Here’s where Franklin Regional school board candidates stand on the issues | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Here’s where Franklin Regional school board candidates stand on the issues

Patrick Varine
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Top row, from the left: Bill Yant Jr., Debra Wohlin, Michelle Milan McFall, Scott Weinman, Ed Mittereder, Susan Stewart-Bayne and Herb Yingling III. On the bottom row, from the left: Denise Podowski, Dennis Pavlik, John Koury, Gary English, Richard Arnold and Tabitha Riggio.
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Gary English
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Denise Podowski
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Herb Yingling III
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Debra Wohlin
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Susan Stewart-Bayne
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William Yant Jr.
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Michelle Milan McFall
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Tabitha Riggio
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Edward Mittereder
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John Koury
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Dennis Pavlik
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Richard Arnold
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Scott Weinman

As the primary election nears, 13 candidates are jockeying for general-election ballot spots in the Franklin Regional school board race. Below are Q&A responses and biographical information for each candidate.

RICHARD ARNOLD

• Age: 74

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Slippery Rock University; master’s degree from West Virginia University; doctorate from Kent State University.

Party: Democrat

Are you cross-filed: No

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: As a former senior public school administrator, I can unequivocally state that a more thorough vetting of the Sloan school program needs to be undertaken before making a decision of this magnitude.

We have seen how the current board of education has handled this question and how divided it has left the residents of this district. There is a very basic tenet that was violated during that decision-making process.

The school board cannot operate in a vacuum. The policies, practices and decisions of the district must be transparent. The residents of the district need to be informed. Our leaders must be strong visionaries that are steeped in areas such as finance, curriculum, community relations and student development.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: As a school board member my focus would be on sound fiscal management while creating an environment where every child has the opportunity to succeed. An environment where every resident has the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.

The Franklin Regional School District needs a rich curriculum, diverse electives, advanced placement, career-technical, and vocational courses. Fiscal responsibility is paramount to ensure each dollar is wisely spent benefiting students first.

I am a dedicated, compassionate, detail-oriented leader. Together, we can tackle the quality-of-education, equity, and fiscal challenges, while representing diverse interests. I would be honored by your vote.

GARY ENGLISH

• Age: 63

Employment: Retired

Education: Business degree in accounting-computer programming

Party: Republican

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: No. “The need” has not been substantiated with DOE statistics indicating an 8% decline in student enrollment, substantiated by the latest Census report illustrating Westmoreland County’s population decrease is the largest in Pennsylvania.

”The support” is lacking with two petitions circulated with a 20-to-1 ratio opposing the project (120 support project, 2,200 oppose project)

”The cost” of the bids were over-budget, rejected and re-advertised. The projected costs are more than two times the current budget. This short-sighted plan jeopardizes the fiscal health of the district, leading to substantial tax increases and leaves no funding available for the middle or high schools.

The amount of interest in this year’s primary is tantamount to a ballot on the Sloan School project.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: Providing a quality education for the children’s education is the main focus of a school director. It is also a balance in what the district can afford. I will work to prevent a similar decision made by Penn Hills that resulted in excessive taxation, declining property values which is affecting the quality of education with teacher layoffs and cuts in student programs. Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

JOHN KOURY

• Age: 73

Employment: Design, construction and world-wide operation of the country’s nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier naval fleet.

Education: Mathematics degree from Duquesne University; MBA from the University of Pittsburgh

Party: Republican

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: Candidates focused solely or mainly on the cost of the Sloan project are employing incorrect or misleading information to support their opposition to the Sloan project. The opponents of the Sloan project support an option of spending $32 million (with its corresponding tax increases) over the next 10 years that would only partially upgrade the aging infrastructure of FR’s 50-to-90-year-old elementary school buildings, but with no improvements to the educational facilities or capabilities. Their option does not pass “the common-sense test”.

Conversely, the Sloan project will provide FR elementary school children with educational spaces uniquely designed for learning support, life skills, autistic support, state-of-the-art project design activities across the curriculum, occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc. These educational facility capabilities do not exist or are very limited in the current FR elementary school buildings.

I therefore support the Sloan project because it is the most prudent and cost-effective use of taxpayer funds.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: School safety and security, financial/budgeting issues, achieving continued measurable educational improvements, rehabilitating aging school building infrastructure, and supporting student job preparedness via college in high school, internship programs, and vocational training.

MICHELLE MILAN McFALL

Age: 50

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in English and communications; master’s degree in education.

Party: Democrat

Are you cross-filed: No

A resident of Murrysville since 1995, Michelle Milan McFall lives with her husband of 20 years, her daughter, a sophomore at Franklin Regional Senior High School, and her two yellow labs.

An alum of the University of Pittsburgh, Michelle holds a master’s degree in education, a bachelor’s in English literature as well as a bachelor’s in communications. A recipient of a Phi Delta Theta Outstanding Educator award, a teacher for more than 15 years, and a volunteer and organizer in her community for more than a decade, Michelle understands that, in many ways, a community is a reflection of the schools and quality of education within its borders.

Michelle’s experience is uniquely informed not only by her years as a high school English teacher in the Mt. Lebanon School District, but also by her time at Sloan Elementary as PTO leader and member. She knows and loves this district and firmly asserts that allowing a single issue to steer the entire discussion of this year’s election diminishes the enormously important and complicated role of the school board.

Qualified, experienced and committed to making sound fiscal decisions, Michelle is running for FRSB to ensure and build upon FR’s tradition of academic excellence and to address all of the important issues and challenges that come with the position.

Note: Milan McFall provided a statement to the Trib, as opposed to addressing both questions.

EDWARD MITTEREDER

Age: 64

Employment: Senior sales representative with Home Depot

Education: Community College of Allegheny County; University of Pittsburgh (business administration)

Party: Republican

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: I have not seen evidence we need to build another grade school with over 300 empty seats between the three current grade schools and declining student population over the past 10 years. No major signs of population growth.

If in time we have a student population growth and need more room it should be in a location that is not in a remote area on a two-lane road.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: Excessive spending of funds on a project that is extremely unpopular with the community at large and not taking into consideration the transportation time young children will be subjected to that live in the eastern part of the community. The solution is fixing existing buildings and doing maintenance that has been neglected. This is a much more financially responsible action for the community and also keeps the children in familiar learning environments.

DENNIS PAVLIK

Age: 67

Employment: Part time consulting engineer

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Penn State; master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh

Party: Republican

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: A comprehensive facility study showed that the least expensive approach is the proposed “Sloan site plan.” Maintaining the status quo by repairing and maintaining may seem cheaper, but required education, safety and security enhancements make the present campus untenable. When playing outside our children are mere feet away from traffic. New security features would require major structural changes. Although safe for occupancy, expensive methods must be used when renovating buildings with asbestos and mold issues. Students would have to be housed in temporary trailers that would occupy recreational and parking areas. Despite comments to the contrary, renovating is more expensive than building new. The recent Sloan bids showed the greatest variance from estimates were for the renovation, not the new building.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: Franklin Regional will continue to see significant financial stress owing to the increases in pension costs (going from $2 million in 2012 to $10 million this year), cost of security upgrades; and the need to rehabilitate infrastructure.

The biggest challenge will be maintaining a board that is driven by data, not divisive campaign rhetoric. Since the project was introduced, two new board members were elected that were initially against the project. A third was appointed. All have reviewed the data and then voted in favor of the Sloan project.

DENISE PODOWSKI

Age: 69

Employment: Worked for two sales/marketing companies in the CPG Industry, worked for a commercial real estate developer in the property management division; retired in 2014.

Education: Two years of community college

Party: Republican

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project? If so, why/if not, why not?

A: I, along with my like-minded fellow candidates, are against the Sloan School project and here is why:

1) The need for this project has not been proven. Issues with preventative maintenance (or lack of) can be addressed.

2) Enrollment figures for FR show a decline of 8%; This trend follows the latest Census report of Westmoreland County’s population decrease of almost 15,000, which is the largest decrease in Pennsylvania.

3) FR’s debt, if this project comes to fruition, will be 2.9 times its annual budget.

4) I believe we can come up with a plan for enhanced and re-designed schools with the buildings we already have and keep the burden on Murrysville residents as minimal as possible. Any reasonable person would be accepting of this idea.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: I believe the issue of bullying and vaping/drug abuse needs to be strongly addressed. I attended the FR vaping and drug abuse program at the FR auditorium and it was very enlightening. Bullying is a widespread issue that affects many schools. These issues most certainly affect the learning ability of our students. Parents, the school board, and educators need more guidance and knowledge on these issues. Perhaps we can have professionals in the field of substance abuse give us ideas on how to proceed with this issue.

TABITHA RIGGIO

Age: 51

Employment: Previously at Bayer Material Science (applications development chemist, technical marketing representative, distribution and sales support coordinator) for a total 17 years, all in the area of automotive coatings. Currently work in accounts receivable at The Bucar Group.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a German minor; MBA with an international business concentration, both from Duquesne University.

Party: Republican

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: I support safe, modern school facilities and fiscally responsible improvements that provide the best outcome for students and attract and keep families in the Franklin Regional communities. My term as school board member would start November 2019, the year the Sloan project is slated to begin. My children attended Sloan, and I recognize that our buildings need improving. Out of respect for my predecessors, I will remain open minded to their decisions while reading and researching, conducting a fair review, and providing oversight moving forward.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: Name one thing without which we would not have a school district, and that is our students. Their safety and academic success will always be the most pressing issue.

With regard to safety, we have to maintain safe buildings and facilities and to create an inclusive environment that promotes positive mental health. The feasibility study conducted in 2016 is the means by which we can evaluate our current buildings and facilities and move forward with fiscally responsible maintenance and/or improvements.

With regard to mental health, we need to promote a greater awareness and acceptance among all constituents (students, parents, teachers, community members) through programming and participating in various initiatives.

Regarding academic success, test scores are important. Not only do good scores attract new families to our district, but AP exams are extremely important for students entering college. From my perspective as a parent with one daughter in college and another one graduating from high school this year, our educators are excellent.

We need to continue to support our teachers with training and resources. College and career readiness begins in kindergarten, and I am excited about the K-12 school counseling plan and the goal to prepare students to be successful after high school.

We need to continue to support and improve availability of vo-tech opportunities by celebrating existing successes.

Lastly, we need to facilitate increased mentorship opportunities for students and offer an engaging and challenging K-12 curriculum.

SUSAN STEWART-BAYNE

Age: 45

Employment: Owner and director of a mental health agency

Education: Master’s of education in counseling

Party: Democrat

Are you cross-filed: No, I felt it was best to stay true to my Democratic values.

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project? If so, why/if not, why not?

A: I am unable to answer yes or no at this point. This is not a decision that I’d feel comfortable committing to until I became a (school board member), had the opportunity to look at all the options and get the feedback from the community to make the best decision. I do know I cannot run as previous members have by making promises I can’t keep (i.e. no new taxes). It is crucial that we re-examine this issue with a school board who can bring new ideas to the table and allow the community to feel heard on this issue.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: My personal reason for running is to bring my background in mental health and disabilities to the table to help the district navigate these important areas with greater respect and understanding. I also feel that while FR is one of the best schools in regards to “test” scores and rankings, we can improve in areas that can’t necessarily be tested.

SCOTT WEINMAN

Age: 43

Employment: Senior IT security analyst at the University of Pittsburgh

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh; master’s degree in business administration from Duquesne University (MBA); master’s degree in information systems management from Duquesne University; Certified Public Accountant (CPA); Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA); Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Party: Republican

• Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: Given the lack of long-term planning to address all the district’s facilities, the fact that the elementary campus will consume approximately 50% of the district’s $122 million borrowing capacity, and the limited fund balance set aside to address the skyrocketing, required pension contributions, I am against the Sloan project. The district itself has stated they can’t provide financial projections because “given the number of variables impacting school finances and the fact that neither the board of school directors, nor the finance committee, have determined the scope, size, and timing of any comprehensive renovations to the secondary facilities, projecting finances over a 10- or 15-year period would be unreliable.” I believe, without these long-term plans, everyone in the community should be concerned.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: The most pressing issue is the lack of long-term planning. Districts all around Franklin Regional are experiencing financial difficulties typically due to new construction and/or increasing pension costs. With two young children in the district, I do not want to see FR go down the same path as others and cut programs or teachers. I would work with the administration to develop long-term plans and financial projections which align costs with educational standards and requirements.

DEBRA WOHLIN

Age: 53

Employment: Educational consultant

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in finance and business management; master’s degree in health services administration

Party: Independent

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project? If so, why/if not, why not?

A: My highest priority is the health, safety, and welfare of the students. I support providing students with safe places to learn and maximizing equitable learning opportunities for all students. I believe our community can and should improve opportunities for our students and that all students should have access to the same opportunities. I was appointed to the board after the initial vote on the Sloan project. In my one opportunity, I voted against the project because of cost. I am hopeful that, with additional review and investigation, we will be able to identify the most cost-effective way to invest in our schools while providing for the health, safety, and welfare of our students.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: In order to continue on the path of improvement, the curriculum is the most pressing issue. As a member of the curriculum committee, I have been impressed by the systematic approach that has been developed by the current administration and school board to review the curriculum. In addition to the review of the curriculum, procedures have been put in place to ensure teacher ownership and implementation. I am currently working with the other members of the curriculum committee, the administration, and teachers to adopt a curriculum that meets the needs of all students to best position them for future success.

Note: Wohlin is the sole candidate on the ballot for a two-year term on the board. The remaining candidates are competing for five four-year terms on the board.

BILL YANT

Age: 82

Employment: Self-employed business owner

Education: High school diploma, three years of college (civil engineering)

Party: Republican

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: I am not in support of this project for the following reasons: 1) The total construction cost including debt service could be as much as $110 million. Using a 25-year payback (through 2050), this will be just under $4.5 million per year. The average year-to-year budget over the last 12 years is 3.4%, which will be $2 million in 2019-20 and projected out using that average, will approach $6 million by 2050.

The administration has refused to provide a credible projection of future projects and expenses, saying only that main campus renovations of the middle and high schools are on the horizon, and adding a fitness/wellness center is envisioned, but that they do not know the timing and therefore cannot predict the costs, while admitting they will be substantial.

I am very concerned that with the continuing reduction of state and federal funds, more and more of this burden will fall on local taxpayers and worse, the state budget limiting index constraints will force the cutting of teachers and programs. This would be a disaster for both the students and those required to fund the school system.

The FR (demographic) study predicts a substantial increase in students, but every other study by the state and others predicts the opposite. The state population is decreasing and the district’s pupil numbers have decreased by around 8% per year over the last 10 years, so I question the need for more desks.

I believe that local magnet-type elementary schools provide a less stressful and better learning atmosphere for the youngest students, along with more learning time and less bus travel time, as opposed to consolidating all our beginning students in a single large and confusing facility. I also have a concern that concentrating so many students in one facility makes it a more inviting target in today’s unstable world.

I also am concerned that given the location and access-road limitations, emergency personnel may be delayed when responding to incidents at the school and in northwestern Murrysville.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: First, the ever-increasing PSERS costs are not sustainable going forward as we will have to devote more and more of our educational dollars to funding this pension program.

Secondly, decreases in educational funding from the federal government and the state will ultimately force school districts into a combination of cutting teachers and programs, along with stiff local tax increases that will reduce student learning opportunities and unduly burden all but the most wealthy citizen taxpayers.

The only possible solution to resolving these issues is the same: banding together with many, if not all of the other school districts to form a group large enough to be recognized as a force for change at the state and even federal level. This will be a very difficult task, but one that must undertake, because we cannot survive otherwise.

HERB YINGLING

Age: 70

Education: University of Pittsburgh graduate

Party: Democrat

Are you cross-filed: Yes

Q: The Sloan school project has garnered strong opinions on all sides. Do you support the Sloan project?

A: When the board started discussing the new school, I was on the fence until a tour of our buildings revealed their condition. This also resulted in the authorization of a feasibility study by an independent structural architectural engineering team. Some have blamed the board for letting the schools get into that condition and that is not true. During my time on the board, we have never turned down a maintenance project that was needed, but if we were not informed of problems, then there isn’t much we can do.

Q: What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the Franklin Regional School District, and what would you do to address it?

A: If the residents of Murrysville elect me to the board, please be assured that I will act in the best interest of the students and taxpayers of the district, as I always have.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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