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Possibility of Carlynton school closures helped shape race

| Thursday, April 28, 2011

This year's race for five open seats on the Carlynton school board likely began in November 2009.

That's when school board members approved the creation of a feasibility study by L. Robert Kimball & Associates that almost two years later has led to the possible shutdown of the district's two elementary schools and the proposed construction of a school in Carnegie.

Board member Jim Schriver said he initially "applauded" the study before changing his mind.

"It was not an open process, objectively looking at the options and objectively looking at the needs. It was a vehicle to advance an agenda of a few people. It took a few months to realize that was what's going on."

Schriver is running in a bloc in the May 17 primary with current board members Betsy Tassaro, Ray Walkowiak, Sharon Wilson and former board member David Roussos.

Newcomer Ray Broglie and incumbents Ronald McCartney and President Tom Brown are seeking seats. All are cross-filed on the Democrat and Republican tickets.

The school board voted 5-4 on Feb. 17 to shut down the two elementary schools in Carnegie and Crafton before placing a moratorium on the building project earlier this month, citing education cuts in Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget.

Brown said he believes the district financially can support a new school.

"I believe the project should go forward, and I believe this district will be able to afford the project," he said.

Broglie and McCartney, who has served almost 16 years on the school board, are in favor of constructing a new school.

McCartney said district money would be better spent constructing a new building for $27 million than renovating the district's current elementary schools for $37 million.

"I'm trying to help continue what we've been doing, which is to get the best education possible for our students and get the most from every tax dollar we spend. ... I think the school board has done a fabulous job the past eight years. They get a poor rap for wanting to build a new school. I believe a new school would be great and it would be great for it to be in Crafton, but people against it kind of swayed the school board to go the other way.

"If that doesn't happen because of government cuts, it doesn't happen, but I still don't see pouring money into old schools."

Walkowiak said pursuing the elementary building project would put a 20-year "stranglehold" on financing improvements to the high school.

He would like to see the school district develop a plan to address education and facility needs outlined in the feasibility and cost modeling studies.

"I don't see a need to focus on a building alone because what goes on within the walls of the building; the programs and the people are what really set the standards for education."

Tassaro said he supports community schools.

"I saw no real benefit of a consolidation and the thought of having of a K-6 elementary school with 800 kids," Tassaro said.

"I felt all along finances were going to be an issue and it just seems like with the governor's budget now, some of those folks who were for building and consolidation are finally getting it."

Wilson said the proposed building project is not in the best interest of the district.

"One of my concerns is that to fund such a thing, you're not going to be able to maintain the same educational programs, the same staff. I really think people are more important. That's only become more true."

She's concerned with addressing needs at the high school and maintaining arts, music and other educational-support programs.

"Those things, when you don't have money, get a lot harder to do."

Candidate profiles

• Raymond Broglie

Age : 55

Residence : Crafton

Political experience: Former member of Crafton council

Employment : Manager at a Pennsylvania state store

Reasons for seeking office: "I've always been involved in the community. Carlynton's a good school and I'd like to give back. Kids and senior citizens are my top priorities, and always have been.

"I think the school board has done a fabulous job the past eight years. They get a poor rap for wanting to build a new school. I believe a new school would be great and it would be great for it to be in Crafton, but people against it kind of swayed the school board to go the other way."

• Thomas Brown

Age : not provided

Residence : Carnegie

Political experience: President of Carlynton school board, 10 years as a school director

Employment : Self-employed attorney

Reasons for seeking office: Brown said he is committed to continuing to devote the time and study to his duties and responsibilities as a school board member so as to render effective and credible service to the residents of the school district. "The school board must continue to provide equitable educational opportunities for all youth as the future welfare of our communities depends upon the quality of education we provide in our schools. In these challenging economic times, we must think outside the box and remain flexible in our approach to achieving that goal."

• Ronald McCartney

Age : 59

Residence : Carnegie

Political experience: 16 years on the school board

Employment : Ramp services with World Wide Flight Services at Pittsburgh International Airport

Reasons for seeking office: "I'm trying to help continue what we've been doing, which is to get the best education possible for our students and get the most from every tax dollar we spend. So far, that's been working out quite well. There are some people now, because of the governor's budget and cuts that are happening to school districts, who want to put a hold on it. But I don't see that as a good move for the district." McCartney said taxpayer dollars would be better spent constructing a new building for $27 million than renovating the district's current elementary schools for $37 million. "I don't see that as a possibility at all. Why put that kind of money into an old building when you could have a brand-new facility with enough room for all the students?"

• David Roussos

Age : 54

Residence : Crafton

Political experience: Former school board member for eight years

Employment : Tax attorney

Reasons for seeking office: "The catalyst was the issue of closing our local schools that have been extremely successful. The decision by this current board to close these two schools and spend tens of millions of dollars to build a new building; I didn't understand why they would want to close these schools. I didn't understand why they would want to spend that kind of money in this current environment. I'm all for investing in our kids, but I think just spending money is not the way to do it. It's an investment and you want to see a return. I just don't see the return in closing these schools. It was very rewarding the first eight years. I just want to try to do what I think is best for this district now and put my message out there for everyone."

• Jim Schriver

Age : 42

Residence : Crafton

Political experience: None

Employment : Director of new technologies with a local electronics company

Reasons for seeking office: Schriver, who is in favor of maintaining the district's neighborhood schools, said he's taking his message to the people in an effort to enact change. "We felt compelled to offer ourselves up and put our money where our mouth is to try to fix some things we think are going wrong. The building project has been the most visible piece of the past 18 months for many of us, so the building project is front and center. It has gone from being an almost one-issue campaign to being a multiple-issue campaign with perhaps the building project being the most visible. There's definitely going to need to be some money spent. The good news is we have some money in the bank. We can responsibly spend some money to keep the buildings up-to-date and in good condition to help provide a solid education for our kids."

• Betsy Tassaro

Age : 57

Residence : Carnegie

Political experience: 16 years on the school board

Employment : Previously worked at Westinghouse as a facilities planner and in sales

Reasons for seeking office: "One of the most important issues I've faced my whole time on the board is the school consolidation. It's still unsettled. I felt I could not leave the board at this time with this issue pending and unsettled. I'm in support of the community schools. I saw no real benefit of a consolidation and the thought of having a K-6 elementary school with 800 kids. I felt all along finances were going to be an issue and it just seems like with the governor's budget now, some of those folks who were for building and consolidation are finally 'getting it.' "

• Ray Walkowiak

Age : 55

Residence : Carnegie

Political experience: Four years on the school board

Employment : Engineering manager for a copper producing company

Reasons for seeking office: "The main reason is concerning the welfare of the school district, which is related to the building issue. At a time when funding has been reduced and we need to make sure we maintain a focus on education and use the resources we have to focus on children's needs. I don't see a need to focus on a building alone because what goes on within the walls of the building, the programs and the people, are what really set the standards for education. The reason I'm doing this is not for me. It's for the betterment of the school district."

• Sharon Wilson

Age : 64

Residence : Crafton

Political experience: 12 years on Carlynton school board

Employment : Licensed psychologist with a private practice

Reasons for seeking office: Wilson was contemplating not running for a fourth term on Carlynton's school board, but decided against walking away. "Things were happening that were unfinished. For example, the building project. I felt to walk away when we were in the middle of this was not appropriate. Because I don't believe it's in the best interest of Carlynton School District." Wilson said she is against consolidating Carnegie and Crafton elementary schools. "One of my concerns is that to fund such a thing, you're not going to be able to maintain the same educational programs, the same staff. I really think people are more important. That's only become more true. I don't know what's going to happen but I'm not in favor of the building project."

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