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Three candidates with teachers' union backing elected to Ken-Ton School Board

The three candidates for Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board who were backed by the teachers' union in the district emerged victorious Tuesday night from a field of five candidates.

Christine Cavarello, a member of Ken-Ton Advocates for Student-Centered Education, was the top vote getter with 1,705 votes. Thomas J. Reigstad, an emeritus professor of English at SUNY Buffalo State, was second with 1,508 votes. And incumbent Christopher E. Pashler, a Kenmore lawyer, placed third with 1,343 votes.

The trio was endorsed by the Kenmore Teachers Association, which has been at odds in recent months with the district's administration over curriculum, collaboration and communication concerns.

Cavarello said the teachers' union support was a big factor in her win.

"I think that says a lot about what's going on -- not only in the district, but education in general," said Cavarello, a lifelong district resident, Ken-Ton graduate and parent. "I know teachers everywhere feel like they're not being listened to. Corporations, the governor and all these people who don't know about education are telling us what we should be doing. We need to be listening to the teachers more. They're the experts in the classroom."

Reigstad said he was honored and feels well-qualified to serve on the board through his experience working in education.

"I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work," he said. "It'll happen soon. I'm ready for it."

Newcomers Cavarello and Reigstad will begin three-year terms on July 1. Pashler, who was appointed to a vacated seat last year, will fill the remaining year of the term. They will join Board President Jill Y. O'Malley and Vice President Andrew Gianni -- both of whom were also elected with the teachers' union's backing -- on the five-member board.

Incumbent Trustee Bob Dana was denied a third term. He tallied 1,084 votes, while Ken-Ton PTSA President Dawn Stinner garnered 1,071 votes. Trustee Todd J. Potter Jr. did not seek re-election.

Meanwhile, all four propositions on the ballot were approved by voters.

Proposition 1, the 2016-17 school district budget totaling $157.1 million, was approved by voters, 1,436 to 638. Proposition 2, the annual bus purchase, was approved by voters, 1,716 to 845. Proposition 3, to create a new capital project reserve fund, was approved by voters, 1,851 to 709. Proposition 4, to create a new ex-officio student position on the Board of Education, was approved by voters, 1,938 to 615.

This was the first year Ken-Ton offered an exit survey to voters who were invited to submit feedback on the budget process and school district as a whole. District officials were also on-hand throughout the day at a "budget information" table to answer voters' questions.

Superintendent Dawn F. Mirand said voters were mostly asking about layoffs of teachers and support staff that was brought on by the closure next month of three schools; and the loss of $3 million in annual revenue from the closure of the Huntley power plant and how that affected the budget.

"We're also hearing a lot of positives," she added.

Earlier, Patrick O'Donnell, a Ken-Ton resident and music teacher at Amherst Middle School, said he voted for the KTA's endorsed candidates.

"The board members make big decisions that can affect the teachers so we want to make sure they get the support they need to teach our kids," he said outside the district's polling place in Hoover Middle School.

Amy Jones, a parent in the district, took aim at the Common Core learning standards.

"I've been really happy with my children's education so far," she said. "My only complaint is the focus on Common Core this year. All my fifth-grade daughter does is focus on ELA and math every day. They're totally burned out."

Cavarello echoed those comments later.

"I've been really discouraged about the amount of state and federal mandates," she said Tuesday night after the election results were announced. "They're really coming in and dictating a lot of what we do in the district. I'd like to make sure we're giving a well-rounded education."

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