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Orchard Park School Board candidates

Four candidates are seeking three seats on the Orchard Park School Board. They are: Rachel Baksa; David Nielsen; Thomas Prince; and Sean Wittmann.

All were invited to tell district residents why they are worthy of their vote.

1. RACHEL BAKSA

I am seeking re-election to the Orchard Park school board as I believe that it takes a good two to three years to get a full grasp on what a good board member should be. Since being elected in 2008, I sat back and listened to seasoned members, attended trainings, and have put many hours of research into how to be the best board member I could be. Attending meetings, setting policies, approving budgets, and being sensitive to the taxpayers' are just several of the tasks that we as board members have. It is not a job to be taken lightly, and it is one that I take pride in doing.

I attended ECC South in 2005 to aquire my Emergency Medical Technician certification, followed by working at Rural Metro Amulance Co for 2 years. I also served as a volunteer for the Newton Abbott Fire Co for apprx 2 years as a Firefighter and EMT. As my children are all very active in sports, I help as manager of several teams including baseball, football, cheerleading and hockey. I am currently a stay-at-home mom, and a member of the PTO's at the Orchard Park High School and Windom Elementary. I enjoy serving on several committees, both in the Orchard Park district and Erie County School Board Assoc.

As a mother of five, I care deeply about my own children's education and want the best for them, as well as the other children in the Orchard Park school system. I attended the district in middle and high school, so I had the benefit of experiencing this first hand. The quality of education this district provides is something to be proud of, and I would be honored to serve again on the School Board.

2. DAVID NIELSEN

Nielsen 

believe that the ability to receive a strong public education is important to society and that community service is an integral part of being a good neighbor. Orchard Park is a great place to live and raise my daughter (2nd grade South Davis) and I would like to volunteer my time and talents to benefit the community. I feel that the Board of Education is the best fit based on my abilities and would be the place where I could make the biggest impact. I would appreciate your vote on May 17th.

I’m currently employed as the Director of Information Technology and Internal Operations with Catholic Medical Partners and daily work with budgets, policies and procedures. My background in Biology education, statistics and   allows me to work with information at both the individual and population levels and reconcile the inherent differences between them. 

 

While I personally would prefer to see more of the dollars allocated to the academic programs, the school budget process is a balancing act between the need to provide a solid education, including co-curricular activities, to the students of the district and the ability for the residents to fund it.  Every district in the state is facing the same budget constraints that we are, but we still need to move our academic programs forward. There is no reason why we could not be the top ranked district in Western New York.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for voting on the 17th.

3. THOMAS PRINCE

Prince 

I am seeking your vote for school board because I would like to be given the chance to make a positive impact on our Orchard Park Community.  My wife and I fell in love with this community when we decided to move here with our three young boys six years ago. Now that our district is facing some tough challenges, I feel that I am a good candidate to help us through it.

First off, I am a father and have a vested interest in my children’s education. I value a good education, being a graduate of Business Administration from Columbia College.  As a businessman, I deal with budgets on a daily basis. My many volunteer experiences in the community including Director of Baseball for the Orchard Park Little League, coaching for football and basketball, has allowed me to hear from parents first hand on what good looks like in Orchard Park schools.

As a board member I would look to further analyze the budget. How can we expect taxpayers to pay more taxes than a cost of living increase when many families aren’t even getting that! There are more cuts that can be done without jeopardizing the integrity of our student’s education. As a board we need to find the fat in the budget and start to eliminate it before we even consider a tax hike. We need to be cautious about raising class sizes at the elementary level. We need to manage creativity and use our community as the valued resource it is.

4. SEAN WITTMANN

Wittmann

Orchard Park as a community and the school district are extremely important to who I am as an individual and to my children and extended family.  I decided to run for school board this year primarily because I believe that individuals should attempt to serve their greater community in whatever manner they’re most able and comfortable doing so. I believe that at this point in my life, I am qualified, able, and willing to serve this community and will make an excellent advocate for the public as a member on the Orchard Park Central School District Board of Education. 

My simplified philosophy on a board member’s role is that they are elected to be a voice for the community as a whole. I believe that this community wants the Board of Education to ensure that the children in it receive the best possible opportunity to succeed in life without allowing the cost of educating them in this manner to become so prohibitive that everyone in the district cannot afford to continue living in and contributing to it.

 

To the taxpaying residents of the community I will say to you that I will work with the school’s unions and employees to continue to find ways operate at an efficient level. I believe the current board and past boards have done an admirable job at this (15th most efficient in state). However, there is room for improvement. I believe this improvement can most effectively be achieved by proactively working with these employees to identify and reduce spending on expenses that are not currently improving the quality of the education our children receive.  I also think we can do a better job identifying additional revenue streams in the form of both public and private grants and working to receive them.

In addition, I have and will continue to publicly state that I will never vote for any budget that increases class size in any way from current levels and will work to decrease it as well. There is no magic bullet that leads to increased student achievement and by extension an increase on the taxpayers return on investment. However, keeping class size a reasonable level is the most significant variable that research indicates does effect achievement. I realize that by extension this means it’s unlikely I would vote in favor of staff cuts. Again, I say to the residents most concerned with tax rates that appropriate academic class size will ensure the best return on investment of your tax dollars. This return on investment is the underlying foundation of my stand against increased class size. In my current job, I work on a daily basis with some of the most well respected and qualified education researchers in the country. While they disagree on many things, all will point to appropriate class size as critical to achievement and critical to efficient operation.

To the teachers, administrators, staff, and residents of the district I promise a board member who will remain extremely open to communication and suggestions from you on how to better educate and better finance our district.  By always voting to keep class sizes appropriate, it is likely I will need you to work with me and fellow board members to find ways to afford this.  I will work to proactively inform you of how I feel on whatever issues arise and challenge you each to do the same. 

I believe that Orchard Park has a wonderful school district representative of the community that built and supports it. I don’t believe that any radical changes are necessary but continual improvement, rather than maintenance, should be our goal. By voting for me you will be voting for a person who will consistently be asking everyone involved in the district how we can improve and better serve the children we are educating and the residents of the community. You’ll also be voting for someone who will be forced on a regular basis to look into the eyes of his children, taxpaying retirement aged parents, taxpaying neighbors, and reaffirm that I consistently vote with each of them in mind.

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | [email protected]


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | [email protected]


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | [email protected]


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | [email protected]

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