Tonawanda News — Four City of Tonawanda school board candidates attempted to win over voters Thursday night during a meet the candidates forum, held just a few days ahead of the vote on Tuesday.
Current board member Danielle Opalinski, who replaced Lynn Casal after she resigned earlier this year, as well as former board member Elizabeth Olka, are running. Two newcomers, Geraldine Angelo and Fred Busch, will also vie for the three open spots on the board.
Thursday’s forum, which was sponsored by the district’s Parent Teacher Student Association, began with the candidates’ opening statements.
Olka, who resigned from the board in 2011 after a controversial tenure, kicked off the event. She spoke to her experience on the board as well as the budget advisory team.
“I’m running because I’m truly concerned about where the district is financially,” she said. “A 3.2 tax increase might not seem like a lot of money, but it adds up.”
Opalinski, a stay-at-home mother of six, discussed her experience on the board during the last few months, as well as her term two years ago.
“I will be the voice for my children and for yours,” she said.
Angelo, another lifelong resident of Tonawanda and a mother of three, said she wants to ensure the district’s sports and arts programs.
“I’m just a mom who wants the best for this district. I want the sports to stay, the band to stay and the arts to stay,” she said.
Busch, a Tonawanda graduate, former Washington, D.C. police officer and current businessman, agreed with Olka during his opening statement.
“I’m not for the budget increase,” he said. “And the budget needs to be more detailed and realistic.”
The panel then fielded written questions from the audience, and, early in the night, both Angelo and Busch admitted they have not been to a board meeting in the past six months.
“I am a business broker, and I travel,” Busch said. “But I will be scaling that back for this, and I’ve been keeping up on the web.”
Olka has only missed one meeting, she said, while Opalinski, as a board member, has attended most meetings.
The candidates also shared their long-term goals for the district. Opalinksi pointed to completing the capital project on time and on budget, as well as increasing student enrollment.
Olka, too, spoke to the district’s enrollment and said the district should be consolidated into one campus until the problem is remedied.
“Then, those buildings should be given to the city, so that there is a chance for enrollment to increase and a place for families to live,” she said.
Angelo said she hopes to keep class sizes down and continue the funding of arts programs.
“Nine of 10 times, they are what keep the children in school,” she said.
And Busch again noted his goal of improving the budgetary process.
“We have to set aside reserves or the district will be in trouble,” he said.
All four candidates supported the pending sale of Central School to a housing developer, which voters will also approve or deny Tuesday.
“We need that building to go back on the tax rolls,” Angelo said.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley