NIAGARA FALLS – The six people running for city School Board are split on whether they believe public education in the state is headed in the right direction.
And from the district’s finances to Common Core standards to charter schools, the candidates see a variety of issues as the most important facing Niagara Falls’ public schools.
The candidates – two incumbents and four challengers – include two small-business owners, a human-rights advocate, a former teacher, a retired Navy veteran and a retired fire battalion chief. They are competing for two available five-year terms on the nine-member board in Tuesday’s election. Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m.
Each candidate was asked by The Buffalo News to fill out a questionnaire in order to be included in an online voter guide. Their statements cited in this story came from the answers they submitted.
Angela J. Bray is one of the four challengers vying for a seat on the board.
Bray, 34, uses a wheelchair and said she’s always looking to expand the visibility of individuals with disabilities “to hopefully heighten awareness of the myriad of issues faced by millions of Americans.”
Bray, a writer, model and self-described human-rights advocate with a strong involvement in the disabled community, said the most important issues facing the Falls include compliance and understanding of individualized education plans for students, including disabled ones.
When asked whether public education in the state is heading in the right direction, Bray said great strides have been made in some areas, “but there’s still a great distance to go.”
Bray attracted attention last week when details emerged about her openness about sexual matters and her disability.
Steven P. DiNieri, another challenger, said he believes public education in New York is headed in the right direction, though he said there are problems with the way things are implemented and the lack of faculty input.
“Raising expectations of education is never a bad idea,” said DiNieri, 46.
The owner of Precision Auto on Niagara Falls Boulevard for more than 30 years, DiNieri is also an instructor in Erie Community College’s industrial technology program as well as a corporate trainer. He said he wants to make the school system more customer-friendly.
“My main motivation for running is to improve the interaction between the district and student families,” he said.
Ken Hamilton is a well-known figure in the Falls for addressing city lawmakers during City Council meetings, for having been a freelance columnist with the Niagara Gazette and for various civic activities. He listed a number of issues as the most important facing the Falls district, including improving academic performance among students and having a board and professional staff that reflect the student body of the district.
Hamilton, who spent 13 years in the Navy, was involved in the creation of Niagara Charter School in Wheatfield.
“We must either negate the need for charter schools by raising our quality of education, or welcome their ability to teach our children,” said the 61-year-old Hamilton. He also said he believes public education in New York is not headed in the right direction because the state is too diverse for one educational system.
Arthur L. Jocoy Jr., one of two incumbents, is completing his first term on the board. He owns Jocoy’s Collision on Packard Road.
He also said he believes public education in the state is heading in the wrong direction, saying there are “holes” in the state’s Common Core curriculum and in the annual teacher evaluation system.
“Teachers are being pushed to ‘teach to the test,’ and not enough time (is) allowed for good old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Jocoy, 46. He is involved in Cayuga Youth Athletic Association Little League baseball, as well as with the Niagara Falls Education Foundation.
Nicholas S.J. Vilardo, the other incumbent, is finishing up his 10th year on the board. A retired battalion chief in the Niagara Falls Fire Department, Vilardo worked for the department for 34 years. The 67-year-old also was an active coach in youth sports and was a board member of the YMCA.
Vilardo said he supports legislation to limit charter schools in small city school districts and would look to increase graduation rates by offering after-school classes.
He said he believes public education is heading in the right direction.
Thomas R. Vitello Sr., a former physical education teacher and coach in the district who also worked for the Niagara Falls Water Board, is the fourth challenger vying for a spot on the board.
A past president of United Steelworkers Local 9434-00, the 63-year-old Vitello also served six years as a member of a five-person oversight panel for the Niagara Falls Water Board, as an appointee of the City Council.
Vitello said the district is facing a difficult financial future that will require tough decisions.
“We must make those decisions based on the facts that will not only benefit our community but most importantly give our children the education they deserve,” Vitello said in a news release announcing his candidacy.
Voters on Tuesday also will weigh in on the district’s proposed 2014-15 budget. The $126.4 million spending plan would carry a 1.9 percent increase in spending, compared with the current budget year, while the tax levy would remain at $25.8 million.
The estimated tax rate under the proposed budget would decrease by one cent to $19.23 per $1,000 in assessed value.
To find your polling place, visit vic.ntsdata.com/niagaraboe/pollingplacelookup.aspx.