Ten candidates will be on the ballot Tuesday, May 17, seeking election to the four open seats on the Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education.
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Adult Learning Center at Niagara-Wheatfield High School on Saunders Settlement Road.
Three four-year seats, currently held by William Conrad, Michele Hoerner and Samuel Monin are open. Monin is not seeking re-election. In addition, the person with the fourth highest number of votes will finish the one-year remaining in the term of Lori Pittman who resigned earlier this year.
Originally, 12 candidates signed up to run for election, but two have dropped out of the field.
Each of the candidates was asked to provide the Tribune with background information, what skills they would bring to the board and why they wanted to be on the board.
William (Bill) Conrad
Incumbent; current board president
He and his wife, Lynne, have three biological children, three foster children, and three adopted children. The family lives in Sanborn. Four of their children attend schools within the district and one attends a BOCES program outside of the district. Conrad is a graduate of N-W, Class of 1981, and has a bachelor of professional studies degree from the University of Buffalo in architecture. A state-licensed architect, he has spent 18 years working in the private sector for several architectural, engineering firms and local commercial developers. Currently, he works for the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York in the field of construction management.
"I would rather be involved in the important decisions that affect the education of my children and the children of our community than sit on the sidelines complaining. A great education is the best gift we can give to our kids. I also believe my wide range of experience with children, finance, military, and prior public service make me a uniquely qualified candidate for the Board of Education. After many years on other boards, I have seen what makes a board high-functioning and effective. I believe I bring that kind of leadership to the board along with honesty, integrity and a wholehearted love for children. My entire family, including my parents, brother, sister, their families and many cousins, are part of this district, and I owe my good service to them as well as my immediate family and the rest of our great district. I am proud to serve my community and especially proud to see my children attending the same school that gave me such a great educational foundation to build my life upon.
"I want to continue in the direction we are headed with curriculum, technology. However, I want to strengthen our ties to the community, especially parental involvement. We have a great start with our wonderful adult education program headed by Anita Muzzi. And, we have great parent groups at West Street and Errick Road. But, we must get more involvement from our middle school and senior high parents and Colonial Village parents. It is so important to reinforce what is learned at school, at home. I think that alone can bring N-W to another level we have been working so hard to attain."
Current board vice president
A board member for 12 years, Hoerner has been board president and vice president several times. A Wheatfield resident, she and her husband have two sons who have graduated from N-W and one who will graduate in June. She is a graduate of the University of Buffalo and works for Island/Tonawanda Pediatrics.
"I would like to continue the work my fellow board members, superintendent, administrators and staff have started at Niagara-Wheatfield. I want to continue with the academic growth we have experienced over the past three years. With the addition of 14 new initiatives, including pre-kindergarten, SAT reviews, math and literacy programs, one-to-one computing, curriculum mapping and the Twilight program, our test scores and graduation rates have shown an increase. Our sixth grade English language arts and eighth grade math scores were on the top in Western New York in Business First this past year.
"I believe we must continue with advancements in technology, which is essential for the education of our students. Also, we must continue to explore other low-cost initiatives to enhance education. We also opened our doors to the community by establishing an adult education program.
"This is the first time in the past six years that we will not have a zero percent tax levy increase due to the economic conditions and loss of $5 million in state aid. This year's budget amount is $62,935,676 with a reduction of $7,029,295. All aspects and considerations were looked at over the past year to present a fiscally responsible fair budget and what was best for children of our district.
"I am concerned with the amount of candidates this year who have a spouse who works for the district. I have always believed it is a direct conflict of interest to be involved in the decisions, and have access to personnel information about one's spouse's coworkers. Over the next several years, we will again be forced to make tough decisions, and it is hard to be objective if it affects your own household."
Appointed to replace Pittman until election
Wheatfield residents, he and his wife, Deanna, have a son Jacob, 5, who attends West Street Elementary. Smith has a bachelor's in criminal justice from SUNY Empire State College and has worked at the Niagara County Sheriff's Office for 13 years. He currently is a sergeant assigned as the co-director of the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy. Also a 19-year veteran of Air National Guard, his current assignment is commander of the 107th Security Forces Squadron overseeing the operation of a 74-person unit.
"I want to continue to serve the board as I feel I have several qualities to offer: Integrity first and foremost. Creative outside-the-box thinking in these fiscally challenging times. Not afraid to ask the tough questions and learn the job. Not political, and I don't relate to political agendas, rather I adhere to pragmatic thinking and common sense.
"I would like to bring a sense of calm and integrity to the district in these emotionally charged times. Whenever there is economic difficulties people tend to point fingers and lay blame rather than bear down and problem-solve. I would rather bring a synergistic attitude and work together with the other members of the board and continue to strive for excellence in education for our children while minimizing the continuous burden on taxpayers in Western New York."
A Wheatfield resident for 22 years, he graduated from North Tonawanda High School and attended Niagara University. He has two daughters who attend N-WHS and a son who goes to Errick Road Elementary. His wife, Mary, is a third-grade teacher at Errick Road. He is a converting supervisor for Smurfit-Stone Container.
"I am interested in being on the N-W Board of Education for a number of reasons. First, I started attending board meetings because I was concerned with the lack of discipline I saw when I attended N-W sporting events and bullying issues that were reported on the local news. I want to be on the board because my oldest daughter graduates from N-WHS this year, she has had great teachers, enriching programs and extracurricular activities. I want to see all these programs continue for my other two children as well as all N-W students.
"While attending board meetings, I was surprised at how little information was given to the public concerning the financial end of running the district. While other neighboring districts were going through their budget concerns with full disclosure, we were discussing everything except the budget. We owe it to the taxpayers and N-W students to be more fiscally responsible.
"I have been in (the) manufacturer business for 27 years, while a production superintendent (at Temple-Inland), I was responsible for safety, quality, waste, meeting monthly budgets, cost reduction, purchasing, transportation, maintenance, building and grounds. I feel these responsibilities will be an asset to the Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education.
"What I would like to bring to the district is fair, firm, honest decision making with fiscal responsibility. I would like to ensure the taxpayers of N-W that their hard earned dollars are being used in the best interest of our N-W students."
Currently a Town of Niagara resident, Halleen, 39, has been a lifelong resident of the Niagara-Wheatfield School District, and is a member of the N-W Class of 1989, along with his wife, Vanessa, whose parents are also proud members of the 1960 and 1961 graduating classes of N-W. They have three children, one at Edward Town Middle School and two at Colonial Village Elementary. Halleen has worked for his family-owned automotive business in the district since the age of 16. He is serving his second term on the Town of Niagara Planning Board and is an active member of the LaSalle Sportsman's Club.
"I want to serve on the Board of Education to help ensure the well-being of my children's' education as well as future generations that will be attending N-W. Niagara-Wheatfield is a great district and I feel they deserve the same, if not better, quality education that I have received.
"With my business experience, as well as being a member of a board, I am hoping to bring fiscal responsibility and accountability to help us get through these tough times, while conserving the programming and staffing we have now. In addition, I would like to see the academic gap narrowed between our elementary schools, along with increasing school morale."
Demosthenes (Denny) Klidonas
A Town of Niagara resident for nearly 15 years, he and his wife, Beth, have four children, all who attend Niagara-Wheatfield schools. He graduated from Ossining High School, and his wife from N-W. They both have bachelor's degrees in early childhood education from SUNY Buffalo. For the past 16 years, they have owned and operated First Step Childcare Center and Pre-School in the Town of Niagara. In his career, Klidonas also has worked for more than 13 years with the developmentally disabled population as an assistant director for two agencies that serve people with special needs. For the past two years, he also has worked as an account manager for Top RX.
"I was once an elected school board member (completed my entire three-year term) and was also re-appointed upon the passing of the late school board member and wonderful man Mr. Moyer. The sole reason I did not seek re-election after my terms ended was to dedicate more time to my family. My experience was extremely rewarding during both tenures on the board. The reason I have chosen to run again this time is simple: I am and always will be an advocate for children. I have four children in the district and my vision is to see them and all of their peers receive the best education possible. In order to see this come to fruition, you need to find someone who is impartial, open-minded, and diligent. These characteristics are everything that I bring to the table.
"The last several years, there have been a lot of change in the district, some positive and some negative. I will bring stability to the board if I am elected. My ultimate strength is my experience. Out of all the candidates who are running, only one has more years of service as a board member than I.
"I also have more than a decade off collective bargaining experience. I have worked on the administrative side of a CBA and also was a union member for six years as well. As a successful business owner for 16 years who pays quite a bit in taxes, I certainly can empathize with the state taxpayer at this time of flux. However, I also recognize the need to give all of our children, and I would like to stress all of our children, the opportunity to succeed in life. I can provide the initiative and expertise to do just that: provide a healthy balance to do what is best for children while making certain decisions that involve spending tax dollars wisely.
"I have and always will vote with my conscience. Anyone who knows me is already aware that this is what I am all about. As others are pleading for your vote, all that I am asking is that you come out and please vote. It is essential that you are heard and by doing this you have already taken the first step."
Daniel (Danny) Maerten
A resident of Bergholz since 1979, Maerten has lived in the Niagara-Wheatfield district for 47 years. He graduated from N-W in 1972, and his son, Trevin, in 2007. Maerten runs the family plumbing and heating company, where he has been employed since high school. He has held Town of Wheatfield part-time positions as plumbing inspector, fire marshal and dog control officer. His community involvement has included Cub master for Pack 833, volunteer with the Wheatfield Youth Committee, and volunteering for the Wheatfield Family Picnic for 15 years. He is vice president of the Niagara-Wheatfield Kiwanis Club, helping establish a scholarship program, now in its second year, and is supporting the "Leader in ME" program at West Street School. He is secretary of the Wheatfield Business Association, which just opened its scholarships to all of Wheatfield's graduates, and is part of a steering committee of the Niagara County Patriots.
"I believe I can bring in some new ideas, philosophies, compromise and insight to establish the best rounded education for our students without the escalation of tax burdens to our district. I consider my background in business, my firsthand knowledge of the community, my dedication to volunteering for our betterment, an optimistic attitude, and a hard work ethic would serve well as a board member.
"I would like to see the graduation rate increase, give everyone the stimulation to excel, be it toward college, the trades, turning a hobby into a profession or sports. I'd like to inspire a positive attitude and community involvement in the students, teachers and administrators.
"We have to slow the ever-increasing cost of a good education."
Christopher (Chris) Peters
A resident of Wheatfield for 171/2 years, Peters is married with two children, one in the high school and one at Errick Road Elementary. Peters has been a commercial and personal lines insurance agent for 15 years. A graduate of North Tonawanda High School, he has a bachelor's degree from SUNY at Buffalo in business administration with a concentration in marketing.
"My main reason for running for the N-W school board is to protect the educational, sports and arts programs that our students need and deserve. These programs will allow them to build a strong foundation that is crucial to their development and success in the workplace, as well as in their post-high school education. I would also like to help bring fiscal responsibility back to our school district. I believe it is the job of the board of education's elected officials to be the financial watchdogs for all of the taxpayers of the district. After attending the majority of monthly school board meetings this year, I have found that there is a lack of accountability by our current administration. It is their responsibility to be forthcoming and open with the taxpayers. This does not seem to be the case. It has been an eye-opening experience to say the least. I am a successful businessman, who has been raised with a strong work ethic. I believe that good people are the strength of any good organization. It is important to listen to many ideas and to be open-minded. Given the current economic climate in which we are faced, we need to look more responsibly at the dollars and cents that our district is spending and allocate those funds in the best interest of the student population, not on the administrative agenda."
A resident of the Town of Niagara for about three years, Sabo, 37, been a teacher in the North Tonawanda School District for 15 years, currently teaching teach sixth grade English language arts and reading at Meadow Elementary School. He has been the NT girls varsity soccer coach for 12 years.
He and his wife, Laura, have two children, one attending kindergarten at Errick Road Elementary.
A 1992 graduate of North Tonawanda High School, he attended Canisius College, earning a bachelor's degree in elementary education, early secondary education, and chemistry in 1996. He also attended the International Center for Studies in Creativity and Leadership at Buffalo State College to earn a master's degree in creativity and change leadership.
"I believe that my background as an educator and leader would be an asset to the residents of the NWCSD. My knowledge of the state of education in NYS as well as the Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind legislation will help me to continue to guide the NWCSD in a direction that will produce the top students in all of Niagara County, and eventually all of WNY. I have considerable experience and knowledge of the school budgetary process, and know of ways to increase program effectiveness and lower class sizes while maintaining fiscal stability. Residents may feel free to follow my campaign and my views at www.facebook.com/sabo4nwsb.
"It is my belief that one of the greatest assets to any school board is to have members who are educators serving on it. For many years, my former city of residence had elected a teacher to the BOE. During that time, student achievement increased and programs were maintained, all while tax increases were either nonexistent or below 1 percent.
"I would like to focus on both student and district accountability. New core standards being created and passed down to the schools in NYS are going to be replacing the current state standards. Students must be ready for this. The board needs someone who understands the best educational practices, will foster this success, and then be able to hold the administration accountable should these standards not be met.
"Secondly, I would like to see an increase in the emphasis in gifted education. Programs need to be put in place at all levels that allow these learners to proceed at a pace that will allow them to excel at a pace that is more suited to their higher ability levels.
"Finally, I would bring a change to the budgetary process and spending trends. After reviewing this current budget, there are many areas that simply do not make sense from which cuts were made and other areas in which cuts didn't occur. I believe that each area, program and position should be discussed in an open forum and the ramifications or benefits of each be presented."
Richard A. Sirianni
A Town of Niagara resident, Sirianni, now retired, worked for more than 32 years at Airco Sphere/Carbide Graphite in Niagara Falls. A union officer for more than 26 years, he was union president for seven years and also was financial secretary for P.A.C.E. Region II council. He and his wife, Cheri, have a 19-year-old son, Ricky, a 2010 N-W graduate. Sirianni is a 1971 LaSalle Senior High School graduate.
"I would really like to be involved in the N-W Board of Education. I know they did a great job educating my son, and if there is anyway I can help out our schools to educate other students, it would be very rewarding. I feel I owe the district that. In the past because of my satisfaction on how the school system handled my son's education I have offered to be an advocate if needed.
"With my work history in dealing with companies in good and bad times, at the same time trying to represent hundreds of employees and looking out for their best interest, I have learned to be a effective communicator. As a board member you have to be a communicator, consensus builder, decision-maker, team player and leader, and I strongly believe that I retain all those qualities, with my first-hand experience. I do not think the school district needs any radical change. I think the school system needs help in navigating through these troubled financial times. First of all, let me say that most of our financial troubles are not self-inflicted, but due to the horrible economic conditions of our country, and specifically our state. The school board should explore other avenues to try to cut costs to make our school system a more efficient district. Cutting programs, and employees are not always the most efficient ways to deal with future cuts of state money. The bottom line: We are trying to give our students the best education we can, and at the same time try to do it within a reasonable budget."