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Six candidates vie for three seats on Utica School Board

By JOLEEN FERRIS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - A tough budget year marked by deep staff and teacher cuts, as well as cuts to programs hasn't scared away the six candidates vying for three open seats on the Utica School Board. They range from total newcomers, to a 15-year incumbent.

Former Utica Mayor and retired teacher Lou LaPolla is in his 15th year on the board. He says his experience in the public and educational sector allows him to bring valuable experience to the board.

"As a mayor, councilperson, head of the municipal housing authority, I know cost analysis of the balance sheet. I think I have the knowledge and experience and I do it because I love this community," says LaPolla, who was going door to door campaigning in west Utica Friday morning.

Newcomer John Andereck has never run for office, but he's no stranger to education. The BOCES teacher believes voluntary high-level administrative salary cuts are appropriate in such a difficult budget year and says he'd cut his if he were in such a position. For Andereck, stopping the loss of staff and programs is of paramount importance.

"I want to keep everything in tact as it is right now so whatever has to be cut, let's cut it, let's get it out of there, so that we can preserve at least what we've got right now, hold the status quo then build for the future," says Andereck.

School Board President Chris Salatino is rounding out his first five-year term on the board. He says difficult fiscal times don't discourage him from running, but rather, highlight the need for experience on the board.

"There's no substitute for experience and right now we need experience on the board to continue lobbying Albany for the funding we're so desperately in need of as well as working on the budget and making sure that we move forward," says Salatino.

First-time candidate Rochitella Napoli has spent more than a decade in the superintendent's office, serving as secretary for four different superintendents. Napoli restoring full-day kindergarten is a priority, and that there are places, other than staff, that may be cut in order to do it. Namely, the district offices.

"One of the big things is trying to get out of this lease. Put these offices back in the schools where they can go..."$390,000 a year, plus $40,000 for furniture rental? Not even buying it, rental? I just feel there's other places to cut," says Napoli.

Registered nurse and small business owner Michele Mandia also feels restoration of full-day kindergarten is of paramount importance, pointing out that kindergarten today is much different-and demanding-from when she sat at that tiny desk.

"They're in computer lab, they have tests, so that really has to be a main focus that we work to come to a common ground and we get to keep the kindergarten at a full day session," says Mandia.

Blogger and retired telephone operator Susan Arcuri feels that students and taxpayers in the Utica School District would benefit from a reconfiguration of the actual schools.

"I'd like to see us return to the neighborhood school concept. I'd like to see three high schools open back up. I think Proctor's a beautiful building and we have some great teachers there and staff but I think it's just so overcrowded," says Arcuri.

The school board seats are five-year terms. The candidate who receives the lowest number of votes, however, will fill out the remaining two years of Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi's term. Polls open at noon on Tuesday, May 15.

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