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Local school board candidates are more optimistic, despite the usual concerns

The youngest is 18, and the oldest candidate running for school board in Erie and Niagara counties is over 70.

A couple are college students, and some are lifelong educators.

In all, 114 people have stepped up to run for 82 school board seats available in 37 districts in the two counties on Tuesday.

As in recent years, candidates are concerned about standardized testing, the Common Core standards, teacher evaluations, state mandates and funding of schools.

But after a year in which New York State came through with more school aid and sent the message that tests are changing, some see hints that things are moving in education.

“I feel we are heading in a right direction, just some bumps we need to fix,” said Deborah L. Forrestel, a grandmother and Akron native who is running for the School Board there.

The Buffalo News invited candidates to describe the top issues facing their schools and to explain whether they think public education in New York is heading in the right direction. You can read the full submissions of the 74 who responded at BuffaloNews.com/YourSchools.

Last year, nearly four of every five candidates who responded were unhappy with the direction in which the state is taking public education in New York. But this year, more than half, 54 percent, said they were satisfied.

Hamburg School Board Member David Yoviene, who is seeking re-election, was one of those.

“I believe things are trending in a more positive direction in Albany and at the State Education Department. However, parents, school districts and teachers still do not trust the State Education Department,” Yoviene said. “Our public schools have been decimated by harmful cuts to our state funding. Hopefully, those days are over.”

And Dominic A. Vivolo, running for the Amherst School Board, said, “I do think public education is headed in the right direction, but it has been messy recently.”

Here are six things to know about Tuesday’s elections.

Contests

There will be contested races in 22 districts in Erie and Niagara counties.

In one district, on the other hand, there are not enough candidates running; there are two names on the ballot for the Tonawanda School Board and three open seats.

This has happened once before in Tonawanda. Superintendent James P. Newton said the district will see if there are any write-in candidates. If there are, the district will contact the person who gets the most write-in votes to see if he or she wants to serve on the board.

That’s what happened last year in Iroquois, where no one ran for an open seat. This year there is a contested race in Iroquois.

Youngest candidates

In Iroquois Central, Gunnar J. Haberl hopes to become a household name. As a former student body president, he says, he has the student perspective. The 18-year-old freshman at the University at Buffalo and legislative aide in the State Assembly has two opponents, Anna Kwaizer and Heidi Salva.

In Orchard Park, Dwight D. Eagan, in his second year at UB, thinks his youth – he turns 20 the day before the election – is not a weakness but a strength. He’s in a three-way race with Robert J. Mahany and Saverio “Sam” Marrazzo for two seats.

At 23, Victoria O. Obot of Lockport is the eldest of the younger set. A graduate of UB with a political science degree, she works at HSBC Bank and teaches Sunday school. Obot is one of four candidates, including incumbent Marietta Schrader, Edward P. Sandell and Karen S. Young, running for three seats on the Lockport City School Board.

Campaigning

You may meet some candidates outside the school where you vote.

Other candidates put up lawn signs, which may be the throwback way of getting a candidate’s name out there – it’s less expensive to launch a Facebook page and use social media. And for a primer on a campaign commercial, see Iroquois candidate Haberl’s video on YouTube.

If it’s a big message you want to get out, there’s always a billboard. A group of community members in Lancaster pooled their money and bought a billboard on Transit Road proclaiming support for two candidates.

There also are palm cards, brochures and flyers, which can be in digital form, too.

“Avoid fluff about how great you are. Keep your information professional and up to date,” advises the website “Running for School Board” by the operators of OnlineCandidate.com.

Candidates also are supposed to file three campaign finance disclosure statements with their district outlining how much money they spend.

The completed forms can be requested by the public.

Qualifications

To run for school board you have to be a U.S. citizen, a resident of the district, at least 18 years old, and be able to read and write. You can’t work for the school district where you will serve, or live in the same household with a family member who is on the same board.

To vote, you have to be a U.S. citizen, 18 years old and a resident of the district for at least 30 days.

Repairs, renovations and expansions

Residents are voting on capital improvement projects in four districts: Barker is seeking $1.9 million for central administration and elementary buildings; East Aurora is seeking $21.82 million for work at Parkdale, the middle and high schools, and a separate vote for $1.71 million in improvements at the athletic complex; Hamburg is seeking $9.87 million for district-wide facility improvements; and Holland is seeking up to $5.6 million for improvements to the Junior-Senior High School.

Other propositions

Voters in Lockport will decide on buying 19 acres of vacant land near George Southard Elementary School to prevent future development and for more athletic fields, and they will decide whether to acquire 89 acres on Beattie Avenue across from Charles Upson Elementary School for athletic fields.

North Tonawanda is looking for permission to start offering transportation in-house, at a cost not to exceed $1.96 million.

email: bobrien@buffnews.com

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