JOHNSTOWN -- Shortly after being sworn in for his first term of office on Monday, newly elected school board member Christopher Tallon was voted president of the Greater Johnstown School Board by a vote of 8-0.
Tallon, a 19-year employee at National Grid/Niagara Mohawk, was one of the new members elected to the nine-member board on May 21, the same night the district failed to achieve the super majority needed to pass a proposed 35-percent tax levy increase.
The Johnstown district has been grappling with a fiscal crisis as it attempts to fill a $4.3 million budget gap. District voters approved a 14.6-percent tax levy increase in a budget revote June 18, but the budget cut 19 staff positions and nearly all of the district's funding for its athletic programs.
Johnstown is now in the process of altering its high school curriculum into a career-pathways program, and district residents have been forced to raise $311,000 in private donations to restore the district's sports programs.
District officials have said Johnstown will face the need for at least a 15-percent tax levy increase for each of the next two budget cycles in order to sustain its programs, including its high school and kindergarten.
Tallon is an advocate of raising the district's tax levy to a point where it can sustain the programs it currently offers.
He said he was asked to put his name forward to serve as school board president by past members of the board.
"I was asked if I would be willing to consider it, and that's what I did. I considered it, and I ultimately decided that I was interested," Tallon said.
He succeeds former school board president Kathy Dougherty, who chose not to run for re-election to the board. Greg Truckenmiller, who served as vice president under Dougherty, also chose not to run for re-election to the board.
The board voted Monday to appoint veteran school board member Kathryn Zajicek to the vice president position. Zajicek has served as school board president in the past; she's a retired Johnstown teacher and once served as the president of the Johnstown Teachers Association.
Tallon said his top priority as school board president is restoring the public's trust in the board.
"I think the first step is that you have three brand new board members," he said. "I know they had felt that sometimes change is good. They wanted to see new faces on there."
Three school board seats were up for election May 21 and the public chose change. Newcomer Joseph LoDoestro received the most votes, 1,381, Tallon the second highest with 1,352 votes and Patrick Oare had 1,333 votes. All three received more votes than the only incumbent in the race, Jennifer Sponnoble, who received 1,164 votes.
LoDoestro, who has a senior management position at Adirondack Beverages, said he wouldn't rule out seeking the leadership position on the board in the future, but for now he's satisfied with being given positions on the negotiations committee, audit committee and the long-range planning committee.
LoDoestro said one issue he's heard about from members of the public is the need to lower health insurance costs.
"I do have some experience working in negotiations and working with [Adirondack Beverage's] employees through our human resource department, to find and contract out the best health care we can at the best price. So, that's definitely something we're looking into," he said.