Share This Page

Budget tops Deer Lakes issues

| Sunday, May 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Five candidates, each cross-filed on the Democratic and Republican tickets, are vying for four seats on the Deer Lakes school board.

Three incumbents are running — Clara Salvi, Lisa Merlo and James McCaskey — and two challengers, Louis Buck and Phillip Ziendarski.

As with all public school districts, the pressing issue is the budget, which has been squeezed by state budget cuts, soaring pension plan contributions and flat revenue.

In 2012-13, Deer Lakes and Fox Chapel Area were the only districts in the Alle-Kiski Valley that didn't raise taxes or spend their savings.

But that came at a price: Deer Lakes furloughed 14 teachers and didn't replace seven retiring employees.

Future funding for the Public School Employees' Retirement System will be a big problem for most school districts, said Clara Salvi, who is seeking re-election.

“We know that the government has canceled or cut back on a lot of programs,” she said. “We have challenges, there's no question.”

According to Salvi, the hardest decision that she had to make in her four years on the school board was cutting teaching positions and not replacing some retired teachers.

Salvi said the district is bringing back some of those positions for the 2013-14 school year.

“Everyone — the community, parents, teachers, and the staff — will all have to make sacrifices for the education of students,” she said.

Lisa Merlo, the board's president, said the greatest issues facing Deer Lakes' budget are flat revenues combined with continued benefit-cost increases.

The 37 percent spike in the pension costs and five percent increase in medical insurance is driving the cost increases to the district.

“The state of Pennsylvania truly needs a pension reform law redefining the pension program away from a defined-benefit program,” she said.

Merlo said that she has sent letters to legislators and attended meetings with them to stress the importance of this reform.

“No Pennsylvania school district will be able to survive the high increases that will occur over the next 10 years,” she said.

“To survive, the school district will need to cut costs in every possible area,” Merlo said.

And that's just what newcomer Louis Buck says that he brings to the table.

A manager in an electrical supply business, Buck said, “I want to make sure that the board is fiscally responsible.

“I can't say anything pro or con against the current school board, but I want to make sure that the monies aren't spent unnecessarily.”

Buck has experience in energy conservation and is interested in looking at the district to find energy savings.

“I have a good working knowledge in ways to save energy and money for the school system,” he said.

Buck said that he is sensitive not to just the senior citizens on fixed budgets but average people whose working wages are somewhat fixed these days with scant raises.

But it's a tough balance to spare taxpayers.

“The challenge is to maintain the quality of education that we already have without raising taxes,” he said.

Candidates James F. McCaskey and Phillip Ziendarski could not be reached by press time for this story.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.