by Janet Schultz
Lorna Tilley-Peltier, Lori Pittman and Amy Deull had the opportunity to share their visions of school board membership and visions for the district during a candidate's forum prior to the budget hearing last week.
When asked why they chose to run, each remarked how they loved the district, education and want to provide the children of the district the best possible education.
"The Board of Education is responsible for hiring, evaluating and terminating the superintendent, developing policy and the budget, having a final say on personnel and setting district goals," said Pittman about the role she sees for the board.
"The Board of Education serves under the constitution of New York, which provides free, local public schools controlled by elected boards," said Deull. "Two main jobs of the board are to provide a great education and provide control of public money to spend in the best way."
"The board should be transparent and address the concerns of the community," said Tilley-Peltier.
Providing a quality education in hard economic times was a focus of the questions posed by Interim Superintendent James Knowles.
Pittman wants to provide a quality education by placing more teachers in the classroom, having smaller class sizes, keeping kindergarten and reinstating pre-K.
"Each child has only one chance at education," said Pittman. "We must do everything to ensure that and their safety."
"We all expect a quality education," said Deull. "As a board member, I want to visit classrooms, labs and BOCES to see what students are doing and see how we can best serve them within available resources."
"Education doesn't stop when you reach 12th grade," she continued. "I want to reinstate self-funded adult education programs in the community."
Would they cut programs or raise taxes to save programming?
"Nobody likes taxes, but school taxes make up one-half of the budget," said Tilley-Peltier. "If after looking at every possible way, I'd choose to raise taxes to save programming."
"We must manage better, we must be smarter, and we must reach out to other school districts and learn from them," said Deull. "We must also recoup payments from the Tuscaroras, so we aren't seeking loans, we should learn more about the IDA (Industrial Development Agency). Our citizens deserve the best management of our money."
Pittman suggested petitioning the state to cut some of the mandates and also eliminate the state testing.
Each candidate was then asked to select one issue facing the board and their view on it.
Deull sees revenue and taxes as the most important issue facing the district at this time. She wants to assist with negotiating contracts carefully and also sees it necessary to hire a full-time business manager and a mid-year review of the budget so there are no end-of-the-year surprises.
Tilley-Peltier agrees that funding is the issue when trying to maintain a high level of education. She wants to seek a percentage of the county's sales tax, which schools do not receive at this time, and would also look at the pay-for-play in order to maintain athletics.
Pittman is looking at the past, present and future of Niagara-Wheatfield, seeing that her one son had it all - small class size, extra-curricular activities and how her son now attending has larger class sizes and loss of programs. She wants the students of the future to have the same opportunities as her first son.
All three candidates want to find ways to fix the challenges they will meet in the coming years which are rising benefit costs, reduction in revenue from the state and a long-term plan that will provide students with the necessary skills for their future.
"Revenue and money challenges will always be with us," said Deull. "Niagara County doesn't have a significant industrial base. We have senior citizens and a farming population with challenges of its own.
"We must do more work in studying programs such as common core and Race for the Top that may cost us and also take away valuable time from the classroom in favor of endless evaluation and reporting requirements."
Pittman currently serves on the Board of Education, filling a vacant position. She also has been a member of several booster clubs, worked with the Music Parents and volunteers at numerous school activities. She is a Niagara-Wheatfield graduate and currently is employed at Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center as a nurse manager in intensive care. Three of her four children have graduated from N-W, and one is currently attending. Pittman served on the board several years ago and resigned after she felt there were "questionable practices, loss of key administrators and (her) concerns went unanswered."
Tilley-Peltier is a graduate of North Tonawanda High School and has resided in the district for 17 years. She has 27 years legal experience in contracts and corporate law, and offers a background in accounting and resources. Tilley-Peltier has a son in high school and another son in middle school.
Deull has resided in the N-W school district for 18 years. She has a bachelor's degree in writing from the University of Pittsburgh, a certificate in elementary education from Chatham College and attended the Philadelphia Institute for paralegal training. She worked as a budget analyst, management analyst and contract negotiator with the U.S. Navy Aviation Supply Office. She was a member of the N-W Audit Committee this year.
"I don't like financial crisis," said Deull. "I know we can do better and I'm offering my time and talents to assist in any way I can."
The candidates are vying for two positions including one held by Kathy Fleming, who chose not to run for re-election, and the other held currently by Pittman who was appointed following the resignation in November of Michael Brock.
The Niagara-Wheatfield School District's annual budget vote and school board election will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, in the Adult Learning Center of the Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School, 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Sanborn.