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Tonawanda School Board candidates

Four candidates are seeking two seats on the Tonawanda School Board. They are Danielle Opalinski, an incumbent; Diane Misner; Elizabeth Olka; and Robert E. Starr II.

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



As a mother of six children I have a vested interest in ensuring that my children, along with all the children in this district, are given every opportunity to receive the best education possible.

While our district is not alone, we are facing significant challenges. The majority of our tax base is residential and we must remain vigilant in making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely. We must stay alert and be mindful of  increased state mandates and our declining enrollment. I feel that I can be successful in finding a balance between appropriate expenditures and the providing best education for our children.

In short, I am running to help shape the future of our district, and to be both an advocate for our children and a watchdog for our taxpayers.



In these uncertain difficult times of financial crisis and cut backs within the state and community, it’s most important to draw on our internal resources without losing focus of the educational needs of the children of the community.

My goal as a school board member will be to provide the best education for our students which our community can afford. My motto is “Putting Kids First.” We must be able to provide opportunities for students to learn basic mandated subjects that will provide our students to compete in this world when they graduate. The district’s graduation dropout rate one of the highest it has ever been which is not encouraging to a district with a poverty level of over 30 percent. Increase reading comprehension, math, and science skills at the lower level will carry out through middle and high school years. I believe developing reading and writing skills will facilitate communication skills, leadership skills, and encourage personal growth by developing self esteem. To support the well rounded child; music, art, and sports should be incorporated into the everyday curriculum. At this time I believe it necessary to review finances and determine where cuts can be made without decreasing reading specialists and the skills or tools taught that benefit the students.

I have been a Pediatric Nurse for over 20 years and an advocate for all children.

Education is important to me and I believe every student deserves the best education possible. I’ve been employed as a school nurse in private schools interacting with students with disabilities including physical challenges and emotional/behavioral challenges for the past 15 years increasing my knowledge of special educational needs, laws, and rulings as it relates to the school environment. My experience as a Nursing Coordinator and Treasurer of several organizations past and present has provided knowledge of budgetary projections and accountability which will serve useful on the School Board.

With my experience and knowledge of the school education system I will bring new ideas to the table. I believe I will represent the children of this district and the interest of the community and will serve them well.



Masters Degree in Secondary Education
Certification in Social Studies 5-12
Bachelors Degree in Business Studies
Associates Degree in Liberal Arts:
Humanities and Social Sciences

Varsity Softball JV and Varsity Soccer
Youth Board
Visual and Performing Arts
Board of Education Trustee
PTSA President: Winter Fest, Rachel’s Challenge, and
Middle School Events


Authorized initiation of conversations on Union MOA’s (TEA, CSEIA, and Central Administration made concessions)
Authorized task forces and movement on recommendations (Stadium/Auction of Highland)
Set goals to obtain mastery levels in all subject areas (Work in progress)
Set goal to increase Developmental Assets (Work in progress)
Consolidated building usage (closed Highland and reconfigured elementary schools)
Right sized staffing per pupil ratios (Consistent with declining population over ten years)

Tax levy remained flat for 3 years (increase in tax bill varies based on assessed value)
Business First rankings have improved 3 years in a row.
Infusion of Technology in all classrooms (allows our students the tools to succeed)
Aligned curriculum K-12 (allows for equal education for all children)
Response to Intervention model (allows for early intervention based on documentation)
Race to the Top initiative (allows for uniform assessment to show student growth, common core standards in ELA, and aligned teacher/principal evaluation methods)

Pupil Services:
Centralized Registrar
Added Social Workers
New Programs (8-1-1, 12-1-1, 15-1-1) Reduces out of district costs.
Increased services to General Education students, increased offerings for integrated classrooms.
Early intervention for at risk students, positively impacts identification rates.

Goals for next term:
Consolidate administrative functions to help decrease administrative costs.
Continue to focus on the drop out rate, and increase Anti-Bullying Campaign.
Continue to monitor declining enrollment and focus on increasing student performance.
Maintain flat tax levy or better and propose a cut of 1% in all actual expense codes in the budget.
Set up Capital Improvement Reserve fund, to prepare for future school consolidations.
Work cooperatively with City Council, to prepare Master Plan.



My name is Robert Starr. I would love to say that I am a life long resident of Tonawanda, but I'm not.

Born in Buffalo, NY and raised in Tonawanda, I resided here until the age of 32. During that time, I attended and graduated from Riverview Elementary, Tonawanda Jr. and Tonawanda Sr. High School (class of '73), all part of the Tonawanda public school system.

During my time away from Tonawanda, I resided in Long Beach, CA, where I attended Long Beach City College and graduated in 1991 with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts with a minor in Real Estate.

Tonawanda has always been "home" to me and, since my return, I've become much more aware of where things are within the City and the school system and where these things are headed. What I see happening in the near future is preventable and, with the proper planning and foresight, may not even rear it's ugly head. But, this is much easier said than done.

Total cooperation and a proper communication stream within the city's leadership infrastructure is key. This is something that is NOT in place now. We must ask ourselves, how can a major faction like the Board of Education function without the cooperation of City Council and other areas of City government? The answer is, not successfully.

Communication, foresight, a good five year plan and strong leadership is what it will take to right this ship. I don't see any of this on the current Board and want to offer my services as a "hands-on" type of Board member who can and will talk to our City leaders about what is happening and what proposals are and can be met. As the old cliche goes, "United We Stand, Divided We Fall"...... Pretty soon, without the proper guidance, this cliche for the School Board will be "We've Fallen and Can't Get Up" .

Please give some thought to this when you go to the polls on May 17th.

Remember, "It's not just for the kids, it's for the community"


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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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |