Niagara Gazette

May 19, 2013

Falls school board election offers plenty of choices for voters

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Who’s going to fill two empty seats on the Niagara Falls City School Board?

That’s the question entering Tuesday’s district budget vote and election, with six candidates vying for two openings on the nine-member board.

Incumbents Don King and the Rev. Kevin Dobbs are seeking to maintain their hold on those seats, ones King has held for 35 years and Dobbs 16. But challengers Michael Gawel, Ronald Burstys, Anthony Paretto and Herbert Lewis believe they would best serve the city’s residents.

King has maintained throughout his campaign he’s interested in helping the district overcome several hurdles it could face in the next five years, the length of each term. He said possibly hiring a new superintendent, developing social media policies, fighting truancy and finding ways to encourage emotional intelligence in students all could come up in the next few years. King is married to his wife, Betty, and has four daughters who’ve all graduated from Niagara Falls High School.

Both King and Dobbs have heavily opposed the reduction of district voting places, which passed with controversy in December reducing the number from 24 to eight as the two were lining up reelection campaigns.

Dobbs champions his involvement in three of the district’s schools – Cataract and Niagara Street elementaries and the district’s high school – and sees the district in need of more resources to produce a higher graduation rate.

Both Dobbs and King were uncontested their last election in 2008.

Challenging them is a slew of new faces. Gawel, who’s previously served as a city councilman, has experience as an accountant and tax advisor and said he believes this will assist him if elected. He’s championed change, saying the district isn’t working as is at a recent candidate’s forum. Citing the district’s current standing in Buffalo Business First’s rankings of school districts (92 of 97), which is based on test scores and performance, he said the old ideas just aren’t working.

Barstys, a former teacher in the district, has since become an administrator in the North Tonawanda district as the director of student services. His wife, Christine, is still a teacher in the district. Barstys said he believes his background in education would aid the board’s decision making and his administrative position provides insight into how budgets work. He’s also a father to a student in the district, he said.

Paretto, a city electrican, has more than 20 years experience as a union worker. Residing in LaSalle with his wife, Sue, and three children, he said he believes his experience would be invaluable in helping the district make decisions concerning its upcoming $67 million capital improvement project, which is awaiting final state approval before getting started this summer. He also wants to ensure teachers have every resource needed to provide an excellent education, he said.

Lewis, meanwhile, said he grew up in an impoverished family facing many of the tough choices children still face in 2013. He currently works for the Seneca Niagara Casino but has also spent time in a mentoring program at Harry F. Abate Elementary.

While voters will decide which candidate best reflects their interest in education, they’ll also face a difficult decision with the proposed 2013-14 school spending plan.

Adopted in March, the district is proposing spending $124 million and would need to increase its tax levy for the first time in 20 years to do so. Officials have proposed a 3 percent increase in the levy – the total tax dollars the district collects – which is below the state property tax cap figure facing Niagara Falls, which was set at 3.77 percent according to state-provided formulas.

Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m. with voters only able to vote at designated school buildings this year. If unsure where to vote, call District Clerk Ruthel Dumas to determine a location at 286-4211.

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.