," said Andres.
When asked of his goals as board member, Andres said there are many challenges he and his fellow members are going to face, one being that he wanted to make residents more aware of the teachers contract issue in order to better the system. He also said he wanted to figure out a way to deal with cuts in state aid to local districts. In this, not only would Lew-Port benefit, but other school districts would as well. Andres said he wanted to make Lew-Port's spending plan both efficient and effective, but nothing is ever perfect and working out Lew-Port's "might take extra time," he said,
When asked how it felt to win the public vote, Andres said, "It felt amazing. I am very excited and happy and so is my family. It is very much an honor."
Sperduti, the lone BOE incumbent who ran, said he was in agreement with Riordan and Andres that the budget is fair and was the correct action to take in order to cut costs. He said it was important that the approval of the people won (to pass the budget). Sperduti felt its passage "will only move the district in a positive direction."
Being a veteran member, Sperduti said he feels the most important aspect of his position right now is to bring the new members up to speed on the budgeting processes. He knows exactly what needs to be done, and hopes to spread his knowledge to newcomers Riordan and Andres.
Sperduti also stressed the importance in selecting a new board president following the stepping down of Fox last week. "The district and board are in dire need of a new one," he said.
When asked how it felt to once again win, he described it as "great" and that "he was happy to look past the rhetoric."