Fredonia school board candidates appeal to public

The state-mandated Common Core curriculum and school mergers came up in a discussion Thursday among the three candidates vying for two five-year seats on the Fredonia Board of Education.

The League of Women Voters held a “Meet the Candidates” forum Thursday to give the public a chance to ask questions of the candidates and decide which way to vote. The contenders include incumbent R. Thomas Hawk, newcomer Cristina Gegenschatz and former board member Daniel Ihasz.

Throughout the debate, Hawk emphasized a team effort is necessary for anything to get done on a school board; a sole board member cannot do much on their own.

“To resolve current issues, I feel a team effort is the most effective way of working with administration and school board members, leading our district into working closely with neighboring districts and local and state leaders to find harmony and efficiencies and provide a better education for our students,” he said.

Ihasz stressed he would like to see funding for education fundamentally change in the state, including addressing the gap elimination adjustment, which he referred to as “a really nice way for saying ‘stealing.'”

“We do need, all of us, to work as a team to find a way to come up with a different system for that funding,” he said.

Gegenschatz, having no prior experience on the school board, explained her qualifications for the position.

“I’m a parent of two children in the district and an active member of the PTA, including serving this year as co-vice president and I co-chaired the Playground Fund Committee, raising over $35,000 for an age-appropriate playground … ,” she said. “My background as an attorney and legal editor requires me to be detail-oriented and skilled in communication and negotiation.”

All three agreed with the overall concept Common Core tried to address (raising standards for students), but they thought the rollout could have gone better. Ihasz said he would like to “go back to the drawing board” on it, if at all possible in the state, while Gegenschatz said it is an unfunded mandate from the state.

“… It would be best if it had started at the pre-K/elementary level and would be best to suit everybody that’s in the middle and high school to phase out the learning process that they started at,” Hawk said. “Having kids learn one way and then asking them to change direction is a real issue.”

Ihasz pointed out Common Core was developed for Race to the Top funding, in part, and that the funding “did not benefit Fredonia much financially.”

Mergers came up as another topic, with all three agreeing a regional high school could benefit the area and save programming.

“I think mergers fail because one party thinks they’re going to lose to the other party; one will have to pay more to cover the other one,” Ihasz said. “When we were in merger discussions with Brocton (when I was on the board), Fredonia stepped up and said, ‘We know this isn’t a perfect world, but we see the benefits that can happen for all students and our whole region if we were to merge.'”

Hawk said he believes emotions and the potential loss of identity play the biggest role in a merger’s downfall.

“It’s not a school, as much as it is a community center,” he added. “People come here after school with their kids and there’s a lot of things that happen that are family-oriented.”

Another question asked candidates what their top “do-not-touch” programs were when looking at potential areas to cut. Hawk declined to answer, while Gegenschatz and Ihasz agreed extracurriculars, especially music, were at the top of their lists, with programs with the least amount of participation on the chopping block, when necessary.

“Maybe the answer is not to eliminate it, but to combine services with other districts,” Gegenschatz added.

The debate will re-air on Fredonia Cable Access Channel 5 tonight, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. each night.

Voters may cast their ballots for the election Tuesday from 2 to 9 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

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