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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 5, 2011

Vasilios Lefkaditis

By Zach Simeone

As a father of five, Vasilios Lefkaditis wants to see the district run more like a business.

“That means spending less than you make, and controlling expenses — something that has evaded the board for the last decade,” he said Wednesday morning, “and I’ve got the experience to do it, versus all the current candidates and the current board members. The school needs to be run like a business, and not like a political entity that spends other people’s money.”

Lefkaditis, 39, is the founder and manager of Shaw Funding, a real estate equity fund.

“At the end of the day, I negotiate financial instruments and mortgages for a living,” he said. “I think it’s crucial to point out that, of the three remaining current board members, and the four candidates, I am literally the only individual that represents the private sector, which speaks for a significant portion of district residents. I think diversification is key on any board.”

Lefkaditis has lived in Knox for three years, and got involved heavily in district business about two years ago.

With respect to school districts, it is difficult to choose an allegiance, he said.

“I’m in full support of keeping and rewarding the great teachers we have, and removing the ineffective ones,” he said. “As for the taxpayers, in my opinion, they’ve already given too much in the last decade, and seen very little return on their investment. Students, unfortunately, pay the price for the shrinking programs and getting a less-than-deserving education.”

He is in full support of a salary freeze for district employees.

“As a businessman,” he said, “and someone who deals with the reality of today’s economic environment, I find it impossible to wrap my mind around an industry where the employees are insulated from an economic downturn, and their employers  — the taxpayers — are not. It’s unfathomable to me.”

But, in order to accomplish this, the board must return to the negotiating table, he said.

“I will go back to the negotiating table,” said Lefkaditis. “Keep in mind, however, I heard from someone who has a good amount of school-board experience that, even if you go back to the negotiating table, if the union feels like you’re not being cooperative, they can say, ‘We don’t want to talk to the board anymore.’ So, that’s a double-edged sword.”

Reforming the Taylor Law to allow for a step freeze upon expiration of a contract “sounds good on the surface,” he went on, but he wants to see more information before forming an opinion.

The district’s proposed budget, on the other hand, does not sound good, he said.

“Regardless of if it’s a 1-percent, 3.5-percent, or 0-percent tax hike, it doesn’t address the problem: We’re dying a death of 1,000 cuts,” Lefkaditis said. “The 3.5 percent, while it’s digestible to many, came at a very high price. It represents a lot more than a tax-levy increase; it represents lost jobs, lost curriculum. I’m not for it; I’m for solving the problem.”

Further, that solution will come from “capping expenses and negotiating successfully,” said Lefkaditis. “There’s a bill called A6150, currently stuck in the education committee, that is designed to alter, if not eliminate, the last-in, first-out, and that should free up a lot of options,” he said, referring to the practice of seniority, in which unions faced with job cuts fire the most recently hired workers.

Lefkaditis thinks that, should the budget get voted down on May 17, the failed budget could be used to the district’s advantage.

“I think the message of a voted-down budget is loud and clear,” he said, “and should be used as a negotiating tool. Then, re-tool it.”

He concluded, “Far too often, these elections become popularity contests, and districts suffer for years because of it. Bottom line is, on May 17, the residents can do one of three things: Do nothing; vote for the status quo; or vote for me.”

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