Finances a concern for North Hills school board candidates

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The biggest issue facing the North Hills School District is maintaining academic offerings while state funding declines and employee pension contribution costs increase, several school board candidates in the Nov. 5 election said.

“It's about our students' education. It's about responsibility,” said board member Sharon A. Schrim, who is running for re-election on the Democratic ticket.

Six other candidates are running for one of four seats, which have four-year terms: Democrats Kathy Reid, an incumbent, and Helen D. Spade; Republicans Matthew Sean Edlinger Sr., Joe Muha and Michael Yeomans; and Annette Giovengo Nolish, who is running on the Republican and Democratic tickets.

North Hills has six schools and 4,244 students from Ross or West View. Changes during the past decade have included a 13 percent decline in enrollment, the closings of three elementary schools and renovations and expansions of three others for $51 million in 2009 and 2010.

The district had a net loss of $660,000 in state funding in 2013-14, mostly because of a 37 percent increase in contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System, spokeswoman Amanda Hartle said.

Rising pension costs, competition from charter schools and unfunded state and federal mandates create a difficult climate for public schools, Nolish said.

“So I feel that a lot of the experience and background that I have could make a difference in schools,” said Nolish, a higher education consultant.

Reid, who is completing her first term, said she is proud to have been a member of the board during the renovation projects.

The middle school will be the last of the district's schools to be air-conditioned, and the $7 million project will be paid for without a tax increase, she said.

“We have watched our money wisely and we have been setting aside money for that air-conditioning,” Reid said.

Schrim pointed to the building projects as successes.

“I just want to continue what we have been doing. We have renovated. We have reconsolidated the schools. Our technology upgrades throughout the district are … just tremendous,” she said.

Yeomans, two of whose four children are North Hills students, said the board needs more members who are parents of children in the district.

“I just think North Hills is a very good district, and I've just been involved in public service throughout my life through coaching and my church,” he said. “My decision to run is just an extension of that desire to give back to my community.”

Muha said having a child enrolled in a district school and his analytical background would be assets to the board, which he said needs to better monitor spending.

“We need to eliminate some of the waste. Make sure we spend money wisely. Make sure when we do something, we're getting our bang for our buck,” he said.

Edlinger said he also is a proponent of fiscal responsibility.

“It's not only to keep up with school districts, but how to get ahead within budget,” he said.

Spade said she is concerned about cuts to the number of buses and increased class sizes.

“While recognizing that such changes may be necessary in difficult economic times,” she said in a statement, “they should not be imposed while at the same time increasing the salaries of central office administrators.”

Hartle said bus numbers were reduced when ninth-graders moved to the high school last year, raises have been in line with the 2.3 percent dictated in an agreement, and class sizes average fewer than 22 students at the elementary level and 28 in secondary classrooms.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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