Elble, Tedeschi win BKW seats

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Winning smile: Matthew Tedeschi came in second in a five-way race for two Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board seats. Nathan Elble had two votes more.

BERNE — Two Berne-Knox-Westerlo alumni — Nathan Elble and Matthew Tedeschi — have won seats on the school board.

With 326 voters, their tallies were just two votes apart. Elble came in first with 162 votes and Tedeschi came in second with 160 votes.

“Nate and I share similar thoughts,” said Tedeschi moments after the polls closed Tuesday night.

“Ideologically, we’re very close,” said Elble.

Five candidates — the most in recent memory — vied for two seats left vacant on the five-member board after Vasilios Lefkaditis was elected Knox town supervisor and Earl Barcomb was elected as a Knox councilman.

As the top vote-getter, Elble will fill out Lefkaditis’s term, which expires on June 30, 2017, and Tedeschi, as the second-place candidate, will fill out Barcomb’s term, which ends on June 30 of this year.

Both Tedeschi and Elble said in candidate interviews with The Enterprise that they had been bullied as BKW students and are eager to see that school policies preventing and reporting harassment are followed.

It was Elble’s first run for school board and Tedeschi’s second.

Elble, who is 35, graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo in 1999 and would like to see the school once again offer the sort of diverse classes that he considered so valuable.

He works as a union electrician and found his way to his career, in part, because of technical classes he took at BKW.

Elble and his wife, Carli, live in Knox and have three children — Natalie, who is in third-grade at BKW; twins Charlotte and Eden, both in first grade; and Mason who just turned 2.

“I would like to see more parental and community involvement in the schools,” said Elble.

Elble said during the campaign that, as a school board member, his chief allegiance would be to the students. “The whole reason we’re here is for the students. The school is for students,” He said.

On the budget, Elble said, “We have to maintain the status quo.” He would not advocate raising taxes or challenging the state-set levy cap. “We have a lot of working-class people,” Elble said of district residents. “Taxing people a lot pushes them to the very edge.”

“I’m really excited,” Elble said when The Enterprise reached him at home by phone with the election results on Tuesday night. “It’s big news for us and the school...It speaks to where we want to go....We want to put the kids first.”

Asked if he had any specific goals as a new board member, Elble said he’d like to see a community garden in place by spring. He also said, “I have a lot of homework to do.”

Tedeschi, who is 43, graduated from BKW in 1990. His wife, Maria, works for the district. Their two daughters, Courtney and Alexandria, who were standouts in track at BKW, are currently attending and competing for Division 1 schools.

Still, Tedeschi said during his campaign he believes there are ways BKW could better serve its students and, further, that his expertise as a partner in an insurance agency — a profession he’s been in for 20 years — would allow him to help the district.

“I’ve served on the Budget Advisory Committee and was involved in the search for the new superintendent,” said Tedeschi. “I feel we have finally got the school district pointed in the right direction...We’ve had a lot of turnover; that’s been one of the biggest problems in trying to establish a game plan for the future.”

He also said, “A lot of people say kids from Berne don’t have a lot of opportunities. I believe the school does have a lot to offer. We have to offer them more as the world changes.” He also said, “Budget cuts affected both of my daughters. They didn’t have all the classes they wanted.”

Tedeschi added, “It’s not necessarily about going to college. A lot of students want to be farmers or mechanics. It’s important to keep that in mind, what the children want.”

Asked to which constituency his primary allegiance would be, Tedeschi said, “I don’t think you can pick one. You have to balance the needs of everyone; there’s compromise involved. You have to give kids the best opportunities with what the residents of the community can afford.”

On whether BKW should challenge the tax cap, Tedeschi said, “I know the community would have a hard time supporting a budget increase. I don’t think that’s feasible. I believe you can accomplish the needs of the students and administration without challenging the cap.”

After the election results were announced Tuesday night, Tedeschi said, “I’m excited. I’d like to thank the folks that came out and voted.”

The board’s clerk, Denise Robinson, read the vote tallies after the polls closed Tuesday, including the absentee votes, she said. Still, the vote counts won’t be official until they are reviewed by the Albany County Board of Elections. The unofficial tallies for the remaining candidates are:

Maryellen Gillis received 104 votes. She waited in the school auditorium Tuesday night with her husband and granddaughter, Abigail Pasquini, 9. “I want her to win,” said Abigail before the tallies were announced.

Gillis has lived in Knox for 35 years and taught at BKW for 18 years before becoming an elementary school principal for a decade in Schoharie. Her three children graduated from BKW and she believes were well prepared for careers and for life. Gillis, at 58, wanted to be sure the good education continues at BKW for her grandchildren and for the children of her former students.

“I’m not a politician; I’m an educator,” she said of making her first run for school board. “My talents are understanding kids, teachers, administrators.”

On Tuesday, after the results were announced, Gillis said running for the board had been “a good experience” and she would “think about” running again;

Ed Ackroyd received 104 votes. He left BKW in 1968 to join the United States Army. Ackroyd said during the campaign that he believes a school should be run like a business and, as a businessman, he said he had the experience to guide the district. As a Vietnam War veteran, Ackroyd also believes that decisions should be made efficiently, he said, and not dragged out over many meetings.

Ackroyd, 65, served one three-year term on the school board a decade ago and he has served on the Budget Advisory Committee since retiring from the board. “The school district financially has money but spends it in the wrong places,” said Ackroyd. “I could help them straighten out their budgets.”

On Tuesday night, after the results were announced, Ackroyd said he’d be willing to serve on the Budget Advisory Committee again if the board decides to go that route. He said he was disappointed in the elections results but congratulated the winners. Ackroyd said he wasn’t sure if he would run again. “We’ll see what happens in the next three months with the budget,” he said.

Amy Damin received 75 votes. During the campaign, she said her 20-year career with the State Assembly would help her in advocating for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools.

She and her husband, Peter, both grew up in small towns and moved to Westerlo, she said, because they wanted “to give that opportunity to” their children.

“I know a lot of parents who grew up here and they tell me how different it is now,” said Damin, who is 40. “I want to see the school district live to its full potential.”

Superintendent Timothy Mundell said on Election Night, “We had five great candidates.”

He also said it would be good to have a full five-member board. “They’ll be busy,” he said. “We’re getting into the budget season.”

Mundell was pleased that 40 people had turned out for a candidates’ forum on Monday night hosted by the Parent-Teacher Association. Candidates spoke for a minute-and-a-half each on nine questions that had been emailed in, he said. “They generated a lot of positive ideas,” he said.

“I’m thrilled the community is engaged,” concluded Mundell.

Elble recalled, “Matt and I sat next to each other at the forum. I made a joke that he was reading off my notes because we used the exact same words.”

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