Eight candidates vying for three seats
The top three vote getters will earn seats on the board, with the top two earning three-year seats. The third will hold a position for one year after Robert Madden was appointed to the board the fall of 2011, following the resignation of Kelly Harper.
Madden, along with current board President Joan Calkins and Vice-President Patricia Brunner-Collins are among the eight candidates running in next Tuesday’s (May 15) budget and trustee vote.
They are being challenged by Tracy O’Connor-Robillard, John Maurer, Laura Heeter, Ginger Taylor and Sally Stephenson.
Stephenson is a former member of the Hamburg Town Board, having served for eight years. She is no stranger to this process as she ran for the board in 2011. Her daughter, Holly Balaya, currently serves on the board as well, having won a three-year term in 2011.
“I am concerned about the direction the school board is headed,” said Stephenson.
According to Stephenson, she is especially concerned about the graduation rate, saying 13 percent of students will not graduate this year. Stephenson is also concerned about district’s rankings in Buffalo Business First, as the high school was ranked 27th and the middle school 38th.
She is also concerned about Superintendent Steven Achramovitch’s salary, saying he makes more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Calkins is a 1971 graduate of Hamburg High School.
Dr. Calkins is a pediatrician who has not only seen her own children attend the district, but deals with students and parents who are currently attending.
“I have a pretty strong feeling for the district,” said Calkins, adding through family and personal connections, she has been a strong voice on the board.
According to Calkins, the board has had to make difficult choices and she stands by the recently adopted budget that voters will decide on next Tuesday.
“We are fiscally in very difficult times,” Calkins said.
Taylor is a mother of two boys in the district. Her 12-year-old is in the middle school and is involved in sports and music programs as well as a 10-year-old with autism.
As a parent she said she is concerned about the current direction of the board.
“We have some great people,” said Taylor about those who work in the district. However, she said one of her concerns is that they are not being heard.
“The school board and superintendent seem unapproachable,” said Taylor. “We do have a great school.”
Heeter called herself a “proud graduate of Hamburg Central.”
She currently has children at Union-Pleasant Elementary, the middle school and high school.
Between the three levels of schools and the fact that she has children who are on track and cross country as well as in music, she believes she has a great understanding of students’ needs.
“I’ve kind of crossed the gamut,” Heeter said, adding that one of her goals as a board member is to see that children’s educations are not compromised.
Madden, who was appointed to the board in November, has lived in the district for 14 years.
“I have three kids who went through Charlotte (Avenue),” he said.
Although he is a newer member of the board, he is no stranger to the budget process.
“Prior to (being appointed) I was the budget ambassador for four years,” Madden said.
He said no board member wants to cut teachers or programs, but that the fiscal challenges have forced the board to make hard choices.
Maurer is a 1986 graduate of Hamburg and said he moved to the district as a fifth grade student in the 1970s, so he is very familiar with the district and the community.
His family owns a manufacturing business and he would like to see students have the best education possible.
“I want to be able to give every child the same opportunity I do,” he said.
Brunner-Collins grew up in Boston and graduated from Hamburg. She said as a parent of two who have been in the district, she understands the issues students face.
Brunner-Collins disagreed with the notion that this board is unapproachable.
“I am very approachable as a school board member,” she said, adding that she often goes to pick up groceries for dinner and comes home two hours later because she is constantly talking to people.
“My dedication to our schools is genuine,” she said.
O’Connor-Robillard is a five-year resident of the district, as well as a teacher in the North Collins School District.
“I believe in fiscal responsibility,” she said, adding she believes it is important to fiscally support education as well as do so in a way that is “reflective of the Hamburg community.”
When asked about whether to support the idea of possibly merging the Hamburg and Frontier districts, the candidates offered differing views.
Calkins said it is an idea that has been considered, but she believes savings would not be seen for two or three years.
Although she is opposed to a merger, she said she is open to “share small pieces” to save money.
Taylor believes the board needs to roll up its sleeves and look further at the budget to see where savings can be made. She also suggested looking at various grants to see about bringing in additional monies.
Heeter believes it would be wise to explore the idea.
“We need to make sure every stone is turned,” Heeter said. “I’m really concerned about our programs being compromised.”
Although she does not have a definite feeling at this time as to whether she would support a merger, she did suggest looking at consolidating administrative costs.
Madden feels simply that if this is something to be considered, a study needs to be done before discussion can go any further.
Maurer added he thinks it is something that should be considered.
“I would not be opposed,” he said. “The greatest buying power is bulk.”
He said an added benefit is that the two districts could then share teachers as well.
Brunner-Collins said at this time she is opposed to merging the districts, but she would support conducting a study to see what possible cost savings it would have.
Although she is not thrilled with the idea, she conceded that down the line, a merging of the districts may be the direction Hamburg is headed in.
O’Connor-Robillard believes Hamburg should remain “as an educational district.”
However, she said she too is open to the idea working with other districts on larger purchase orders.
Stephenson believes the district could consolidate some services in house, including curriculum development.
The members also had varied responses when asked about creative ways to raise money to save programs.
“We want our students to take part in any athletic endeavor,” said Heeter, who is concerned about the athletic department cutting an additional $50,000. She believes teams may have to raise more money each year.
Madden is in favor of raising money, but he also knows groups have to be careful when doing so.
“There are legal ramifications to what we can and can not do,” Madden said. “We all have to raise money somehow.”
Mauer said it is important to do the math. There are 54 teams, and five are scheduled to be cut. If $50,000 is being cut from the teams, then it should be just under $1,000 of fundraising per team to keep them all going.
Brunner-Collins is also in favor of thinking creatively to fund teams through groups like a booster club.
However, she cautions the legalities of the ways the money is raised in making choices and added it is a difficult answer to come up with.
O’Connor-Robillard believes a part of the solution comes back to the budget.
“All students need to find a niche,” she said, adding it is up to the board to revisit the budget.
“There is fat to be cut,” she said, adding it is important to return the funding to programs.
Stephenson said she would like to see the community come together to help raise money to retain athletic programs.
“In Orchard Park it helped bring an artifical turf (field),” said Stephenson, referring to money raised with the assistance of the Quaker Athletic Booster Club.
Calkins said the decisions were hard, but that the $50,000 cut was from modified sports.
Taylor believes these programs should be saved and that the community would benefit from saving these teams.
Also on Tuesday, voters will have to decide on a nearly $56.6 million adopted budget.
It would call for a 4.35 percent tax levy increase.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Hamburg High School, 4111 Legion Drive.