By Michael Regan and Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Voters in all three Tonawanda-area school districts approved proposed spending plans by wide margins Tuesday night and installed a slate of fresh faces — and a few familiar ones — on school boards.
North Tonawanda residents approved a $65,740,756 budget for the 2013-14 school year, while incumbent board members Art Pappas and Colleen Osborn both retained their seats, defeating three newcomers.
The budget passed by 980-558 count, raising the tax levy by 2.56 percent to $26,830,000, which equals out to an estimated tax rate of $21.48 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
"Over the last few years the district has responded to decreased enrollment," said Alan Getter, assistant superintendent of administrative services. "Hopefully this is a budget that meets the needs of the students and of the taxpayers."
Pappas, 68, who led all five candidates with 830 votes, and who has been a board members for the better part of two decades, said voters understood the challenges facing the district, such as cuts to state and federal funding.
"I think the people went for experience," he said, moments after the vote tally was released. "I think the budget keeps the district on sound financial footing and they reacted to that."
Osborn, 38, who has established herself as one of the more outspoken members of the board, said she has pushed for transparency and accountability in the district.
"I think it sends a strong message," she said of her second-place showing, with 751 votes. "I think there needs to be a voice for the kids in the community."
Randy Bradt received 681 votes, Robert Schmigel, 587, and Susanne Williams, 423. Overall voter turnout was down about 50 percent from last year.
City of Tonawanda
The City of Tonawanda School District's $29,858,602 budget passed 604-422 no votes. The tax levy increase for the 2013-2014 year will amount to 3.2 percent.
In a separate voter referendum, proposed sale of Central School to developer David Capretto for $220,000 was also approved, despite an effort to transform the building into a community center. That measure passed with 722-311.
Capretto, of Forbes Capretto Homes, plans to create apartments in the school, which hasn't been used as a full-time educational facility for more than a decade.
Gayle Syposs, who was hoping to persuade the city to take over the building and turn it into a community center, said she wasn't disappointed by the outcome.
"What we got out of this was a huge win for the city ... in that we are recognizing the need for a community center," she said. "I feel like we went through this process for a reason."
Danielle Opalinski, as well as newcomers Fred Busch and Geraldine Angelo, beat out former board member Elizabeth Olka for the three open seats on the body. Opalinski and Busch came in a tie for the most votes, while Angelo came in third.
The district did not release candidates' vote totals Tuesday night.
"I'm just very pleased with everything," Opalinski, who replaced Lynn Casal on the board when she resigned in February, said. "It's going to be tough ... but I'm hoping to maintain the programs for our kids."
Busch, a Tonawanda graduate, former Washington, D.C., police officer and current business owner, said he was excited to work with the board.
"I'm easy to get along with and I'm knowledgeable," he said.
Angelo, a lifetime Tonawanda resident and a mother of three, echoed Busch's comments, saying she was "excited" to gain the seat.
Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda
The Ken-Ton Union Free School District's budget of $149,015,111 also passed, 2,194 to 1,047. Newcomer Todd Potter Jr., a law school student and Ken-Ton graduate, was the top finisher in a four-way race for two board seats with 1,768 votes.
"I didn't know if my age would be a detriment, being only 22 ... so when they said my name first, I almost broke down. I was so emotional," he said. "I hope to put pressure on the administration, and I don't think its fair that all the taxpayers are carrying the burden of wasteful spending."
Bob Dana, the current board president, won the other open seat with 1,526 votes. "I hope the community can become united and decide what they want to do and decide what the future looks like for Ken-Ton."
The other two newcomer candidates, Richard Harned and Stephen Hart, earned 1,503 votes and 1,236 votes respectively.