Penn-Trafford school board candidates make their case
By Chris Foreman
Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
All three Penn-Trafford School Board regions have a race in the May 21 primary. Of the four open four-year seats, two are in Region 2 and one each is available in Region 1 and Region 3. All eight candidates are cross-filed on the Democrat and Republican ballots.
Voters will determine who will negotiate a new teachers contract in 2014 and oversee an estimated $30 million high school remodeling.
Martin Stovar's first time on the ballot is against Sallie Bradley, who served 20 years as a board member.
The board appointed Stovar in January 2012. He praises the board's adoption of a series of “non-negotiable achievement goals” that emphasize customized-learning experiences and technology.
“I think working on that and seeing that through, is paramount — making sure we're teaching kids on a worldwide level, not just a local level,” Stovar said.
Stovar said he also is mindful of the fact that about 80 percent of district taxpayers don't have children in the schools.
“I think I have a balance when it comes to decisions about taxes,” he said.
Bradley, who frequently attends board meetings, said she doesn't want the district tied up in lawsuits.
Within the last couple of years, the district has been a defendant in a former Spanish teacher's lawsuits and in two lawsuits related to furloughs at the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center.
“I want our money to be spent on kids and education and not lawsuits that have the possibility of being avoided,” Bradley said.
With the district planning not to replace seven teaching positions because of retirements, Bradley questions how their departures will affect class sizes. If elected, she said, she wouldn't support raising taxes.
“Nobody can afford that right now,” Bradley said.
Voters will choose between three familiar names — board President P. Jay Tray, one-term board member Richard Niemiec and recently retired administrator Harry Smith — for two seats on the board.
Smith described his candidacy as more of a statement about his experience than about the qualifications of the incumbents.
“Everybody brings strengths to the table,” Smith said. “I think I'm probably as well-rounded as anybody that's worked for the board.”
Smith, a P-T employee for 38 years, retired in 2011 as assistant superintendent. Toward the end of his career, he was involved in a feasibility study of district buildings and served on the Westmoreland County Health Consortium to review health care costs for public districts.
“I think in a lot of ways, I'm ahead of the game,” Smith said. “I'll be able to ask questions of the administrators, making sure the community gets their money's worth.”
Tray, whose 30 years in education include 19 as a P-T administrator, joined the board in December 2007.
“I just have an interest in young people succeeding,” Tray said. “I like to be a part of that.”
As the district's legislative council representative, he keeps tabs on how the state budget and pending legislation affect Penn-Trafford. Among his biggest concerns are the moratorium on state reimbursement for construction projects and the formula that requires districts to contribute money toward employee pensions.
Tray said he is part of a strong board that is keeping taxes reasonable while providing a good education.
“It's on our record,” Tray said. “We're one of the best school districts in the state. We give you one of the best bangs for the buck.”
Niemiec said he represents the ordinary taxpayer.
He said his experience as a maintenance supervisor for Owens & Minor has enabled him to be involved in expansion projects by the medical-supply business. He started 37 years ago with Stuart Medical, a small family-owned business in Greensburg.
After Owens & Minor bought Stuart, Niemiec was involved as the company developed a 168,000-square-foot warehouse in Hempfield Township. That background will help Penn-Trafford as it moves forward with its building projects, he said.
“It's a good team, and I would hate to see the team broken up,” Niemiec said of the board.
Tim Wilson and Michael Morocco Sr. are challenging first-term board member Toni Ising.
Ising and Wilson tout their backgrounds in technology, while Morocco said he is talking about a subject – the Common Core standards – that nobody else in the campaign is discussing.
Ising, a software engineer consultant, said her goal is to complete the high-school project and start planning other building upgrades without a tax increase.
As the board moves closer to negotiations on the new teachers contract, Ising said, she would like Penn-Trafford to offer a high-deductible insurance plan as an alternative. She also is interested in linking pay increases to inflation.
“I would like to see pay increases tied more to the inflation rate and (job) performance,” Ising said.
Wilson extols the benefits of one of the district's pilot programs, the Warrior Workshop, which designs math instruction based on a child's skills instead of age. He credits the workshop for enabling his son, a fourth-grader, to complete work on a sixth-grade level.
“In the 21st century, there's no reason you should be confined ... by the bricks of the classroom,” Wilson said.
Wilson was the director of educational technology for a North Carolina school district and now is director of information technology at Point Park University.
One of his goals is what he refers to as “circling back” to evaluate educational programs to ensure they meet measurable objectives.
He also espouses creating a directory of community members willing to volunteer their time and expertise, such as having a local architect provide input on a building project.
Morocco said he's suspicious of a national initiative — the Common Core Standards — adopted in March by the state Board of Education. Coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the initiative establishes a single set of English and math standards for all students.
States voluntarily adopted the standards. Morocco said the school board hasn't addressed the topic.
“I have a problem with D.C. and Harrisburg telling us what to teach our children,” said Morocco, who has 12 grandchildren.
Another of Morocco's platforms is board transparency. When the district hires or promotes someone, he said, the board doesn't publicly explain how the salary was determined.
“Since we don't have any transparency, we can't evaluate those decisions,” he said.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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