5 vie for nominations for 4 seats on Mt. Pleasant Area school board
In the nomination race for four available seats on the Mt. Pleasant Area School District's board of directors, five people — two incumbents and three challengers — have registered as candidates, according to unofficial records of the Westmoreland County Election Bureau.
Cross-filing contenders for the seats, each of which carries a four-year term, include incumbents Robert M. Gumbita, the board's president since 2006, and Rick Albright, along with challengers Charles Holt and Warren Leeder, both former board members.
Newcomer Kyle Potts will appear only on the Republican Party ballot.
The four candidates who cross-filed will secure the Democratic Party nomination for the available seats and will therefore appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
What the primary election will determine is which of the four out of five candidates on the Republican ticket will appear on the ballot for the general election.
• Gumbita, 69. of Norvelt is seeking a fifth consecutive term on the board.
“As a board member, I am very proud of our school district,” said Gumbita, a retired operations group leader in tool and diemaking technology at Timken Latrobe Steel Co., where he was employed 43 years.
Appointed to the board in 1997, Gumbita was elected to his first term in 1998 and he currently serves as chairman of the board's tax study commission and board representative of the strategic planning commission, as well as board secretary and transportation chairman of the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit.
He also is a cabinet member for the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania School Board Association Region 3 and, from 2009 to 2012, he has served as the association's Region 3 representative on the nominating board.
In his time serving on the board, Gumbita credited the teamwork he's had with his fellow board members, along with district staff and administration, for accomplishing several goals, including avoiding of property tax increases to district homeowners annually since 2006, and the preservation and maintenance of facilities which support district programs and goals.
“Our mission is to educate and prepare all students to become active, responsible and contributing members of society,” said Gumbita, whose four children graduated from the district.
If re-elected, Gumbita said he will continue his staunch support of the proposed House Bill 76 and Senate Bill 76 — the Property Tax Independence Act. If passed into law, that proposal would eliminate the need for property taxes by drawing commensurate revenue from a state sales tax increase from 6 to 7 percent and a state wage tax hike from 3.4 to 4 percent, along with dollars from legalized gambling enterprises.
“I'm optimistic it will maybe move on,” said Gumbita regarding the legislation. “If that takes the burden off of property owners, especially senior citizens, that would be wonderful.”
He also designed dugouts at the freshman baseball field and an equipment storage building which were then constructed by district students educated at Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Stanton at greatly reduced costs.
• Albright, 59, of Mt. Pleasant is seeking a fourth consecutive term on the board.
Elected in 2001, Albright has served as board representative on the career and technology center's board of directors for 12 years, and as the center's board chairman for three years from 2009 to 2011.
In those roles, Albright said his top priority has been to ensure there is a balance between academic and vo-tech curriculums and opportunities offered to students there.
“We want to see the students get prepared to meet the challenges of today's world, whether it be in the technological, business or medical fields,” he said.
Albright also said he is proud of playing a part in avoiding property tax hikes while “preserving the quality of our students' education,” supporting district building renovations and security upgrades, and ushering in technological tools such as laptops and electronic wipeboards for classroom use.
If re-elected, Albright said he will continue to work to help devise a strategy to replace the vo-tech center's roof, two boilers and water lines, along with upgrading the facility's weld shop.
“When students go to CWCTC, they have the opportunity to discover niche careers of their choosing,” he said.
Albright said he also will continue to keep taxpayers foremost in his mind considering the tight economy.
“The 2013-14 (district) budget is a big thing this year. We're trying to hold taxes where they're at if we can,” he said.
• Holt, 62, of Mt. Pleasant Township was previously appointed to the board in 2007 and ran unopposed that year for a four-year term through 2011 before losing a bid for the Democratic nomination for a four-year term on the board in that year's primary.
“I graduated from Mt. Pleasant in 1968, my son, Zachary, graduated in 2005, and twins, Emma and Eli, are graduating this year. I'm proud of that, and I want to solidify the future of students attending the district now and in the future,” Holt said.
Since 2005, Holt has been employed as director of research and education for the National Energy Management Institute based in Fairfax, Va.
Prior to that, he worked for five years as business manager/financial secretary of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 12 in Pittsburgh after serving for eight years as a business representative for the association.
During his time spent serving on the board, Holt said he played a significant role in negotiating contracts for district employees and in helping superintendent Terry Struble establish the district's energy management initiative, which involved installation of more energy efficient lighting, insulation and updated HVAC systems.
“I played a big part in helping to transfer energy savings into real dollars that the district would be able to spend in other areas for education,” he said.
He also said he was instrumental in establishing the dual enrollment program offered at the high school through Mt. Aloysius College in Cresson which enables students to earn college course credit prior to graduation.
If elected, Holt said he would seek out options available for district students to take better advantage of additional dual enrollment programs with area colleges and universities.
“All the school districts in Westmoreland County are heavily involved in this kind of thing,” Holt said. “A high school kid can pick up college credits at 50 percent (of the cost) and transfer them to college before they graduate.”
He added that he would look for more ways to partner with other county school districts to better meet students' educational needs at a potentially reduced cost.
“I'd also like to enhance the eAcademy offerings at Mt. Pleasant Area by increasing the variety of available online classes for students,” Holt said.
• Leeder, 73, of Mt. Pleasant was initially appointed to the board in the 1970s and subsequently served multiple terms as a member off and on through the 1990s.
In 2004, Leeder retired from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, where he'd spent 10 years working as a staff photographer.
Prior to that, he worked for 25 years as a photographer for the Tribune-Review in Greensburg. He previously worked in that role for the Mt. Pleasant Journal and the Daily Courier in Connellsville.
Leeder said he looks back with pride at the accomplishments he helped bring about while working with many board members and district administrative officials and superintendents over time.
“In my time serving, (Mt. Pleasant Area) was second or third lowest as far as taxes in all of Westmoreland County,” Leeder said. “I can't take all the credit for that, I've served with some great superintendent and some wonderful school boards. That was part of the pleasure.”
Now that he is retired, Leeder said, he feels that he has the necessary time to devote to bettering the district now and in the future.
“I now have more time to devote. I enjoyed my service, I really did, and I feel like I have a lot to give,” he said.
If elected, Leeder said he would be an advocate of transparency between the board and the public.
“When I vote on important issues, I will explain why I vote how I vote. It's what I've done in the past and what I plan to continue to do. I want to let sunshine in on the meetings,” he said. “I don't want to go and fight for four years and not accomplish anything.”
• Potts, 19, of Trauger is a 2012 graduate of the district, where he served for two years in high school as a class representative on student council and as student body president of Mt. Pleasant Area Junior High School while in eighth grade.
“I want to see my kids succeed if they go to Mt. Pleasant Area, I want to see my friends' kids to succeed, and I want our community to succeed,” he said.
Potts is employed as a surveyor's assistant with Benchmark Engineering in Laughlintown. He is also pursuing a degree in business management at Westmoreland County Community College.
“The fact I'm pursuing that particular major lends to my candidacy for school board. The reason I am taking it is I feel like I could be a good leader.” said Potts, who also earned the rank of Eagle Scout with Boy Scouts of America Troop 472 in Norvelt. “The skills I'll be learning through my major will help me better serve the students and members of the district.
He said he was compelled to seek the GOP nomination for the seat after consulting his network of former classmates and underclassmen still attending the district, their families and former district teachers.
“I do know a lot of parents and teachers. I feel like I could find the solution to the district's problems by asking these people,” Potts said. “I can draw from those resources to devise better policies as a school board member.
Potts said the computer-aided drafting course he took at Mt. Pleasant Area helped him land his current occupation, so he will be a proponent of preserving a balance between academic and vocational curricula offered at the district if elected.
“The training I took allowed me to have a marketable skill that let me get that job,” he said. “In an economics class at WCCC, the professor repeated the saying ‘Increase your human capital, because it makes you more marketable.'”
Potts also explained why he filed solely as a Republican.
“The reason I didn't cross-file is that education is a bipartisan issue. I didn't think there was a need to cross-file. I didn't think a party label would be such a big deal,” he said. “With the budget cuts coming, I just want to make sure taxpayers' money is getting spent the right way.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.