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Five of six candidates for Norwin School Board will be elected

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By Chris Foreman
Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011

Just like on the primary ballot, voters in the Norwin School District will choose among six candidates for the school board.

The top five vote-getters will win four-year terms as school directors.

Incumbents Bob Perkins, Tom Sturm, Dennis Rittenhouse and newcomer Darlene Ciocca won both parties' nominations.

Another incumbent, Del Nolfi Jr., won a Democratic nomination, while Raymond Kocak earned a GOP nomination.

The Nov. 8 election will occur two months after the board unanimously approved a four-year contract for teachers nearly a year before the existing agreement expires.

The deal included annual salary increases of 3.06 percent, but required teachers' contributions to individual and family health insurance premiums to increase by $240 per year throughout the life of the contract.

The candidates are continuing to stress the importance of smart budgeting for the long-term fiscal health of the district.

"We're looking at every position to make sure we're getting the most out of the position," said Perkins, who joined Sturm on the district's negotiating team for the teachers' contract.

Perkins, 58, president of Precision Defense Services, is completing his third term. He's been school board president for the past 10 years.

He praised the administration for recommending refinancing a bond issue that will save $1.4 million. Board members also are evaluating options for decreasing the $3.3 million annual spending on busing and forming a committee to review potential student activity fees.

"The next couple of years won't be easy," Perkins said.

Sturm, 62, is completing his fourth full term. A retired Duquesne City School educator, he often is the lone "no" vote when he senses the board could choose a less costly option, he said.

"I think the administration will be instructed by the board to watch every penny we spend," Sturm said of the upcoming budget crunching.

He has suggested that the district might have to establish a pay-to-play fee to ensure educational programs aren't curbed.

Rittenhouse, a third-term director, said state officials must do something about public funding for charter and cyber schools.

Norwin officials back a state House bill that would make funding of those schools the state's responsibility.

Last school year, Norwin paid $799,761 in tuition for 112 students who lived in the district but attended cyber schools. The 2011-12 state budget cut $175,000 in tuition reimbursements to Norwin.

Rittenhouse, 56, a senior systems analyst for FedEx, criticized Gov. Tom Corbett's voucher plan, saying the governor "is not educationally friendly."

"Norwin gives a quality product," he said. "We are the lowest in millage in Westmoreland County. We're proud of that, and we'd like to keep it that way."

Nolfi, 49, is the only incumbent with a child still enrolled in the district. His wife became employed as a noninstructional aide in the district's special education program before his election in 2007.

Nolfi supports expanding the district's "College in High School" program, which lets Norwin students compile college credits through local universities. A member of the district's special education committee, he said he's passionate about providing more in-house teaching positions for children with special needs.

"I am committed to doing what it takes to provide the best education for the least amount of money for the community," said Nolfi, quality system manager and technical sales representative for Ranbar Electrical Materials.

While her three children were enrolled in the district, Ciocca, 55, was an active volunteer for the parent-teacher associations and was involved with the Norwin Band Aides. She waited until they graduated to pursue a spot on the board.

She said her children received a good education, and she wants to ensure that's available for kids today.

"I will kind of be a hands-on board member," Ciocca said. "They're going to see me in their schools. I want to see what's working, what isn't working."

Kocak, 48, has a degree in accounting and owned a mortgage company for 12 years. He is president of the Stewartsville Lions Club and a past director for the Penn's Woods Civic Association. He has qualified for Social Security disability benefits since he lost his sight after a series of strokes in 2004.

Three of his four children are in district's schools.

"I'm for lower taxes and second chances for kids," Kocak said. "That's about it for me."

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