A field of 9 vying for 6 seats on New Kensington-Arnold School Board
A change in the makeup of the New Kensington-Arnold School Board is inevitable next year, as three incumbents are not seeking another term.
There’s also a movement afoot where five newcomers are running together on a Change4NKASD ticket that’s promising an overhaul in the way the school board operates. Change4NKASD candidates are opposing incumbents in Regions I and III and they are also running in Region II, where no current board member is seeking another term.
All but one of the candidates are cross-filed, meaning they will appear on the Democratic and Republican ballots on Tuesday.
The top vote-getters in each party’s primary will move on to November’s general election. Barring any write-in campaigns, some of the members on the nine-member board will be different.
The issues facing the district remain, however, and teachers continue to work under terms of a contract that expired Aug. 31, 2017.
The way those negotiations have been handled, a perceived lack of transparency and competing personal agendas are some of the reasons the challengers have come forward to run, they said.
“It should never be about the personalities on the school board. It should be about the kids,” John D. Cope said.
Cope, 69, of New Kensington, is seeking a seat in Region III. He’s a 47-year teacher who works at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh. He is the father of New Kensington-Arnold Education Association spokesman Phil Cope.
John Cope said the top priority of school board members should be the children. A spirit of collaboration and communication is also needed, “honest, truthful communication,” Cope said.
“There’s nothing wrong with dignity and respect for other people,” he said. “You’ve got to listen to everybody.”
He wouldn’t offer specific instances where present board members have come up short of that. He hasn’t attended many school board meetings but said the talk around town isn’t favorable about the way the board operates.
“I think we can do better than what’s been done,” he said.
Cope wants to change that and said those changes won’t happen overnight, but said “little changes can happen.”
“Little changes add up to bigger changes,” he said.
He’s opposing incumbent Kristin O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, 54, of New Kensington is an office manager who has served five years on the board.
A mother of seven, all of whom have attended district schools, O’Sullivan said she looks out for the kids along with taxpayers.
“I want the children in the community to have all of the opportunities they are entitled to,” O’Sullivan said.
She strives to balance that with what the taxpayers can afford, she said.
“I’m very positive type of person. I don’t like negativity. I like to focus of the positive in the school district,” she said.
“We have good kids and good teachers. We need to focus on bettering our school district and having our community thrive,” O’Sullivan said. “I think the current board has done an excellent job.”
That’s the sole race in Region III, which includes the area around the junior-senior high school and the eastern neighborhoods of New Kensington.
In Region I, which includes areas of Arnold and New Kensington’s northern precincts, incumbents Kathleen Clarke and Eric D. Doutt are being opposed by Change4NKASD candidates Deborah Schreckengost and Terry Schrock.
Clarke, 56, of New Kensington, is a retired federal officer completing her first term on the board.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done as a board,” Clarke said. “I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
Among her accomplishments as a school director is creating a special education director’s position. Clarke also leads the board’s education committee.
“We are presently looking at alternative ways to raise our test scores,” Clarke said. The district is looking at different ways of scheduling high school students and expanding an elementary reading intervention program.
As a school director, Clarke said she seeks input from students, teachers and parents. She disputes any talk the board isn’t transparent.
“I think we’ve been open. I don’t know what they mean by transparency. None of them attend board meetings,” Clarke said. “I really feel I’ve been a strong voice for taxpayers.”
The board has tried to negotiate a new contract with the teachers union, but it has to be something that’s affordable, Clarke said.
Doutt, 50, of Arnold, is the city’s police chief. He’s seeking a fourth term as a school director.
“I want to continue the job we started,” Doutt said. “I’m looking out for our taxpayers.”
As a public employee, he understands the plight of the district’s teachers but said the district’s tax base can’t afford big raises.
“The money isn’t there,” Doutt said.
The board has done its best to make cuts where it can without hurting education, he said.
He also disputed the challengers’ criticisms about lack of transparency, noting the opponents have attended few board meetings.
“They’ve never been there, and they want to run for school board,” he said.
It isn’t a fun job, he said.
“Nobody comes to meetings. It’s a hard job. I don’t know if they know what they’re getting into,” he said. “We really try to keep costs down.”
Shrock, 53, of New Kensington, is an attorney who works in Pittsburgh.
The son of a coal miner from Somerset, Shrock said education always has been impressed upon him and the “way out” of a hard life.
He hasn’t attended many school board meetings but said he’s heard there’s a lack of civility and transparency among board members.
“Until you get in there, some of it is just scuttlebutt,” Shrock said.
If elected, he would make raising test scores, improving safety measures and increasing transparency priorities, he said.
Schreckengost couldn’t be reached for comment.
In Region II, which includes the core neighborhoods in New Kensington, incumbents Ellyse Williams, Robert Fusia and Wayne Perry are leaving the board.
Two of the seats are for four-year terms, and another seat is for a two-year term.
They are being sought by Change4NKSD candidates Steven S. Sorch and John DeAntonio and Democratic candidate Tim Beckes, who is mounting his own campaign.
Beckes couldn’t be reached for comment. He’s running against Sorch for the four-year term and opposing DeAntonio for the two-year seat.
Sorch and DeAntonio are both cross-filed, so barring a write-in upset, they will be on at least the Republican ballot in the fall.
Sorch, 55, is a New Kensington public works department employee.
He’d like to improve the test scores in the district and would like to see the teachers’ contract settled.
“Why it keeps dragging on just bothers me,” Sorch said. “Everybody has to give and take.”
“It’s up to the people that vote if they want change,” he said.
DeAntonio, 70, of New Kensington, is a retired Plum teacher.
“I thought this was a perfect time for me to get involved,” DeAntonio said. “There has to be change. I don’t know how transparent this group is. It seems like things happen that are not ethically appropriate.”
He could not provide specific examples, but said he’d like to be a part of the process so he knew what was going on.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .