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Area school boards facing change

| Monday, Dec. 1, 2003

The new majority on the Montour School Board has several issues to tackle, including a charter school application and building plans.

Charlie Snowden has another one. It involves the idea of a "majority" and "minority."

"Even using the terms suggests there is a camp that is formed," said Snowden, who has been lobbying to become the new board president. "I'm a person who believes in consensus building."

The board is to reorganize Wednesday. Then, members who had once been in the minority will be part of a 7-2 majority.

School boards across the south and west suburbs this week will be swearing in new and re-elected members and selecting new officers. In some districts, such as Montour, Peters and Baldwin-Whitehall, that could mean a new balance of power.

In Montour, Snowden and incumbents Leslie Power and Jan Esterly are expected to be in the new majority with newcomers Deborah Carr, Dan Sanko, Larry Tomei and Patricia Lee. Joyce Snell and Patty Kaufman, once in the majority, would be the new minority.

The board is to hold a public hearing in December on Propel Schools' application to open a charter school in Robinson.

Members also must decide on a $52.6 million building plan to construct two new schools.

There's also the issue of where the board should meet. Snowden said the board will talk Wednesday about moving its meetings out of the high school auditorium.

"I personally don't care for the auditorium. It's so impersonal and it seems like the board is so far removed from the population," Carr said.

In Peters, three new board members could provide a power boost for incumbents Mark Buzzatto and Bill Furedy, who had been in the minority.

The pair backed candidates Sandy Teodori, Allison McClure and Jeff Yingling.

The election of those three -- McClure and Yingling, along with Buzzatto, were elected through write-in campaigns -- should tell other board members "that the community doesn't like the direction they have taken us," Furedy said.

Incumbent Denise Abraham disagrees.

"I think there are some things the voters have not liked, some of the negativity and some of the issues," she said. "But as board members, sometimes you have to deal with things that no one likes to deal with."

Furedy and Buzzatto favored hiring a school resource police officer to work with high school students on drug prevention and other programs. The rest of the board voted against the hiring.

The pair also have consistently backed former high school Principal Tom Hajzus, who has been fighting his reassignment to a central administrative job since the move was made last year.

McClure and Yingling aren't expected to attend tonight's reorganization. Both will be out of town, and will be sworn in later.

Baldwin-Whitehall reorganizes Wednesday with three newly elected members Rich Caponi, Kevin Fischer and Dana M. Etzel-Hardman joining a board marked by division.

"I hope that the new board is more unified, which I think it will be," said member John Schmotzer.

Still, differences already are emerging.

The board last month voted 5-4 to hire the Pennsylvania School Boards Association to search for a successor to Superintendent Charles Faust, who will retire in June.

Board member Paul Homer -- who intends to run for board president -- said hiring the PSBA makes economic sense: The association has the experience and it's a less expensive option. The PSBA will cost about $7,000 while other agencies could range from $15,000 to $30,000, he said.

But newcomer Etzel-Hardman -- who will take the seat vacated by her mother, board President Joan Etzel -- believes the board failed to examine other options.

"I have no problems with the PSBA," she said. "I have a problem with not knowing what the other two companies have to offer."

The board also will be tackling plans for a renovation of Baldwin High School. Initial plans estimate this to be a $45 million project.

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