East Aurora Advertiser

East Aurora School Board Candidates Answer Newspaper Questions: Dawn VonaFree Access

Dawn Vona

Occupation: Past Vice President, Commercial Lending at M&T; Current Wife and Mother

Education: University at Buffalo: Bachelors in Business Administration (2004), Masters in Informatics (2008); M&T Bank Rising Leaders Develop Program (2017); Harvard Business School Club of Buffalo Management Development Program (2019)

Work Experience: Cornerstone Research & Marketing: Market Research Analyst (2005-2007); Time Warner Cable: Marketing Analyst and Finance Manager (2007-2010); M&T Bank: Technology and Data Manager (2010-2021); Homeschooling Mom (2021-Present)

How long have you lived in the district? Almost 10 years

  1. What makes you think you are qualified to be a representative for the school district?

I am, above all, a mom who values family and understands the diversity of family interests in our community. I am the daughter of a retired educator and I understand the sacrifices that dedicated teachers make. In fact, I have been temporarily homeschooling my son this year and this new role gives me even greater empathy for teachers. I am also a taxpayer with a spouse managing a new business. I understand the financial constraints of taxpayers, especially those facing inflation and post-pandemic economic challenges. I am qualified to represent all stakeholders because I am an effective and inclusive listener and an independent critical thinker when making decisions that keep students first in the board room.

I am also qualified based on my work and volunteer experience. My work experience as a corporate vice president was in people management, policy compliance, process improvement, technology, and data quality. I am an advocate for technology having served on several nonprofit boards as well as volunteered for school advisory panels regarding Career and Technical Education and STEAM learning (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Math). After being a Division I athlete, I coached for several years at the high-school level and understand the impact athletics has on education.

  1. Describe what you think are the primary responsibilities for a school board member. 

The single most important function school boards have is to lead through development and routine review of policy that complies with law. Board policy guides the decisions that the Board and administration are empowered to make. 

Board members must also evaluate the superintendent’s performance against established goals and performance criteria. The superintendent is a partner in the work of the board, not the director of the board. 

Board members have a duty to monitor and approve a budget that is fiscally responsible and balanced in supporting students while recognizing the interests of stakeholders. In reviewing budget data, it is essential that board members analyze, seek creative options and ask critical questions.

While not a legal duty, I believe an ethical responsibility is to consider the options for challenging the status quo so that we can build on what is good and make it even better. This includes the board member’s role in restoring its local control governance function. When government usurps local control through mandates, it is appropriate for school board members to work collectively with their professional organizations and individually to ensure board autonomy.

  1. What are some issues you think the district needs to address?

There are three issues that require immediate attention: policy compliance, a safe and inclusive learning environment and communication. 

The board has made some promising progress on developing policy in the past several months, but in the absence of this occurring over time, more needs to be done. In particular, compliance with regular approval of core policy documents, such as the District Safety Plan and Code of Conduct, is essential. This relates closely to the second issue. Boards ensure a safe and healthy learning environment by signaling clear standards and expectations through core documents.

Consistent student discipline and positive relationships in our schools lead to a safe and a more productive learning culture. I am particularly concerned that students are free from bullying and retaliation in our schools. 

Finally, I believe the last two years has tested the flexibility of some boards to invite input and listen with sensitivity to comments from the public. Respect in the board room from all parties must be expected at all times. However, boards and administrators can establish a more welcoming environment for input and provide other means for dialogue with stakeholders outside the board room.

  1. What motivated you to run for the school board? 

When my child’s learning was interrupted due to school lockdowns, I began to attend board meetings to learn about reopening and how other government mandates would affect him. I was sympathetic to the unprecedented pressures that school board members faced. However, I was not expecting board members to walk away from their constituents at the board table and provide no answers to the many questions coming their way. I see many ways this dynamic between the board and its stakeholders can be improved. And, it must. Without a close partnership between our schools and the community, our students suffer. 

In experiencing this breakdown in communication and trust, I realized that I can be part of the solution. I felt I was called to make a difference in this way. A year ago, I would never have dreamed that I would have resigned my job to focus on my family, homeschooled my oldest child and run for school board. This is the time to step up and make things better.

  1. The school board has released its tentative budget for voters to consider on May 17. What are your thoughts about this budget proposal? 

I reviewed budget presentations during the budget development process. They were well-presented. However, it was a one-way communication and lacks transparency of detail. I have questions that I hope will still be answered at the upcoming Budget Hearing.

I support Career & Technical Education, STEAM and Financial Literacy for students. I hope these items are included in future budgets. I believe the Director of Technology position was sorely needed. Without correcting some serious risk-related deficiencies, the District was unable to secure cybersecurity insurance. 

Funds need to be kept closest to the classroom. While the Superintendent is projected to earn $334,469 in compensation next year (the highest in the region), plus a generous retirement payout of $185,000 for which he is eligible, our teachers’ pay is in the bottom third in Erie County. Further, taxpayer funds should never be used for District officials to spy on local citizens.

Looking ahead, the District will need to seek new efficiencies and creative use of resources as inflation burdens taxpayers. I am concerned that the District’s 5-year stretch of “Fiscal Stress” condition is corrected with stronger fiscal management and that we resolve fund balance issues, as was cited in the last external audit report.

The newspaper reached out to each candidate running in this month’s East Aurora school board election and asked them to respond to five questions. The answers are within the newspaper. 

Each person was provided the questions on Friday, April 29. Candidates were asked to not exceed 200 words for each response. The answers were not edited by the newspaper. 

For East Aurora, there are three seats up for election and six candidates. The top three finishers in the election results will have a spot on the school board. 

The candidates include incumbents Paul Blowers and Terri Ohlweiler, along with Maria Improta, Dawn Raczka, Teresa Reile and Dawn Vona.

The election is May 17 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the  East Aurora Middle School Cafeteria. People will also vote on whether to approve the 2022-2023 school budget. 

To vote in this district election, you must be at least 18 years of age and a citizen of the United States and a legal resident of the school district for 30 days prior to the vote. 

The district and the League of Women Voters will host a free Candidate Forum in the middle school library on Tuesday, May 10 at 6:30 p.m. The event will be live-streamed and recorded and the link will be made available on the East Aurora School District website.

Next week’s edition of the East Aurora Advertiser will include responses from the Iroquois Central School Board candidates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.