The candidates each had only two minutes to talk, but it only took that long to establish some clear differences among them at a “Meet the Candidates Night” in South Bethlehem Thursday night.
Four of five candidates for three open at-large seats on the Bethlehem Area School Board were there as part of a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the Fowler Youth Center.
Kenneth Bareto, a 27-year-old Tea Party candidate, said he got involved because he started to wonder why his taxes kept going up. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and is currently a prison guard at Northampton County Prison.
Bareto said he believes the board is too quick to spend money and blamed a new teacher’s contract for a portion of the school district’s budgeting shortfall and program cuts.
Randy Toman, a 70-year-old Tea Party candidate, warned that a collapsing dollar will bring everything down. Spending was his primary focus as well.
“You have to look at the senior citizens and how they are being taxed and they can’t afford it anymore,” Toman said.
“There is no more money to be had. We are broke,” he said. “If we can’t adjust the system to work with the money that we have, we are all in trouble.”
Sudantha Vidanage, 60, responded angrily to the notion that teachers are to blame for the district’s or anyone else’s financial troubles. He said Wall Street “crooks” and bankers are to blame.
“Please tell the Wall Street crooks who took the country and the whole world down,” he said. “Don’t blame the system and don’t blame the teachers.”
Vidanage said he came to the United States from India with $50 in his pocket said he is happy with the education the Bethlehem Area School District provided his daughters. He said he wants to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity.
Basilio Bonilla, a Bethlehem native and the youngest of the candidates at 20, talked up the 2,500 hours of mentoring he has provided to elementary school students in the district. He has also been an intern with U.S. Robert Casey Jr. and state Sen. Lisa Boscola.
“I have been in the classroom with your children,” he said. “I went through the schools with some of your children. That’s why I should be on the school board.”
The only at-large seat candidate who did not show was School Board President Michele Cann, the only incumbent in the race. All of the candidates for the three available seats have cross-filed as Democratic and Republican candidates for the May 17 primary election.