Photo and article by Janet Schultz
It's a first for Lewiston-Porter Central School District. The 2013-14 Lewiston-Porter School Board will have a female majority when the newly elected take their office in July. The candidates are running unopposed for three seats.
"It's the first time in the history of the district that a female majority sits on the board," said President Jodee Riordan.
Anna Wright, Betty Vandenbosch-Warrick and incumbent Riordan met the voters in the district's annual Meet the Candidates Night Wednesday, May 15.
Students in the high school history classes submitted more than 90 questions with five chosen for the forum.
In opening remarks, each candidate acknowledged the largest problem in the school district is financial, mainly due to the state reduction in funding and state mandated programming. They also voiced their support in the school's administration and faculty, and excitement for a capital construction project that also will be on the May 21 ballot.
•The first question proved to be the most unique of the night, asking the candidates if the security at Lewiston-Porter was adequate.
"I don't believe it is," said Wright.
"They have taken very strong efforts to make it adequate but I'd like to see resource officers in all of the buildings."
"We've made improvements to security with the police department on campus," said Vandenbosch-Warrick. "The doors and locks are improved and I like that key cards are used. There will also be more improvements in the capital improvement project."
"We need to create an environment where students feel safe but not in a lock-down mode and don't over react to certain situations."
"I agree," said Riordan. "It could be safer and every effort goes into making it safer."
•The most obvious question was budgeting and how each candidate felt about the budget that will be presented to the voters next week.
"I think it's a good one in that they preserved as many programs as they could with the money available," said Vandenbosch-Warrick. "I hope the community will support it with the 60 percent vote needed."
"It was an exhausting process," said Riordan. "There was only so much we could do, and the administration and board did everything possible to retain the programming (we) have at Lewiston-Porter."
"We felt we had no choice in raising the tax levy," Riordan concluded. "The state takes money from this community and they don't necessarily give it back."
Wright agrees that it is an excellent budget, and it meets the students' educational needs.
Asked why they wanted a position on the board, each candidate voiced their support and love of the Lewiston-Porter School District.
"It has been an incredibly good experience but it does take a lot of time and effort," said Riordan. "This is one of the most important things to do. It's important to the school and to the community."
"I'm proud of the work I've done so far," said Riordan.
"I had a lot of conversations before I made the decision," said Wright. "But I want to be part of the solution, and it's a great service for the community and the children."
Vandenbosch-Warrick has been volunteering in many capacities since her children began in the district.
"Now is the time to work at a higher level to directly affect policy and make sure the school stays here."
•If the budget should be voted down and more cuts had to be made, where would they make those cuts?
"This is a complex question," said Wright. "If I had a red pen I would start with the little stuff, because it adds up to big stuff at the end of the day."
"I would look at where we could get the biggest bang for the buck," she continued.
"Maintaining the educational aspect of the district is the priority, so extra-curricular cuts is where I could go," said Wright.
Vandenbosch-Warrick would look at all state non-mandated programs including sports and pre-K.
"There are no more cuts to make that don't affect programming," she said.
Riordan, who has been working on the budget, said that this question has been answered and the cuts would include modified sports, full-day pre-K, technology across the district, business education and the after school program.
If the budget goes to contingency there will be an additional $1.7 million to cut and that would include more layoffs of 41 employees.
"It's very real what we had to look at," said Riordan.
•The final question: "If Lewiston-Porter is allotted so much per student and the student population is declining, how do you justify raising taxes?"
Riordan explained that there are figures on educating each student but there are variants. Generally, it costs $9,000 to educate one student; but if the student has special needs the cost could rise dramatically to as much as $38,000 for mild disability to $100,000 per student for those with severe disabilities.
'These are mandated programs," she continued.
"Nobody wants to see taxes go up," said Wright. "This is a minimal tax increase. It's the right thing to do for the students."
In closing Vandenbosch-Warrick explained that the tax levy increase stays in Lewiston-Porter.
"You should be happy to pay your school taxes. If the state were to raise taxes in other ways it goes statewide and little comes back here," she said. "We pay more and get little back (from the state)."
"Every dollar you pay stays local," she said in closing.
"It's a small increase to get a big return," said Wright, referring to the quality of education Lewiston-Porter students receive.
"I hope we have answered your questions," said Riordan. "There are no right answers, but we have been heavily engaged in discussing all these topics before coming here tonight."
"I hope we have showed you how much we care about the school district," said Riordan as she thanked the students and Partners in Education for the opportunity for the public forum.
Riordan is up for re-election; Vandenbosch-Warrick and Wright will be filling positions vacated by Dr. Jerome Andres, who completed a one-year term, and Jim Sperduti, who completed a two-year term. Neither chose to run for re-election.
•Wright is a graduate of Andover College (Portland, Maine) and is general manager at True Religion Brand Jeans. She has two children attending Lewiston-Porter. Wright feels her experience in management for the past 15 years will be of value to the district.
•Vandenbosch-Warrick has a certificate in general studies from Niagara County Community College and graduated from the ACT Travel School (Pompano, Fla.). She is general manager of U.S. Operations of Yorkville Sound Inc. She has three children attending Lew-Port and has served on the PTA. Her volunteer and professional work, along with her knowledge of Lew-Port, is the asset she feels she brings to the board.
•Riordan has just completed her second term on the School Board and also has children in the school system. She is a graduate of the University of Buffalo and is sales administrator for Modern Corp. She has been proud of what she has accomplished in the past two years and wants to continue working on her goals, including providing fiscal oversight and prudence in the best interest of the community and taxpayers and continue the level of civility and cooperation among the board.
Lewiston-Porter residents will be voting on a $40,001,368 budget that includes a 5.52 percent tax levy increase. The increase calls for a 60 percent majority vote to pass because the levy exceeds the state's tax cap threshold of 4 percent.
Voters will also decide on a $26,075,000 capital improvement project that will be funded through state aid and New York Power Authority Community Resource Funding. No taxpayer dollars will be used. The improvement project will focus on the high school, along with modifications that increase safety and security in the other buildings.
A detailed explanation of the budget and capital improvement project can be found on the school's website www.lew-port.com.
Voting will take place on Tuesday, May 21, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Community Resource Center Board Room.