11 Hempfield School Board candidates vie for 5 open seats
Hempfield Area School Board candidates have one thought ahead of Tuesday’s primary — property taxes.
With 11 people vying for five empty seats, candidates are looking to make changes to the board, increase security at schools and improve the budget that has sent property taxes on the rise over the last seven years.
“The school board is always facing a budget problem and seeking more money to fill the gap,” said Roccie Waldron, 33, who cross-filed. “This coupled with a shrinking community could be a recipe for disaster if it is not managed properly.”
Those taxes, said Debra Naeger, 48, who also cross-filed, are burdening seniors living on fixed incomes. She added cyber school costs account for more than 2% of the district’s budget, money that could be used for capital improvements.
Taxes have risen an average of 2.21 mills annually since the 2014-15 school year. School board members seemingly put a stop to the pattern Monday when they approved a preliminary $98.1 million budget for the 2019-20 school year that did not include a tax hike, although it would cut six positions.
“The system is a mess,” said Tony Bompiani, 65, a cross-filed candidate and former school board member. “Way too little help from the state, way too many unfunded mandates from the state, spot assessments, cyber school tuition unfairly paid through our budget with no proof of cost.”
Incumbent David Iwig, 50, refuted what several candidates referred to as spot assessments, saying houses involved in property tax assessments are typically new and expensive homes that are paying taxes up to 70% lower than what other residents have paid.
“So an issue is Westmoreland County has not had a tax reassessment for 47 years,” he said. “That is a long time. There are a number of severely miss-assessed houses in our district. Some of them are over-assessed and some of them are under-assessed.”
Incumbent Paul Adams, 49, said assessments impacted two homes last year.
Adams agreed that increasing property taxes are an issue, specifically for people on fixed incomes, adding that “property taxes are a burden.”
But several candidates agreed on increasing school safety, not only through improving schools but through counselors.
“Research shows that having increased number of school psychologists and counselors also works to proactively reduce threats and enhance the learning environment, so there is still work to be done,” Iwig said. “We need to reverse the trend of reducing these professionals in our schools.”
Incumbent Jeanne Smith, 70, agreed, adding that both academic and emotional needs of students need to be met and that learning environments should be safe and secure.
Republican candidate Paul Berginc, 71, said his biggest goal if elected is to review school security procedures.
For many, that boils down to a new high school — with cross-filed candidate Vince DeAugustine, 40, Smith and Adams acknowledging a deteriorating school.
Others want to focus mainly on students, improving sports and academics.
“I’m committed to expand the focus on vocational training and emphasize that every student should graduate with marketable skills that can be the foundation of a career and a means for college-bound students to avoid amassing college debt,” said cross-filed candidate Jennifer Bretz, 46.
Richard Smith, 45, said he wants to improve programs that help students with reading so they are not only passing, but excelling.
“I’m running to remove politics from sports and the athletic department, be a voice for students, teachers and taxpayers, update aging buildings and classrooms, spend valuable resources on students, end targeted assessment of property owners, keep taxes low and improve school security,” said cross-filed candidate Mike Alfery, 49.
DeAugustine added, “My platform is not about winning an election. My platform is about helping Hempfield become the best place to live, the best place to work, and the best overall district.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .