8 vie for nomination for Ligonier Valley school director
The unseen financial future of the Ligonier Valley School District, an unsettled teachers' contract and a divided district are among the top three concerns candidates hope to address if they are elected to one of five school board seats up for grabs in November's election.
For now, seven candidates are seeking the nominations from either the Republican or Democratic parties to four seats, with four-year terms.
All seven candidates have cross-filed and will appear on both parties' primary election ballots. The names of the top four vote-getters on each ticket will go on to appear on the general election ballot.
One candidate has filed for nomination on both tickets for an open seat, with a two-year term.
Incumbents Carolyn Shafer and John “Buzzy” Maier are running with recent appointee Kim Dickert-Wallace and resident David Wilcox. The four, along with resident JoAnn Thistlethwaite, who is the sole candidate seeking nomination to the board for the available two-year seat, are supported by the Valley Education political-action committee.
Challengers Barbara Boring, Ed Sutter and Carl Fabrizio are running independently of a group.
Directors Shawn Proskin and Jim Cunkelman are not seeking re-election.
Boring, 56, of St. Clair Township pledges to remain open minded and examine all sides to every issue, if elected, she said.
“No one on the (current) board questions what we're spending. Everything is a 9-0 vote with no discussion on other options other than what the superintendent recommends,” she said, citing excessive spending and the instability of operating for the last year without a teachers' contract.
She said it's time for a more open, responsive board to bring the district together and entice cyber school families back to the district.
Boring has worked as a nurse for 23 years, currently working at the Ebensburg State Center, a state mental health/mental retardation facility.
She said her prior experience in managing a doctor's office, more than 20 years of experience attending school board meetings and community activism, and lifelong commitment to her local community makes her a good candidate for the job. She has been married for 33 years to husband Norman Boring. They have two adult daughters and three grandchildren.
Dickert-Wallace, 38, of Ligonier Township was appointed to the board in January to fill a seat vacated by former school director Lynn Parker.
“Education is my passion. And it's really important to me that every student in our district have the opportunity to have a good education,” Dickert-Wallace said.
She said she wants to continue to bring the ends of the district together.
“It's not just about the students, but the families. And at the end of the day, everyone ends up in the same building,” she said.
Dickert-Wallace said she also plans to focus on getting more volunteers into the district. She's volunteered at both elementary schools for the last decade.
“Volunteers allow for more programs for our students because there's more people to help out,” she said.
She said her district volunteering has really helped her see what's needed by students and staff on both ends of the district.
She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and certification in education from Seton Hill University.She has been married for 10 years to husband, Patrick Wallace, and has one step daughter and two daughters.
Carl D. Fabrizio
Fabrizio, 66, of St. Clair Township wants the community to re-invest in the school district.
Since the closing of Laurel Valley Middle/High School, the residents of the northern end of the district have lost interest in the district, he said.
“I'd like to see more activism from community members and more input from residents,” Fabrizio said. “I'd like to see people from one end to the other, to feel like it's their district and their schools.”
Fabrizio said he would form committees of residents to formally seek public input as well as encourage all residents to speak at the monthly public meetings.
Fabrizio wants to move the board's planning meeting to one week earlier, and allow public comment at that meeting, as well as the general board meeting. Currently the board's planning meeting is held one hour before the regular meeting.
“A lot of lost in having to run through everything so quickly,” Fabrizio said.
Fabrizio retired four years ago from working as a steelworker at Latrobe Steel for 20 years. Fabrizio served on the school board from 1993 to 2005. He has married for 27 years to Dorcas Fabrizio. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.
John “Buzzy” Maier
Maier, 60, of New Florence was appointed to the board in 2007, and then ran for and won the seat in 2009.
A retired school administrator, he served 30 years at Richland School District, as guidance counselor, assistant high school principal, principal and director of educational services.
“I hope to continue to contribute as the school district continues to grow and develop,” Maier said. “We have an excellent administrative team and teaching staff, great students and parents who place a high value on education. And the test scores speak for themselves. It's a cooperative effort between everyone,” he said.
He said he's proud of the district and its students, but he wants to continue to strive for improvements in academic programs while maintaining fiscal responsibility to district taxpayers, especially in the midst of financial challenges that all public school districts face in the coming years.
He said he's most proud of strengthening curriculum, which was a major part of his campaign platform four years ago.
“All students have the same educational opportunities,” he said.
Maier has been married for 37 years to wife, Anna Maier. They have two grown children.
Shafer, 65, of Ligonier Borough was elected to the board in 2009.
She said the district has made great strides in education, and she wants to continue down that same path.
“We had a good school district to begin with, but under the guidance of the board and the administration, our academics, arts and athletics are right on track,” she said. “I think we're going to continue to grow and get better, and I'm just excited to be apart of that. There are so many positives. For such a small district, I think we have a lot to offer. We're really offering a quality education.” She said she would like to see the district come up to speed with every aspect of technology.
“I think we're a little behind on that,” she said, but that a recent initiative to put an iPad in every student's hands is “one more positive step in that direction.”
Shafer worked as the bookkeeper and office manager for her husband's optometry office for more than 30 years. Shafer has been married for 46 years to husband Lewis “Skip” Shafer. They haves two adult children and two grandsons.
Sutter, 50, of New Florence said he wants to see more openness between the school board and the public.
“I don't really like what I see at some of the meetings,” he said. “I've asked questions, and sometimes it's clear they have no clue what they're voting on. As a taxpayer and a parent, that disturbs me.”
He'd like to see more forward-thinking by the board, such as the creation of a facilities plan, among other long-term vision plans.
As the facilities coordinator for United School District since 1990, Sutter said he brings a lot of school experience to the table.
“I have sat through 23 budget presentations by four different business managers. I've worked for 10 different superintendents during my tenure and, maybe, 35 different board members. I have dealings with the support staff contract. I have knowledge of union and other administrative issues,” he said. “I also bring a lot of parent experience, and I think I would be somewhat of a breath of fresh air in something that's getting very stale.”
He has been married to wife Karel Sutter for 25 years. They have two children.
Wilcox, 34, of Laughlintown said he's excited about contributing to the school board.
He said he cares deeply about education, and has a strong desire to do things with fiscal responsibility.
“I don't like to waste money in my personal life, business life or when our local governments waste taxpayer money,” he said. “There are times when you have to spend a little more money than you'd like to spend, but those are decisions that should be made wisely. I'd like to get the budget as low as possible without sacrificing quality education.”
Wilcox owns and operates Laurel Highlands Property Services, LLC, which focuses on property maintenance, repairs and remodeling. He's owned his own business since 2002, which gives him a background in business, allows him to focus on the big picture and indicates his strong work ethic, he said.
His school-age children also give him experience, he said.
“I'm in the heart of child rearing. School is a major part of our life for the majority of the year,” he said.
Wilcox is a Rotary member and deeply involved in the Ligonier Valley Bible Church.
He wed Heather Wilcox in 2005. They are raising their three children.
Thistlethewaite, 66, of Ligonier Township is the sole candidate running for the seat with the two-year term.
With a doctorate in education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she said she's eager to give back to the community.
“My education background brings in an academic nature to the way I approach decision-making,” she said. “I base my decisions on research and evidence. I listen and consider opposing views before making them.”
Thistlethwaite has taught for 40 years, ranging from preschool church classes to middle school and adult, inner city education. At IUP, she taught nursing and other courses at the graduate level. She still teaches part-time at Westmoreland County Community College and Indiana County Technical Institute.
She said she wants to maintain a high level of education, despite various cuts to the budget. She said she wants to see more community input.
“I see the district as a triad, with the community, the board and the school administration equally supporting the three corners,” she said. “The students are in the middle. They are the core of everything that should be done.”
She has been married for 42 years to husband Gary Thistlethwaite. They have two adult sons and two granddaughters.
Jewels Phraner is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.