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Ken-Ton candidates hearing from voters about spending, consolidation

Both candidates for a single seat on the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board have been campaigning all day at the district's sole polling place, Hoover Middle School.

Incumbent Board Vice President Steve Brooks and challenger Andrew Gianni said they've heard from voters about issues ranging from taxes and spending to the Common Core learning standards and the district's consolidation.

The board voted last year to close three schools — Kenmore Middle and Roosevelt and Hamilton elementary — for the 2016-17 school year to cut costs as enrollment continues to shrink.

Brooks, a financial analyst with two children in the district, is seeking his third term on the five-member board. He said his five years on the board and track record of voting in the best interest of students were reasons for voters to give him another term.

"I started this process with the consolidation," Brooks said Tuesday as he greeted voters. "I've got experience. I've finally got my feet under me so I understand how everything works and I think I'd like to continue doing what I started."

Gianni, a 1993 graduate of Ken West High School and district parent, said one of his major concerns is "making sure that the consolidation is handled effectively; that we're doing a good job of using the dollars from the consolidation savings to restore programming and to pass some savings back to the taxpayers."

He also pledged to openly communicate with the district's constituent groups, including its teachers union. That was a key factor in the Kenmore Teachers Assocation's decision to endorse Gianni.

Voters today are also considering a $155.2 million budget, as well as propositions authorizing spending $1.6 million on new school buses and changing the district's transportation eligibility guidelines.

Turnout was low in Ken-Ton by about 5 p.m., with 1,349 votes cast. The district typically has a total of about 3,000 votes when polls close. To put that number in perspective, Ken-Ton has 46,890 eligible voters, which means only about 6 percent of voters turn out for a school budget and board vote.

One voting bloc that historically turns out in large numbers is teachers.

Pam Lunetta, and Ken-Ton resident and City of Tonawanda teacher, said she voted in favor of the budget and the other two propositions because  "I'm a teacher and I support the school district."

She said a vote for the budget is a vote in favor of quality public education. "Education is important and whatever we can do to help the system," she said.

Lunetta said she voted for Gianni because he had the endorsement of the Kenmore Teachers Association.

That endorsement also factored heavily into Margaret Alt's vote. The retired Erie 1 BOCES teacher went with Gianni, as well. "That means a lot to us to see how the teachers are feeling today about things," she said. "You've got to be able to work with teachers union."

Her husband, Wayne, a retired Ken-Ton teacher, also voted for Gianni, and in favor of all three propositions. "He seemed to be a little more progressive, I guess I would say," Alt said of Gianni.

Alt decried the district's loss of state aid in recent years, as tools like the Gap Elimination Adjustment siphoned money away from schools to balance the state's budget.

"It's just sad to see that the state is cutting back on education from what they used to do," he said. "I just feel as though it's sad for children."

Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda school budget, candidate information

Percent of budget from property taxes: 51.06 percent

Percent of budget from state aid: 34.46 percent

Candidates (Elect 1): Stephen G. Brooks (i) and Andrew Gianni.

Total budget: $155,195,885, up 2.23 percent

Tax levy (total amount to be raised through property taxes): $79,236,785, up 2.48 percent

Tax levy increase allowed under tax cap: 2.48 percent

Estimated property tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value: $47.42, up 2.48 percent

Estimated taxes on $100,000 home (market value): $2,181

Proposition: Voters will be asked to approve spending $1,600,208 on new school buses.

Proposition: Voters will be asked to lower transportation eligibility limits. Students in K-4 would have to live at least 0.5 miles from school to be eligible for transportation; students in grades 5-7 would have to live 0.75 miles or greater; students in grades 8-12 would have to live 1 mile or greater. The changes would take effect for the 2016-17 school year.

Polls open: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the gym at Hoover Middle School, 249 Thorncliff Road.

* Estimated tax rates are based on the total taxable value and equalization rate. Final tax rates are established in August.

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