Bethel Park School District's longstanding contract dispute with its teachers' union was supposed to be off-limits during a candidate's forum on Tuesday, but the six school board candidates talked about it anyway.
The two slates of three candidates — three incumbents and three newcomers — agreed beforehand that questions from moderators and the audience of about 50 people could not directly address the three years of negotiations, because the district and the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers were considering a state-appointed fact-finder's recommendations.
But the contract came up repeatedly.
The six candidates are running for four open seats on the school board.
“I will work to repair the discord that has been part of the labor negotiations,” said Pam Dobos, a retired teacher and former member of the union's negotiating team.
“I would love to say we'd never raise taxes ... but we have to look at where the money is going,” incumbent Russ Spicuzza said in response to a different question. “When 75, 76 percent goes to salaries and benefits, there aren't many other places to cut.”
“The price of education goes up every year,” said challenger John DeLallo Jr. “Even if we froze salaries forever, the cost of books, the cost of technology, the cost of building upkeep is not going to go down.”
Incumbent Cindy Schaude Buckley, a retired kindergarten and first-grade teacher, noted that “some groups” supported the challengers' campaign with outside funding and volunteers, referring to the support DeLallo, Dobos and Tom Majernik received from the American Federation of Teachers.
The AFT's Pennsylvania news website noted the slate's victory in the spring primary and praised the campaigning by AFT-PA members to support them and union-endorsed candidates in Pittsburgh.
In his closing remarks, Spicuzza said the challengers all had ties to teachers or the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers, noting that Majernik is a teacher and union member in a neighboring school district, Dobos was a teacher and one of DeLallo's children was a teacher.
All the candidates said they would work for the district as a whole, rather than for any particular group.
Other topics were addressed in the wide-ranging forum, including:
• School security: Incumbent Connie Ruhl supported stricter controls at building entries, but not guards in every building.
• Transparency: Dobos noted that details of agenda items were not published before meetings. Spicuzza said the budget-making process was completely open to the public, even when no one attends meetings, and Buckley said that the monthly list of bills was available for review but was no longer printed before every meeting because of a lack of interest and a desire to save paper.
• Technology. Ruhl wants to make technology more accessible through a long-term upgrade plan and by participating in “beta tests” of new gadgets and programs. Majernik said technology purchases and upgrades needed more scrutiny as the board tightens its budgets.
• Alternative funding streams: DeLallo supported the idea of using corporate sponsorships or naming rights to support programs and sports.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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