In previous years, lackluster turnouts at the “Meet the Candidates Forum” for the Lancaster School Board meant the moderator had to come prepared with a list of questions to fill the hour.
Student Union President Ethan Bruening had no such problem this year, as more than 100 residents filled the high school auditorium Monday night and several were left queued up at the microphone when it was over. The enlivened forum was mostly civilized, only turning contentious when the board’s recent decision to eliminate the district’s Redskins mascot came up.
Bruening did get to pose the first question to the five candidates vying for two seats on the seven-member board, and he went with a query on the minds of many residents: Do the candidates support the proposed districtwide capital project of $57.3 million? Some Redskins proponents have hinted they may vote against the capital project as a rebuke to the mascot decision.
Four of the candidates expressed support for the capital project, with Kelly Hughes Depczynski saying she needed more time to review it.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to want to vote it down, especially when there is a zero percent tax impact on the community for the next 15 years,” said incumbent Wendy S. Buchert, a parent seeking her third term.
Brenda J. Christopher, a former board member and key player in the pro-mascot movement, said she supports the capital project and the $99.94 million budget voters will also consider May 19. “Any rumors that are flying around about why they’re being threatened is beyond me,” she said.
Later, the candidates were asked what they would do to push back against the Common Core Learning Standards and high-stakes standardized testing. All the candidates were highly critical of those two state mandates.
“The only way we’re going to fight this is to starve them of the information they need,” said Wendy A. DellaNeve, one of the first Lancaster parents to opt her children out of state testing. She is also the only candidate endorsed by the district’s teachers union.
Kimberly Nowak, the race’s other incumbent, said she has been attending rallies, providing training for advocacy and contacting legislators. “That’s where we need to direct the energy,” she said.
Depczynski said she opted her children out, calling the tests “a drain on time and money.” “Kids do not learn in the same ways,” she said. “Tests should not be standardized because kids aren’t.”
Christopher, a special-education teacher in the Cheektowaga schools, said testing in her classroom is “a grueling, awful, awful process. Teaching belongs to teachers. We are trained, we are educated.”
The candidates were also flatly asked by a resident wearing a “One Lancaster” T-shirt if they would try to bring back the now-retired mascot. The incumbents said they would not. DellaNeve said it was “not on my agenda,” while Depczynski and Christopher were open to the idea, saying they would listen to the community first.
“This needs to be a community decision,” Christopher said, “not a seven-member board decision.”