Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

May 12, 2013

Crowded ballot for Starpoint board

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Eight candidates makes for a large school board race. But even though it’s the largest race locally, half of them will still land a spot on the Starpoint Board of Education.

Incumbents Michael Zimmerman, Dennis Toth and Jeffrey Duncan are up for re-election. Susan Brooks, Kevin Duffy, Eugene Stanwich, Sheri Weber and Andrea Wick join them on the ballot.

On May 21, district residents will elect three of them, each to a three-year term. A fourth seat is also on the ballot, but will carry a one-year term.

The seat opened when Danielle Keller resigned in Feburary. The fourth highest vote-getter will replace Keller immediately, joining the board in May.

Starpoint Parents Teachers Association will host a Meet the Candidates Night at 7 p.m. Monday in the Starpoint Middle School auditorium on Mapleton Road in Pendleton.

So here’s a very brief look at each of the candidates:

Susan Brooks

For Brooks, 43, it’s her background in business and education that she feels would help her become an effective board member. She is the director of nursing at Buffalo General Medical Center and has worked with the University at Buffalo School of Nursing.

Like so many other schools, Starpoint is facing some challenging times financially. Brooks said figuring out where to spend wisely would be a priority for her. But, she would like to see Starpoint improve academically, including raising the district’s annual rank in Business First.

Brooks, a Starpoint graduate herself, has three kids attending district schools. She is a Pendleton resident.

Kevin Duffy

Duffy, 42, is a psychologist with two kids in the Starpoint district. He said he likes being involved with the community, which led him to try for a seat on the Starpoint board.

He has experience, as Duffy is a former trustee of the Lockport City School District Board of Education. Duffy has his own practice, but he does work with the Buffalo City School District as well.

Balancing a quality education with financial realties is important, Duffy said. But he wants to see the community understand how the district and budget process works.

”Having an active community is an important part of that process, understanding reality,” Duffy said.

Duffy is a Town of Lockport resident.

Jeffrey Duncan

Elected in 2010, Duncan, 40, has two girls at Starpoint’s Fricano Primary School. They were a big reason why Duncan wanted to run again for the Starpoint board.

”We plan on being here for a long time,” Duncan said. “I want to make sure they get a good education.”

Finances are a big challenge for any district these days, as the economy and state budget cuts have been tough, Duncan said. But Starpoint has been able to avoid large tax increases and layoffs.

This time around, Duncan said he has a stronger understanding of how the budget process works and how the district operates.

Duncan is a Pendleton resident and an account engineer with Siemens.

Eugene Stanwich

Stanwich’s main reason for running for the school board is his granddaughter Lily, who is in third grade at Starpoint. While hearing on television that a local school district was cutting art teachers, Lily pleaded with her grandfather to give the school some money so they wouldn’t lose the teacher.

”She thought it was Starpoint,” Stanwich, 65, said. “Instead of money I thought I’d offer my knowledge and background and see if I can help.”

Stanwich is a retired teacher who taught for 32 years in the Amherst School District. There are so many things schools are facing, from the economy, the tax cap, teacher and principal evaluations and so on, he said. Healthcare and pension costs have risen considerably.

It’s a horrible mix, Stanwich said.

Explaining and providing more information to the public would also be something Stanwich would like to see. He has three kids and is a resident of Wheatfield.

Dennis Toth

Toth, 57, is a captain with the Niagara Falls Fire Department. He has four kids, two of which are in college and two that attend Starpoint schools.

He was elected to the Starpoint Board of Education in 2010, garnering the second highest amount of votes of the five candidates at the time.

Toth could not be reached for comment, but has said at previous meetings his goal for Starpoint are to balance providing a quality education with maintaining a financially responsible budget.

Sherri Weber

Weber, 42, has an extensive background in education, including 20 years of teaching. She was an elementary teacher in Depew for 12 years and has taught at Canisius College. Weber is now a professo in the elementary education and reading department at Buffalo State College.

”I’m a parent, I’m a teacher, I hope I will bring a fresh perspective,” she said.

Maintaining programs and being responsible financially is important, Weber said. But it’s also important is having the community understand how the process works, she said.

A Town of Lockport resident, Weber has three kids in Starpoint.

Andrea Wick

A Pendleton resident, Wick is an accountant with Shunk, Wilson and Co. CPAs in Buffalo. It’s her experience working with numbers, audits and budgetary accounting that Wick feels would allow her to be asset on the board.

Starpoint’s biggest challenge is maintaining its finances, Wick said.

”The state budget has hurt us and there is a concern (from residents) about taxes,” she said.

Wick, 38, has four kids that attend school at Starpoint. And her kids are one of the reasons Wick decided to run for the school board, she said.

Michael Zimmerman

Zimmerman, 47, is finishing his second term, sixth year on the board. He said he’s enjoyed his time on the board, prompting him to throw his hat in the ring again.

”And I’ve tried to be as involved as much as I can,” Zimmerman said.

Like the other candidates, Zimmerman said finances are the biggest challenge Starpoint faces. So far, the district has been lucky with keeping tax increases low, but next year could be tougher as mandates and state cuts continue, he said.

Zimmerman said the board has done some good work with the budget in spite of the times. There have been some other successes as well, such as improvements made at Fricano, one of which was connecting the school to all of Starpoint buildings.

A Pendleton resident, Zimmerman has two kids, one of which attends Starpoint High School and another who graduated. He is a chief loadmaster with the 328th Airlift Squadron at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.