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Williamsville School Board candidates focus on mending rifts in district

Seven candidates for three seats on the Williamsville Board of Education aired their ideas Thursday for mending a rift between the district’s superintendent, School Board members and teachers.

A candidates forum organized by the Parent Teacher Student Association, held in the district’s offices at Casey Middle School, touched on everything from standardized testing to the cost of school supplies, but the theme candidates returned to was improving communication between district leaders.

“I do believe strongly that communication is the key to success for everyone involved,” said Shawn Lemay, a business owner running for his first term. Lemay said he would like the district to hold roundtable discussions in which small groups of board members could have “meaningful dialogue.”

Toni Vazquez, who is running for a second term, pointed to her record as the only board member who advocated for an independent investigation into complaints raised by the Williamsville Teachers Association.

“As proven over the last year or so, I am not at all afraid to stand up for what I feel is right,” said Vazquez, a medical practice administrator and small-business owner. “I will continue to advocate for transparency and accountability.”

Sam Alba, an attorney seeking his first term, said he would use social media to be more accessible as a School Board member and to improve transparency.

“I’m ready to talk to everyone,” Alba said. “I’m ready to make things happen.”

Jay Smith, regional director for Rural/ Metro Medical Services who is seeking a second term, said the School Board should consider refraining from voting after late-night executive sessions in all but emergency situations.

He noted that votes taken after late executive sessions are not a new practice.

“That doesn’t make it OK,” Smith said. “We can look at changing that.”

Robert Campo, an attorney and college instructor seeking his first term, said he wants the board to take all votes before 9 p.m.

“The underlying problem is we need to have set criteria for making major decisions, in advance, agreed upon by all stakeholders,” Campo said. “Then we don’t have these arguments in the future.”

Michael Littman, a professor who has served nine years on the School Board, said he wants to bring back annual board visits to each school building to meet with staff.

“I’m a believer in two-way communication,” Littman said. “It’s important to understand both sides of any issue before a decision is made.”

Mark Mecca, a school psychologist seeking his first term, said board members need to focus on working together.

“We can’t have the rift that we’ve had in this community,” Mecca said. “We don’t have time for it, and we don’t have the resources for it.”