Everyone was a winner Wednesday evening as the largest slate of Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board candidates in recent memory met their biggest audience of the campaign.
“There are 90 of you in the audience; I counted,” said Karen M. Whitelaw, president of the KenTon PTSA Council, which hosted the session in the Community Room of the Philip Sheridan Building in conjunction with the League of Women Voters. “And when you vote May 20, you all will be the most informed people out there.”
Answering a series of 14 questions from the audience were five of the six candidates running for two seats on the School Board – Jason S. Crosby, Joseph P. Doherty, Annemarie Gibson, Jill Y. O’Malley and incumbent Jeffrey S. Rickan. Missing was Donette C. Darrow, a former board member, who is recuperating from hip surgery.
None of them stumbled. Nobody was evasive. All frequently framed their answers with references to their areas of expertise.
Doherty and Gibson are teachers at Sweet Home and Hamburg, respectively. Crosby is a computer programmer for the University at Buffalo Medical School. O’Malley is a biology professor at Erie Community College and a founding member and director of the Ken-Ton Parent Alliance.
Rickan, a three-year veteran of the board who weathered the creation and passage of the district’s far-reaching consolidation plan, also weathered a tough opening question: “What would you do differently if you served on the Board of Education over the last two years?”
“Personally, I would have been more vocal in board meetings,” he said, adding, “With a $12 million deficit, we had to cut programs. We had no choice.”
Implementing the consolidation plan also was the first topic the candidates mentioned when they answered the first part of the final question: “What do you feel will be your most difficult task if elected?”
Their differences were seen in the second part of the question: “What one thing do you hope to change?”
O’Malley talked about alternative funding for programs. “We need to tap into our foundation,” she said.
Doherty would like to find ways to maximize the use of teachers and improve development sessions. Gibson, who taught in China, suggested working with the University at Buffalo to expand language classes. Crosby thought the budget problems still needed work. Rickan wants to bring back programs that were cut, “but we need to be sure we can sustain them.”
One issue that was not raised was the selection of a new school superintendent. The current chief, Mark P. Mondanaro, is retiring July 31.
The candidates were pretty much in accord on other issues such as teacher evaluations (hard to measure), charter schools (don’t want them), raising taxes (only for educational programs), ability to work together (all are team players) and how they would adjust to more demands on their time (all would find a way).