Despite the rain, more than 1,500 Port Chester residents turned out to cast their ballots Tuesday, easily approving the 2012-2013 Port Chester school budget and narrowly ousting school board president Blanca Lopez.
The $81.3 million budget received 2-to-1 support from voters.
“I feel really pleased that we have a budget to work with this year,” said current School Board Member Robert H. Johnson. “Our citizens listened to us, the hard work paid off and people came out and voted. That’s the main thing.”
School Board President Blanca Lopez, incumbent Jim Dreves and challenger Tom Corbia, a retired teacher who spent 40 years in the district, were up for the two trustee spots. Dreves was re-elected and Corbia defeated Lopez, 910-814.
“I look forward to giving 110 percent for the next three years,” said Dreves. “As we face difficult times I expect that my expertise will benefit the district.”
Dreves had the most votes with 1,040. With the vote between Lopez and Corbia being tallied to a total of 780 (Lopez) to 862 (Corbia), it all came down to the 101 absentee votes.
"I'm pleasantly surprised. I thought it would take two elections. 900 votes is scary (but) I'm never afraid of a challenge. I knew it was going to be tough," said Corbia. "I have the experience: I have the internal side, the curriculum side and the day-to-day experience on how schools run. Obviously I'll have to learn some things as well ... everyone who I spoke to said they would support me. Just being on the board is not enough, you can't do it alone."
Lopez congratulated Corbia in his victory.
“I’ve enjoyed serving for three years. It’s been such a great experience,” said Lopez. “I think we have a really good board and I wish Mr. Corbia the best. Much luck to them for next year.”
The results of the school board race surprised school board vice president Carolee Brakewood
“I’m still somewhat mystified by these results because she [Blanca Lopez] has been a dynamic president and she really gave it her all. I can’t say enough about her and I am really sad to lose her on the board,” Brakewood said. “(Corbia) is entering the board at a very challenging time. Hopefully he is going to be ready for the raging seas that we’re up against in the next few years.”
The budget passed by a 1,030 to 534 margin, which made each of the board members happy, including Lopez.
“I’m very happy that the budget passed,” said Lopez. “That was my main concern coming into tonight. I think that we’ve been able to protect and preserve a lot of crucial programs.”
“I’m thrilled,” said Superintendent Edward A. Kilzus when asked about the passing of the proposed budget. “The community came out and supported the schools, almost 2-1. Our PTA did a great job of making sure people came out to vote and that people understood what the issues were and it showed.”
Most discussions leading up to the day at the polls were focused on the cut of reading support teachers. In the budget, 13.5 reading support positions are being cut, which was done after the board initially voted to get rid of full-day kindergarten. After seeing the public outcry in favor of full-day kindergarten, the board voted to keep it, but still had to cut a non-mandated program to get under budget. They landed on the 13.5 reading positions
“I’m not sure we should have given up anything,” said Kilszus. “If state aide doesn’t change we are looking at losing 13-15 teachers a year under this (state tax) cap and current conditions. If we lose 13-15 teachers a year it’s really going to hurt a lot and that’s what we’re looking at.”