5 candidates seek 4 Southmoreland School Board spots
Five candidates will vie for the four vacancies on the Southmoreland School Board in the Nov. 5 general election.
Incumbents Levi Miller and Gail Rhodes will be on the Democratic ballot, along with former School Director Cheryl Byers Shipley and newcomer Robert Callaro. The Republican ballot will feature Byers Shipley, Miller, Rhodes and newcomer Lois Eberly. Eberly won the fourth and final spot on the Republican ballot as a result of a casting of the lots Aug. 19. Eberly finished in a tie with incumbent Catherine Fike, each nothing 358 votes in the primary election in May.
Miller, 69, is in search of his second term in his third stint on the board as he also served from 1989-1993 and 1995-2003.
The longtime school director praised the school district for its recent successes, including the elementary school being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. He also realizes the district faces the financial challenges that face most districts.
“We're a high-achieving school district,” Miller said. “We're being recognized for that nationally. On the other hand, we're a very efficient school district when compared to the other school districts. We're in the bottom three of the school districts in Westmoreland County in our millage rate and tax rate. We're certainly in the upper third in regards to achievement levels. It's a case of continuing in a positive way, knowing we have tremendous challenges ahead. We're a modest-income community, so we do have the challenge of trying to maintain a high level of achievement and an efficient operation.”
Miller feels the experience he has as a school director is quite beneficial as the district continues to progress.
Miller is retired after many years in the publishing industry. He has three grown children, each of whom are graduates of the Southmoreland School District.
“I see the importance of selecting strong leaders,” Miller said. “Seeing that we have strong personnel in leading our district is one area where I think my experience does help. I also bring a background in business and publishing and in education. I think that brings experience to it. Our own kids have been in the schools. That gives me a certain background to the educational process.”
Rhodes, 59, also seeks her second term on the board.
She reiterated her thoughts before the primary election that issues such as skyrocketing pension costs in the near future and funding (or lack thereof) will make it a bit more difficult for school districts at budget time.
“It's the biggest part of the budget,” Rhodes said. “We have to deal with the hand we're dealt. We have no control over that. There's a fine line that we have to balance. You don't want to take away money from the primary purpose, to educate our children. It's a fine line and it's hard to walk that line.”
Rhodes feels she has gained valuable experience in her four years as a school director.
“In my opinion you have to know where there's a problem and where there's not a problem,” Rhodes said. “If something's working and moving forward and receiving national and state-wide accolades we should be very happy and very proud to be a part of that. (Where there are issues) we're not putting our head in the sand and putting on rose-colored glasses. I don't think that's the type of board we have. They're not willing to rest on their laurels. They're always setting the bar higher. I'm happy and proud to be a part of that.”
Rhodes is married with two children.
Byers Shipley, 59, served on the school board once before, having been a school director from 1991-1999.
She also feels the biggest issue facing the Southmoreland School District is in the area of money.
“We have a finite amount of money and an infinite amount of opportunities,” she said. “We have a wonderful school district and we're doing very well. Every school district has problems. ...Everybody wants to do better. I just feel that's one of the things we want to look at. What can we do with what we have? If we ever have to raise taxes are we raising them to truly better the student population.”
Byers Shipley is an instructor at Westmoreland County Community College and has three children. She has seen many Southmoreland students venture to WCCC.
“Not only have I been on (the board) before, I had three children very successfully graduate from Southmoreland. As a professor at WCCC I see our students at the next stage of their lives. I'm very involved in the community. I've been here all my life...I believe in the school. I believe in the community. One of the things that sometimes makes a difference between a good student and a great student is parental involvement. The stronger we make our community and the stronger we educate people, the stronger we make our future generations.”
Callaro, 64, maintains his feeling that taxes remain a strong concern of his going forward.
“I'm impressed with what the school district has done in improving the education in our area,” Callaro said. “Kudos for the recognition they've gotten. We need to make sure the things we need, we're able to pay for. A lot of school districts don't fare nearly as well as we do and we don't have the resources they do. That's a credit to the administrators and the school board.”
Callaro said it never hurts to have some change in a governmental body. He feels that new eyes can result in a fresh approach.
“I think you get stale if you keep having the same people and the same ideas all the time,” Callaro said. “We need new people just to bring new ideas. Sometimes people get lazy, get lackadaisical. I can bring enthusiasm and new ideas to the school board....Those who voted for me in the Primary know who I am. They know I'm going to make decisions with them in mind. I'm going to listen to everybody and make my decisions accordingly.
Eberly, 58, has been a regular attendee at recent board meetings and feels declining enrollment combined with increased costs are a major issue.
“Declining enrollment and ever-increasing budget issues are the factors driving the cost as well as trying to get a good balance between educational needs and financial needs,” Eberly said. “Right now, they manage to hold off any tax increase, but in order to do that they've depleted the unassigned fund balance. Without those resources in play next year tough choices will have to be made. Hopefully, the board will be able to work through those issues. I have every confidence it will be done.”
Eberly is a retired postmaster with six children who is currently the president of the Scottdale Kiwanis. She feels all of her experience can be viable to the board.
“I bring to the table years of practical experience and management. My experience with finance and personnel can all come into play,” Eberly said. “I'm not related to anyone who currently draws a paycheck from the school district. That will help me be less biased. That outside perspective can help me be fair-minded. That's kind of how I feel about it. It's an outside perspective.”
Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.