6 in race for Carlynton school board
Carlynton School Board candidates say they will focus on the district’s finances, leadership and providing a quality education to students.
Six candidates will square off on Nov. 5 for five open, four-year seats on the Carlynton school board.
Five incumbents — including Kelly Zaletski, Jim Schriver, Jude Frank, Marissa Mendoza and George Honchar — will appear on both the Democratic and Republican tickets after receiving both party nominations in the May Primary.
Eric Valcheff is running as an Independent.
Incumbent David Roussos is uncontested and will appear on both the Democratic and Republican tickets, seeking to fill one open two-year term on the board.
Following is information submitted by the candidates as well as their response to questions posed by the Trib:
Question 1: Why did you decide to run for election?
Question 2: What is the biggest issue that needs addressed?
Party affiliation: Democrat
Previously held office: Past president and treasurer of Carnegie PTA; past president of Carlynton Cheer Boosters
Question 1: I was approached by a number of different people — community member, school principal and a board member — to consider running for the board. Prior to that, I had never really thought much about it. After careful consideration, I felt that it was a great way for me to be involved in the community and schools as I had two children currently in the school district.
Question 2: Unfortunately it’s not a simple matter of determining the “biggest issue.” There are numerous issues and often the cause and effect keeps the board on its toes. Issues include, but certainly are not limited to finance concerns, contract negotiations, community involvement and misconception of board decisions, the list is extensive. Additionally getting residents, parents, students, faculty and staff to understand that the decisions we make are ultimately driven by the best interests of the students, and their education, is key to our success.
Party affiliation: Democratic and Republican ticket
Previously held office: School board director
Question 1: After having served as a director for almost eight years, I am well aware of the challenges that Carlynton and many other school districts are facing. I hope to continue to work with my colleagues on the board to help steer the district through these challenges. The budget strain that all districts are facing is largely due to the state pension crisis. But there are several other budget challenges that need to be solved as well, all while keeping student programs strong. I’m running for re-election to help keep Carlynton vibrant both now and in the future.
Question 2: The single biggest issue right now is the district’s finances. The state pension crisis has drained several million dollars from Carlynton’s tax revenues over the last few years. The board and the administration have worked hard to balance the need for strong academic, athletic, and arts programming, while facing increasingly tight finances. The district needs to continue this effort, plus work closely with the state, the Department of Education, and the local community to help develop a long-term funding strategy that works to ensure Carlynton can continue to offer a compelling educational experience for its students.
Party affiliation: Unaffiliated; running on Democratic and Republican tickets
Previously held office: Current Carlynton school board member
Municipality: Rosslyn Farms
Question 1: I believe a strong public education system is essential to a good and civically engaged community. A diverse and effective school board is essential to meeting that obligation and ensuring the education offered reflects the values and character of our community.
My family and I moved here from Oklahoma the summer of 2017. We found the learning environment at Carlynton to be very healthy, with a true appreciation of the value of the arts and music and a remarkable spirit of inclusion. Every child is known and valued. With five children, ages nine and under, we have a vested interest in the future of Carlynton School District.
I attended an Italian public high school outside Rome and later served 10 years in the U.S. Army and intelligence community. Now I work as a project developer with Williams, an energy infrastructure company, where I develop and manage multi-million dollar projects. The knowledge and expertise I’ve gained through those experiences allow me to offer a valuable perspective as we make decisions about our children’s education and future.
Question 2: The Carlynton School District’s current financial position is not sustainable. Growth of expense obligations continue to outpace revenue growth. The 2019-20 district budget has a $700,000 operating deficit. Salaries and benefits make up 72% of the budget and are expected to increase by over a million dollars over the next couple years. Additionally, there are necessary capital projects on the horizon. If this trend continues, the district will have no fund balance within the next three to four years. The district has made good progress in reducing that operating deficit over the last year, and we need to take additional steps over the next two years to eliminate the deficit while maintaining our community’s culture, spirit of inclusion, and the quality and breadth of education we offer our children.
Party affiliation: On Democratic and Republican ticket
Previously held office: School director, Carlynton
Question 1: I began serving as a school director for Carlynton in 2014. I would love the opportunity to continue serving. I have been passionate about continuing the trend of academic improvement, strengthening school-family relationships, bettering quality of school climate, and supporting increased safety and sense of safety. It is important to me to represent all citizens within our boundaries, including those who do not or no longer have students actively in the schools. I foster a philosophy of supporting the development of our students to be healthy and successful citizens of our society.
Question 2: I feel that the balance between fiscal responsibility and quality of education and supports is paramount. I support initiatives and projects for the betterment of our students educationally, behaviorally, socially, and emotionally yet I also know we need to continue becoming more efficient in our financial expenditures for long-term sustainability. We are at the cusp of significant financial challenges with the budget given the limited and difficult state of revenue. Not only will it take significant attention to the district’s spending practices, I believe it will take substantial support of the staff and administration to be creative to work with what we have. I feel this is also a domain in which I highly encourage participation and feedback by those that live within the school district.
Party affiliation: Republican/Democrat cross filing
Previously held office: Requesting second term from Carnegie, Crafton and Rosslyn Farms voters
Municipality: Carnegie Borough
Question 1: God has given all of us unique gifts. I can offer insight, not only as a taxpayer who no longer has children in the Carlynton School District, but also as a parent, who once had three children in Carlynton. I am also a semi-retired small business owner who ran a successful business. Additionally, I am running again because I was actively involved in the Carlynton “Save Our Schools” (SOS) movement. This was a hard-fought and successful grassroots effort to save our two community elementary schools over a decade ago. With my fellow dedicated and fiscally-responsible school board members currently on our school board, this wasteful mistake of building a new consolidated elementary school will never happen! As a school board member, I am very proud of our school district and of our teachers and administration.
Question 2: The biggest issue that … constantly … needs addressed is our budget. Since over 70% of our budget expenditures deal with salaries and benefits, the upcoming teachers union contract will be extremely important in keeping our budget in the black. Also, PSERS, the teachers’ retirement fund has been so mismanaged in Harrisburg that we are now paying 34% (10 years ago: just 6%) of a teacher’s salary every year into the PSERS pension fund. This is of absolutely NO fault of our teachers, but this is a challenging fiscal reality. So for example, a teacher making $100,000 per year, every year $34,000 must be put into the teacher’s retirement fund. Again, every year! The state subsidizes us slightly, but not substantially enough.
Again focusing on the budget, in our school halls, 13 languages are being spoken. That is something that we should all be proud of. “English as a Second Language“ (ESL) teaches our children to make English their first language. Yet the federal government subsidizes these excellent ESL programs in the amount of only $4,000 TOTAL per year in the Carlynton School District.
In 2020, we must negotiate a teachers’ contract that is fair for both our teachers, and our taxpayers.
So, our biggest issue is in keeping our expenditures in line with our income.
Party affiliation: None
Previously held office: None
Question 1: I began thinking about how I can contribute when our superintendent resigned well over a year ago. I decided to run when a year had passed and we hadn’t begun searching for a new one— even though I attend most school board meetings and ask for an update each time. Having also attended the community meetings for the superintendent search this fall, I listened.
I propose fiscal reform: We need to start from zero and build our budget from scratch, aligning every dollar to our strategic plan. We need to maximize the funds available to us and address our pension and benefits crisis – openly, as a community, while protecting all the great people that work for our district and are committed to the success of our kids.
Strategic planning: We need leadership. Specifically, we need an unrelenting vision focused on innovation. Our leadership must deeply know how to integrate technology into our schools under one clear goal: prepare young people for tomorrow.
Community inclusion: Our schools should mirror our values by embracing our creative people, our vibrant arts, our community schools and our incredible diversity. And building our school community increases the value of our whole community and our property.
Question 2: In my opinion, the single biggest issue that we need to address is a fear to embrace change. We need great, innovative leadership supporting our already great school administrators and dedicated teachers. We can’t be afraid to communicate (internally and externally, the good and the bad.) We can’t be afraid to openly discuss the issues holding us back. We need a parent advisory committee to be informed by what parents feel about our schools. We can’t be afraid to talk about our infrastructure and our budget problems. If we can move past that fear and engage people, we’ll build trust. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, we spend double the national average per student per year; we need to prove that we are maximizing the value of our budget and show a return on the public’s investment. Overcoming our fear and demonstrating leadership around these characteristics, we can compel grant-makers and policymakers to help us. I believe that they will invest in us because they will see their dollars in action. By helping us advance our vision they will help make an impact in the lives of our young people and shape an even greater community.