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Tonawanda City voters approve school budget, give thumbs up to vets tax exemption

The Tonawanda City School budget, which featured a slight increase in overall spending and a 1.28 percent bump in the tax levy, was passed by voters Tuesday evening.

The school board presented a budget of just over $31 million in April, a 1.23 percent increase over this year’s budget. The budget passed, 396 to 163.

Despite the increase, some residents said the need to pay for education outweighed the tax hike. Michelle Barber, who lives on Penarrow Drive in the city, said the increase was expected.

“Everything is going up,” she said. “Nobody is getting a bargain.”

Eric Schleifer, a retired teacher, and his wife Penny, a teacher in a southern Erie County school district, voted for the budget increase to keep the school fully funded. Penny Schleifer cited unfunded mandates from Albany as one reason to support the proposed budget.

“No one realizes how many there are,” she said. “It’s not the kids’ fault.”

One resident, who declined to give her name, said the budget is too high.

“I’m upset,” she said. “If they raise it any higher, I’ll have to move.”

Residents also passed the Alternative Veterans’ Tax Exemption and the Gold Star Parent Exemption, non-binding votes the board will consider before deciding on the matter on a later date. The exemptions passed 423 to 125.

Charles Hendler, of Simpson Street in the city, said he wasn’t sure how the exemption would impact him. He also wasn’t sure if the exemption was too much, not enough or just right. Nonetheless, he voted in favor of it.

“I’m pro-veteran,” he said. “We’ll figure it out later.”

Eric Schleifer said he, too, voted for the exemption.

“I’m all for that,” he said. “People who have served deserve every opportunity in the world.”

School board candidates Brook Kasprzak and Heather L. Sternin won seats on the school board. Both ran unopposed and will fill the spots being vacated by Board President Jennifer Mysliwy and board member Sharon Stuart.

Sternin received 449 votes, while Kasprzak received 426. Both will begin their terms on July 1.

Early turnout numbers in the City of Tonawanda were up as of Tuesday afternoon, despite there being no competitive school board race in the district.

Approximately 380 people had voted by 6:30 p.m., which was up over last year’s numbers, said Superintendent James Newton.

Along with the election, the district held a middle school spring concert, and the school’s booster club for track and field held a chicken barbecue right outside the polling place. The barbecue, which was scheduled to run from 4 to 6:30 p.m., was sold out by 5:30 p.m., said booster club member Jennifer Kurdziel.

“Tonawanda really supports our community,” she said.