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Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland hopefuls focus on academics, financial troubles

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

Five candidates have filed for the four open seats on the Mt. Pleasant Area School Board. All seats are for a term of four years.

Incumbents seeking re-election include Robert Gumbita and Rick Albright. Challengers are Charles Holt, Warren Leeder and Kyle Potts.

Potts will appear only on the Republican ballot in the May 21 primary. The other candidates have cross-filed.

• Gumbita, board president, is seeking his fifth term as a school director.

Gumbita, 69, of Norvelt, was originally appointed to the office.

“I was appointed in 1997, then I ran for the office,” Gumbita said. “I always felt that this was a way for me to give back to my community.”

Gumbita's children all attended school in the district. He presently has grandchildren who attend Mt. Pleasant schools.

“My children are all very successful and they received a great base education at Mt. Pleasant,” Gumbita said. “My daughters still talk about their days at Norvelt (elementary).”

• Albright, 59, of Mt. Pleasant Township, is seeking his fourth term and wishes to remain in office to continue with the education offerings in the district that he hopes to see increase.

“I want to stay involved to make sure that the students get the education that they need to be able to make positive career choices,” Albright said. “The demands of the business world have changed and will continue to change and I'd like to be able to help make certain that the students have the knowledge that they need to get into college or technical school.”

• Holt, 62, of Mt. Pleasant Township, is a former school board director for the district and hopes to return to the office.

Holt would like to see the dual enrollment program expand within the district.

“I really feel that we have to look into making it possible for the students to be able to take more college courses while they are in high school at Mt. Pleasant,” Holt said. “Our district has been really falling behind on that, and with the cost of college today, that would not only be a benefit to the students, but also a big benefit to the parents.

“There are a lot of things that need looked at in the district,” he added.

• Leeder, 73, of Mt. Pleasant Township, also served several terms on the district's board and hopes to return to address financial issues.

“I feel that there are some problems that need to be looked at and addressed,“ Leeder said. “We have financial problems and problems with education, personnel and administration. I also want to assure that our students are as safe as they possibly can be. I don't doubt that the schools are safe, but I want to assure that they are made as safe as possible.”

• Potts, 19, of Trauger, is a recent graduate of the district.

“I am running to try to have a positive impact on the community that has done so much for me,” Potts said. “I believe that since I have just gone through the educational system at Mt. Pleasant High School I have a better perspective on how new policies that the school board may introduce will impact students. Since I've started gaining interest in the school board, I've been talking to both present and former teachers to get a better understanding of how our educational system works.

“If elected, I would like to ensure an emphasis be placed on core academics as well as vocational classes that give children marketable skills,” he added. “If budget cuts are to happen, I will fight to make sure our academics do not suffer.”

Southmoreland race

Southmoreland School Board has seven candidates seeking the four open, four-year seats.

Incumbents are board President Levi Miller, Catherine Fike and Gail Rhodes. Challengers are Robert Callaro, Lois Eberly, Cheryl Byers Shipley and Heather Wise-Yanyo.

All candidates have cross-field.

• Miller, 68, of Upper Tyrone Township, will be seeking his fourth term on the board and is proud of the district and its accomplishments.

“I feel that we have good schools in the Southmoreland School District,” Miller said. “We have been able to maintain the balance of high achievements and low taxes. Our students get great educational value for the money that is invested in the district.”

• Fike, 73, of Ruffsdale has served on both the Southmoreland and Yough school boards and feels that her vast knowledge and education are assets that she can bring to the position.

“I feel that I am the only school director that is concerned about the taxpayers,” Fike said. “We could increase revenue or cut expenses and they have voted to do nothing. We have 860 empty seats across the district and we have also lost millions in retirement bonuses since 2005. Just think of what we could have accomplished with the bonus money.”

• Rhodes, 58, of East Huntingdon, is seeking her second term in office and hopes to remain on the board to keep the school district on its path to good education.

“I want to continue to bring common sense to the board,” Rhodes said. “I am able to make the hard decisions and I think that is very important and it is important to the students, to the parents and to the taxpayers. None of us has a crystal ball to see what will happen and I feel that I do the best with the information that I have.”

• Callaro, 63, of Upper Tyrone Township, is happy to be able to run for public office after serving the federal government for 35 years, a position that kept him from seeking any partisan position.

“I want a chance to do something for the community and I feel it's time for me to give back,” Callaro said. “I want to serve the community and I feel that by being a part of the school board that I would be able to do that.”

• Eberly, 58, of Scottdale, stated that her 25 years as a businessperson is a strong qualification for one of the open positions and would like to see more solidarity on the board.

“I am concerned about high taxes, and I am concerned about education,” Eberly said. “The current board needs to get along and address the business at hand. There has to be a way to provide good education at a price that our taxpayers can afford.”

• Shipley, 58, of East Huntingdon, has 25 years experience as a teacher. She wants to give back to the district that she feels has been successful in its educational programs.

“I am very, very proud to be an alumni of Southmoreland,” Shipley said. “I see the public schools coming up and doing well, and you don't have to pay money to send your child to a private school to get a good education. I teach as WCCC (Westmoreland County Community College) and I feel that because I have seen so many students at the next level, that I have a good sense of what they need. I'm very civic-minded and I feel that the best investment that we can make is to put money back into our children.”

• Wise-Yanyo, 45, of Scottdale, would like to be elected to the board to open up the lines of communication.

“I live in this community and when I heard talk of high taxes, I started to attend the school board meetings on a regular basis and I started to pay attention to what was going on in the district,” Wise-Yanyo said. “When you ask questions at a meeting, you are not able to get any answers. They never have any explanation on anything or why things don't work. I want answers to questions and I want to see more accountability.”

Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.

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