Six candidates vie for five board seats
The race for North Hills School Board director pits four incumbents against two newcomers for five seats.
Al Barkley, Arlene Bender, Sylvia Lynn and Ed Wielgus all hope to stay on the board, while Mark Kasperowicz and Jeff Meyer are looking to unseat one of them.
All school board members are elected at large. Bender and Wielgus are running for both a two-year seat and a four-year seat. The other candidates are running only for four-year seats. One of the five seats up for election has a two-year term because it is designed to fill out the seat left vacant when Ted Zobb Jr. resigned. Wielgus was appointed to that position until the election.
If a candidate wins both a two-year seat and a four-year seat, the candidate chooses which to take.
North Hills School District officials have kept taxes flat this year after acknowledging how tight the budget was and how difficult it was to do so. It might not be possible to keep taxes flat again next year.
Q: Where do you see opportunities for the district to save money or generate money that is not there?
Barkley: "I believe we can pass the budget again without a tax increase. We need to get the state and federal governments to follow through with funding for things that they mandate."
Bender: "I think that people have to be aware that 95 percent of our budget is fixed: salaries, benefits, utilities, transportation and debt service. The other 5 percent -- books supplies, travel, meals, etc., is where we look at most of the time to cut. There are a number of things that can be done if we look at our fixed salaries: early retirement packages."
Kasperowicz: "The state legislature has not yet come up with a plan for school funding. Until we know what our district's funding will be, we don't know which direction we have to go for the budget. Therefore, it's difficult to identify ways to generate or save money. Any decision-making should support quality education in a fiscally responsible manner."
Lynn: "Our hands are tied until we find out what the funding from the state looks like."
Meyer: "In terms of saving money, we need to take a look at the district's administrative costs that historically have ranked above not only the state average, but also above our peer group. In terms of sources of additional cash flow, we need to collect the delinquent real estate taxes that are due the district."
Wielgus: "I still think there's still the ability of saving money through the use of technology. The more we make use of those resources, I believe there are savings to be had there. As far as generating funds, it's more of a savings at this point. We started the alternative school, where we're not paying tuition for students. That in itself will be a substantial savings over a period of time."
Q: The district has initiated an aggressive program to recoup delinquent taxes. While money has been recovered, do you favor the public shaming tactic as a means to collect from delinquent tax payers•
Barkley: "I think that we do have to be forward and open with money that's owed the district. When somebody doesn't pay their taxes, somebody else has to. I think we need to continue on that same track."
Bender: "It is extremely necessary for us to go after back taxes, and we have and we are getting money in. The problem that I see when we print the names is their circumstance -- if you have a 95-year-old woman that owes you X-thousands in back taxes, are they going to be capable in paying back half of it now?"
Kasperowicz: "I don't think anyone favors public shaming per se. The information is a matter of public record, and taxpayers have a right to know. Our senior citizens and children rely upon tax dollars, current and delinquent, and it is our district's duty to be fervent."
Lynn: "Favor is a tough word. We need to ask everyone to pay their share, and I wish there was a way to do that without the publicity, but to date we have not figured out what that would be. If anyone one has any ideas, we would welcome them."
Meyer: "Absolutely. In fact, earlier this year, I pointed out to the school board the large delinquent balance the district was carrying (about $4.8 million) and requested the district maintain and post on its Web site a list of those owing back taxes. The list should include the property owner's name, the address of the property and the amount owed. It is not fair to the other taxpayers of this school district to carry such a large delinquent balance."
Wielgus: "Shaming is a pretty strong word. What I believe is that all taxpayers should be treated equally. If you don't pay your taxes, there are repercussions. I believe that there are instances where there are hardships. We have been willing to work with those people. We use sheriff's sale as a last resort because the taxpayer has totally ignored their responsibility to pay taxes and we've exhausted all other avenues to get those people to pay their taxes."