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Field crowded in Deer Lakes board contest

| Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009

Four seats on the school board will be filled Nov. 3, and voters have no shortage of candidates to fill them.

Seven people are vying for the four-year terms. James McCaskey of Frazer was the only candidate to win both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the primary. The Democratic candidates are Joanne Polarinakis of East Deer, Clara Salvi of West Deer and Jodi Banyas-Galecki of Frazer, and the Republican candidates are Lisa Merlo, Michael Coletta and Angela Pogel, all of West Deer.

All have children in the district, except Salvi and Polarinakis.

Merlo, who was appointed to an unexpired term in February, Polarinakis and Banyas-Galecki are incumbents. The four others are making their first run for elected office.

The candidates were asked which expenditures in the district's budget could be reduced or eliminated to save money.

"I don't see any waste out there," said Pogel, 42, an insurance broker. "Nothing jumps out at me and makes me say 'Gosh, we can eliminate this.' "

Polarinakis, 58, a registered nurse who is seeking her fourth term, also said she could not think of any one thing. "I think we are going to have to look at everything, who does what, how we do things," she said, adding that the board must conduct reviews continually.

"I don't think I've been involved in it enough to pick out anything," said McCaskey, 39, who is the distribution supervisor for the Oakmont Water Authority. "I know there is always room to cut costs. I need to get more involved with it and see where everything is going before I could give a definite answer."

Banyas-Galecki, a self-employed typesetter seeking her second term, said the district needs to look at supplemental contracts teachers receive for coaching and club sponsorships. She questions whether there are too many supplementals. The second item she cited was workshop costs for the staff, which can run as much as $1,500 per person..

"I think they can do more Webinars so we don't have to spend so much money on substitutes having to come into the district," she said. "With the Webinars, it allows the teachers to stay at the school or do it on their free time."

Coletta, 40, runs his own construction company, MC Enterprises, and also is a used car dealer. He thinks the board needs to look more closely at the staff and how it is utilized.

"That may not be a favorite of teachers, but I understand that there is a waste of personnel on the teaching staff," Coletta said. "I understand there are teachers up there who have only one period of class per day. That is something that I would like to find out more about."

"Honestly, I can't answer that because I would have to look at the budget and examine it," said Salvi, 57, who retired from teaching in the Shaler Area district. "I don't know that much about it. I have a lot of work to do in that sense."

Merlo, 43, a product manager at PPG Industries, said she thinks the district should cut back on all nonessentials. She also said the district needs to take a hard look at its labor contracts when they expire.

"We have to set a budget and run it like a corporation," Merlo said. "I think we have to bargain harder, negotiate harder, to make sure we have a budget that we can live with. Make (wage increases) more reasonable to what people who are working today get. People don't get three or four percent any more."

When asked about the biggest need for the Deer Lakes education program, several candidates discussed providing more opportunities for students.

"More advancement for students to excel," McCaskey said. "I want to see kids who want to excel have the opportunity to do so and at a quicker pace. More challenging classes, more college classes (for) the kids who can take them sooner."

Merlo said attention should be focused on helping and encouraging average students.

"I think we do a good job of giving help to the kids who need it and we do a good job of giving attention to the gifted students," Merlo said. "I think we need to do more for the kids who are in the middle. They shouldn't be left out."

Polarinakis expressed a similar sentiment.

"I think we offer a lot of things out there for our special needs students; I think we offer a lot for our gifted students," she said. "I think we have to pay more attention to the kids in the middle, such as the kids who are going into the trades. They need interviewing skills, those kinds of everyday skills, social interaction. They have a different skills set that we have to focus on more."

Instructing students on developing a work ethic is what Coletta mentioned.

"I would like to see something that focuses on work ethic, but I haven't put a lot of thought into it," Coletta said, adding that it could simply emphasize the basics at succeeding in life. "To me, that just seems so difficult to get across to kids today, just from what I have seen in youth sports and from dealing with my own kids."

Salvi said the education program should be reviewed and adjusted as needed. She said in the current economy, however, the taxpayers have to be considered when making adjustments.

"Educationally, we have to look at curriculum and look at what is best for the kids," she said. "We have to look at state regulations and the PSSA, whether we like it or not."

"I think they need to concentrate on addressing the needs of all the kids," Pogel said. "I think we spend a lot of money on getting kids to a certain level and then we stop. I think we should be challenging these kids more and pushing these kids more. I think we just accept average and are pretty happy with that."

Banyas-Galecki expressed satisfaction with the education program.

"I think we've got a lot of our bases covered," she said, adding that the district's grading scale — which requires a 92 for an "A" — is a lot harder than in other districts. "Our children are trying harder and doing better, but you can't see that because of the tougher grading scale. I think if we just keep growing and raising the bar for our kids, we'll be all right."

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