School election today

(Editor’s note: The following is lifted from the Niagara Gazette. As a policy, the Express almost never does that but the school district budget vote is important. You can see from the first paragraph that no one edited Rick Pfeiffer’s work. The budget is for $190,992,000, not $190,992. He could have simplified it to $190.992 million. Also, he likely intended “weigh in.”)

By Rick Pfeiffer

Niagara Gazette

Falls residents will head to the polls today to fill two seats on the Niagara Falls Board of Education and weigh on the board's recommended $190,000 budget for 2024-2025.

Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie said the budget includes no increase in the property tax levy and has no reductions in either staffing or programs at the district's schools. Laurrie did note that a "quirk in state law" will require the budget proposal to be passed by a minimum of 60% of the district's voters in order to take effect.

There are five candidates seeking to fill two vacancies on the Board of Education.

Incumbent Board Member Nick Vilardo is seeking a fifth five year term. He has pointed to what he views as a strong track record of accomplishments in his run to remain on the board.

"It is the progress we have made, and the prospect of even more progress, that drives me to seek another term," Vilardo said.

The veteran board member pointed to ten years without a tax increase, while avoiding cuts if staffing or programs as reasons for his re-election.

Retired Deputy Falls Police Superintendent and recent mayoral candidate Carlton Cain is making his first school board run. Cain has an associate's degree from SUNY Niagara, a bachelor's degree (BA) from the University at Buffalo, a master's degree (MA) from Niagara University, and has received a Doctorate (Ph.D) in Education from Liberty University.

He was a co-director at the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy, taught at Niagara Catholic High School and served as adjunct professor at Niagara University and Erie Community College.

"I am running for school board because I see education as the great equalizer," Cain said. "The power of education can transform lives and communities. I want to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education that prepares them for success."

Also joining the race, for the first time, is well-known youth baseball supporter and businessman Jerry Puleo. A life-long Falls resident, Puleo said he is running to advocate for policies that "prioritize transparency, communication, teacher inclusion, teacher recruitment and school safety."

"Transparency is an important principle that should guide all decision-making processes within our school board," Puleo said. "By being open, we can build trust within our community and organization and ensure that all stakeholders are informed and involved in the decision-making process."

First time candidate Brad McLeod, boasts the endorsement of Niagara Falls Teachers Union 801. McLeod and his wife said they will have a daughter attending the district schools beginning next year and want "the best possible education for our child."

He said student safety is his primary concern.

"If a child is not safe at school, if a child does not feel safe at school, very little else matters," McLeod said. "Parents have to feel confident that their child will be safe."

Rounding out the candidates is another first-timer, Portland Jackson. Jackson is former community organizer at Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH).

Currently, she is an active member of Word of Life Ministries, a member of LaSalle Educational Club Inc., president of Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH), secretary of Men Standing Strong Together and a member of Niagara Falls Lions Club.

She works as a case manager and Housing Authority service coordinator for Heart, Love & Soul.

The single mother of three said in a letter to the editor, "I believe I represent many single mothers and can relate to some as well because I had a special needs child."

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