New Kensington-Arnold incumbents draw primary foes
By Liz Hayes
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013, 1:11 a.m.
Three New Kensington-Arnold School Board incumbents will face challengers in the May 21 primary.
In Region II, which includes downtown New Kensington and Parnassus plus a small part of Arnold, 2011 board appointee Liney Glenn of Charles Avenue, New Kensington, will face Richard E. Boucher of Main Street, Parnassus, for the Democratic nomination. They are vying for one four-year term.
Because only Boucher is cross-filed, he likely will win the Republican nod unless there is a write-in challenger. If he also wins the Democratic nod, he would be the only candidate on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. If Glenn wins the Democratic nod, they likely will square off again in November.
In Region III, which includes much of New Kensington except for downtown and the Tarentum Bridge Road corridor, incumbents Deborah Glushenko of Kimball Avenue and Patrick J. Petit of Spring Street face sisters-in-law Tonya Pryor-Norman of Charles Avenue and Laura Varner-Norman of McLaughlin Drive.
All four candidates are Democrats but are cross-filed on both ballots. They are vying for two open seats.
In Region I, Democrat Robert M. Pallone of Elmtree Road, New Kensington is running unopposed on both ballots for one four-year seat.
All six candidates for the three contested seats spoke of improving education while buckling down on spending.
Glenn, a retired district teacher, and Boucher, a laborer for Allegheny County's public works department, expressed concern over the district's standardized test scores.
Boucher said he fears students aren't challenged enough and are expected to meet only minimum requirements. He said he'd like to see students pressed to take more courses rather than study halls, have access to better technology and generally get more encouragement from teachers.
“The thing I want to do is get these teachers to start developing more of an interest in these kids,” he said. “Show these kids what they can accomplish. I've been teaching martial arts for years now. I don't let a kid get discouraged.”
Glenn, running in her first election since being appointed to fill a vacant board seat, said she'd like to put her background in teaching to use.
She'd like to be involved in the district's planning for implementation of Act 82, which will make teacher evaluations more reliant on student performance.
“My priority will be getting us back on track educationally. I don't like us always being at the bottom of the barrel with graduation rates and test scores,” she said. “If we focus on it, we can do it.”
Glenn said she disagrees with the board's recent decision to cut kindergarten from full-day to half-day next school year. “I taught kindergarten before I became a reading specialist. One thing I know for sure, the earlier that the intervention is provided for students who are behind, the more likely they are to succeed,” she said.
As for finances, Boucher said the district needs to raise more money by hosting events on Valley Memorial Stadium's artificial turf field. Both he and Glenn said they would like to find more grants to fund programs.
Pryor-Norman, a stay-at-home mother of five, and Varner-Norman, a media sales consultant with two children still in school, also are critical of the decision to reduce kindergarten classes.
“There's been a lot of useless spending,” Pryor-Norman said, pointing to recent decisions to refurbish weight-room equipment and upgrade the district's phone system, as well as past spending on athletic facilities. “We're an economically challenged community, but we have a $1 million turf field — and that's hard for me to say because I have two boys who play football.”
If elected, Pryor-Norman said she'd also like to review whether there is duplication among central administrative positions and create an atmosphere in which teachers feel more comfortable with addressing concerns and ideas.
Not only is Varner-Norman worried about students getting “short-changed” by the reduction in kindergarten, but she worries parents won't be able to find affordable day care and will opt to move out of the district.
“That hurts the community, and numbers already are dwindling,” she said. “I've tried to be loyal and stay here. That's a serious concern.”
Varner-Norman said she'd like to improve communication with the public to ensure residents are privy to relevant information before decisions are made. Her other ideas include more fundraising and grant-writing, adding tutoring programs and reviewing the need for positions like weight-room supervisors.
Glushenko, a secretary for Ferguson Heating and Air Conditioning who opposed moving to half-day kindergarten, said she would rather have kept a full-day program rather than update the phone system: “I always got through when I called.”
Glushenko said she'd like the board to return to having a committee of the whole meeting instead of various committee meetings, because she thinks the public isn't as aware of considerations such as the kindergarten change. She also would like to evaluate the district's current staffing of teachers, aides and educational coaches to ensure the district isn't spending money on unnecessary positions.
“Making sure the kids are safe, learned and happy,” are Glushenko's priorities. “That's what school is about. The big thing is, the board needs to learn they're only there for a certain reason, and that's to set policy.”
Petit, a supervisor for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, noted the board discussed the possible kindergarten change at several committee meetings that were open to the public before voting on it.
Petit was one of five board members who approved the change, citing financial as well as educational benefits. He said the move would free up needed teachers and classrooms and reduce kindergarten class sizes.
Petit said the board has worked to improve student education by investing heavily in technology, improving facilities including the high school auditorium, increasing the grade-point-average requirements for participation in extracurricular activities and providing buses for high school students.
“The number one goal is to make sure these kids get the best education,” he said.
At the same time, Petit said the board's challenge going forward will be managing the budget amid funding cuts.
“We as a district need to sit down and look at where we're heading,” Petit said. “The defining issue is the challenge with the funding from the state and federal government. How to deal with that and still bring a top-notch education.”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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