Five candidates vie for three spots on Gowanda school board seats

GOWANDA – There are three vacancies on the Board of Education at Gowanda Central School District with five candidates vying for those seats ahead of the annual spending plan vote and BOE election scheduled May 21, 2024.

The five candidates – Max Graham, Michael Gernatt, Susan Bettker, Crista Monat, and Brandon Newell – recently detailed their motivations for running for the BOE.

As residents prepare to head to the polls later this month, Gowanda CSD, in collaboration with the Kiwanis Club of Gowanda a “Meet the Board of Education Candidates Night” on Thursday, at 6 p.m. in the high school library on Prospect Street and remotely via Facebook Live.

The candidate receiving the largest number of votes shall be elected to a three-year term commencing May 22, 2024, through June 30, 2027. The two candidates receiving, respectively, the second and third-largest number of votes will be elected to serve three-year terms commencing on July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2027.

Incumbent Max Graham has served on the GCS BOE for the past four years and is currently board president. He has coached Little League football, baseball, and softball. He also serves on the Little League baseball board.

Graham has worked for the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office since 2007, is an adjunct instructor at Jamestown Community College, and served eight years in the United States Marine Corps. He has a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in criminal justice.

“I am running for the Board of Education to continue to be a voice of reason in the decision-making process,” Graham said. “I initially joined the board with the goal to leave the district better than I found it. While I feel the district is in a better place I feel as though there is more work to be done.”

Graham has a wife and three school-aged children that attend GCS.

Michael James Gernatt Jr., is president of Gernatt Spray Foam and Gernatt Seawall & Soil Stabilization, and has several years of experience with project accounting, project management, code enforcement, developing and operating multimillion-dollar companies. He coached Little League football and baseball for several years and is currently a sitting board member of the Little League baseball and softball organizations. He holds a degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting and is a New York State code enforcement official.

Gernatt cites a desire to have continued involvement with the community and school as a motivation for running for the BOE.

“One purpose would be to facilitate reaching the visions and goals of the school. I would like to see more accountability and consistency throughout the school, so we can improve the overall students’ achievements, attendance, disciplinary and safety,” said Gernatt. “Also, as a tax-paying community member, it is important to understand the proposed budgets and how they will affect the school and community.”

Gernatt’s family includes wife Stephanie and sons Colton and Mason.

Susan Bettker is a lifelong Gowanda resident and a medical laboratory scientist with 17 years of experience. She has been employed at Brooks-TLC Hospital System for 13 years and has been an adjunct faculty member of the Biology Department at the State University of New York at Fredonia since 2023.

Bettker earned a bachelor’s degree in medical technology and graduated magna cum laude from Fredonia State. She is pursuing a master’s degree in biology with emphasis in education online via Grand Canyon University pending completion in March 2025.

Bettker belongs to the Gowanda Volunteer Firemen’s Auxiliary, is coordinator of the local Community Blood Bank blood drives, co-coordinator of the annual Gowanda Community Clean-up event, a member of the local planning committee for the NYForward Grant, and volunteers with the Gowanda Area Chamber of Commerce. She is a former member of the Gowanda Boosters Club.

“I strongly believe in the power of cooperation and working together for the greater good of all. A position on the school board would provide me with an avenue to positively impact the school community where my children learn and grow, and the greater community where I live,” said Bettker, who boasts a background in higher education and is passionate about serving her community. “I view public service as a moral obligation, as it truly takes a village to raise our children and guide them into adulthood. I would welcome the opportunity to serve the district of my alma mater, and am eager to help carry GCS onward to continue providing quality education and a variety of extracurricular opportunities for our students.”

Bettker and her husband Jason are both lifelong Gowanda residents and GCS alumni. Their son Damen, age 23, is a member of the Class of 2019, daughter Molly, age 15, is a member of the Class of 2027, and son Tyler, age 11, is a member of the Class of 2030.

Crista Monat, is director of payroll for services for the UnderServed and treasurer of the Gowanda Boosters Club since 2014. She has experience in finance, human resources and payroll background. She studied at Alfred State.

“My motivation to run for the Gowanda School Board comes from my 21 years of living here in the Village of Gowanda, not only as a parent, but as an active community member seeing our district needing to grow to become better for our students and our community,” said Monat. “I want to be able to help improve student opportunities, make sure there is communication between our school district and our community and to help make a difference in the community that we live in.”

Monat resides with her significant other, Delaney Peters, along with their children. Monat has two sons, Ryan and Jacob Monat, and Peters’ children are Jiyah, Rowan, Willow and Winter.

Brandon Newell is a teacher aide at Stanley G. Falk School in Buffalo and has been in the Army for seven years. He moved to Gowanda just over two years ago. He has been a basketball/lacrosse coach for the past 10 years and has coached two sports at Gowanda CSD andsays he has “helped many kids on their day to day lives with academics and becoming amazing student-athletes.”

Newell has a background in military and coaching. He joined the board of directors for the American Legion Post #409. As a leader of a non-profit foundation, he has worked to fundraise and support veterans in and around the area. He has helped coordinate and organize multiple fundraiser events in the area and would like to continue to be a valued member of the community by being a member of the BOE.

“I will bring strong leadership skills for both kids and adults to the board as I have held other leadership positions as a coach, on a non-profit foundation supporting first responders, on the board of directors of the American Legion, and in the Army. Being a coach for many years has also proved that I have been a leader of kids. I build on students’ strengths and make sure they have tools to build on their weaknesses,” Newell said. “I also understand the ins and outs of the education system. I am a teacher’s aide at an alternative school for special education in Buffalo. My background in education is a strength for the board of education because I know resources that students need and what it takes as I deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I am a father of two boys aged 4 and 5 and also understand the partnership needed for parents and schools. I am motivated to help my community and help the kids have the best opportunities to better them for their future. I am a huge advocate for athletics and I believe we have one of the best programs with the best athletes and I feel like we can only grow and develop to be able to give more opportunities for the amazing student athletes we have in Gowanda.”

Newell’s family includes fiance Rebekah Moraites and sons Shawn and Noah Newell.

All registered residents and qualified voters of Gowanda Central School District may vote on the three at-large available seats on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at Gowanda Middle School.


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