Deer Lakes juggling many concerns, school board candidates agree
Managing the district's financial concerns while being mindful of taxpayers and providing for students remains a top concern of candidates for Deer Lakes School Board.
At least one new member will join the board after the Nov. 5 election, in which five candidates are vying for four seats.
Mike Coletta served one four-year term and chose not to seek re-election.
Running for re-election are board President Lisa Merlo, Vice President James McCaskey and Clara Salvi. All three will appear on the Democratic and Republican ballots.
The other candidates are political newcomer Louis Buck and retired Deer Lakes bus driver Phillip Ziendarski. Buck appears on the Republican ballot, while Ziendarski will be on the Democratic ballot.
Ziendarski declined to be interviewed for this story.
Buck said he was motivated to run because as he nears retirement age, he sees others in a similar situation.
“I want to try as hard as I can, if elected, to keep the taxes down as much as possible,” he said. “Frankly, I don't understand how some of these older people can do it.”
Buck said he would use his business experience to try to find ways for the district to save money and “do things better.”
“The school is a business,” he said. “It's no different than any other business. I think there's ways they can do things to save money.
“I don't have any board experience. I'm not different from anyone else running for the board for the first time — they (incumbents) didn't have experience. I think I'm as qualified and more qualified as anyone else to do this.”
Those incumbents say they want to continue the work they started.
“There's a lot of challenges ahead for our school district,” McCaskey said, pointing to state funding cuts that have hit all districts. “We have to try to come together with a plan. We have to keep trying to survive, basically.”
“We have to choose wisely on where we spend our money,” he said. “We're going to have to make some sacrifices.”
But cuts that would affect students, he said, would be “our last choice.”
“I think the district's made progress. You might not be able to see it because of the financial issues in front of us, but we could be a lot worse off,” McCaskey said. “The board as a whole, we do our job.”
The district's contract with its teachers expired in June, and the two sides continue to negotiate, Merlo said.
“We're trying to be as realistic as we can, economically, to make sure we do the right thing for our staff but also for the taxpayers,” she said.
Pension costs are rising sharply, and reform is needed at the state level, Merlo said.
“In the next three to four years, we're not going to have the money to pay those costs. It's increasing too dramatically. That's our biggest problem,” she said. “We need the governor to step in and reform pensions.”
The district's debt is another financial challenge. Merlo said millions saved from refinancing bonds have helped the district pay salary and pension costs.
“Academic excellence is our number one concern,” Merlo said. “We want to do that in the most fiscally responsible way we can do it.”
As a former teacher, Salvi said furloughing teachers was difficult for her to do. Any savings that can be found, no matter how small, can add up to saving a teacher's job.
As an example, she said the district saved $25,000 by not mailing out a calendar, which appears on the district's website instead.
“We look at everything,” she said.
Salvi is on the district's teacher contract negotiating team and said she'd like to see that through.
“We're not a district that has a lot in reserves,” she said. “We're facing some very difficult financial decisions in the future.
“The top priority is always the students. We have to keep what's in the best interests of the students in mind.
“We have to keep in mind the needs of the community we have, which is not a lucrative community. We have to keep expenses in mind for them, too.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Beaver footprints found along Allegheny River bank, not gator
- Plum woman dies in Washington Township crash
- Avonmore’s Harvest Jubilee turns 50
- Blaze destroys Oakmont church
- Alligator spotted along the banks of the Allegheny River in Cheswick
- Fire ravages 2 buildings in downtown New Kensington
- New Kensington fire remains under investigation
- Scouts prepare goodie bags as show of support for A-K Valley police
- Hulton Bridge closing now at 9 p.m.
- Charges filed against man shot by police in Bell Township
- Harmar to allow electrified security fencing