Eight candidates, two seats open on JS school board

From staff reports

JERSEY SHORE — It should be an interesting race for two seats in the Jersey Shore Area School District in next weeks primary election.

Two Republicans, Wayne Kinley and Gary Spangler, and three Democrats, Nancy Petrosky, Karen Stover and Kayla Calhoun, are running for terms in Region One. All but Spangler have cross-filed.

In Region Three, three Republicans have cross-filed. They are John Pecchia, Angela Grant and Jessie Manotti. Stover and Pecchia, both incumbents, did not respond to calls for comment.

The district has been struggling for the last two years with how to deal with the growing budget deficit.

Candidates seeking seats on the board were asked questions. And here’s how the candidates answered.

∫ How would you deal with the budget deficit?

Jessie Manotti — Closing schools is just a band-aid. It doesn’t fix anything. I think we need to try not to have the schools function beyond their means. They should keep what they have and not replace it. She noted that Salladasburg has the highest grade point average, so if that closed, Manotti said the district would suffer because that school is carrying it.

Nancy Petrosky– She said that she doesn’t think that the district should immediately look to close our neighborhood elementary schools and that sending 700 of the youngest K-3rd grade children to one building is not safe. Sending this year’s 3rd graders into middle school next year to a building that was designed for 18- year olds is not in our community’s best interest. That should be a last resort. We need to respect our rural heritage which is why people moved into the Jersey Shore surrounding areas for the small community schools.

Kayla Calhoon– “The source of our deficit can be directly linked to two issues — PSERS and cyber/charter schools. The closing of Avis and Salladasburg elementary schools should not be a option. Other avenues of relief such as new hire contract negotiations with the union, early retirement incentives and the establishment of JSOL are just a few options. Reconfiguration may be an option. Bringing the 6th grade from the middle school back to elementary level could be explored, as well as eliminating the administration building.”

Gary Spangler — “We have other options available to us to help the school district besides closing schools. This should be a last resort,” he said. Spangler believes small school environments create a safer and more condusive environment for teaching the districts children. If reconfiguration of the grade levels per building were needed to be made the elementary should house kindergarten through sixth grade; the junior high school would house grades seventh through ninth and the senior high school would house grades 10th through12th, he said.

Angela Grant– “The school board has already offered the public multiple presentations on the revenue the district could take in if the ‘outlying’ schools were closed and sold. However, an official appraisal needs to be done on the district’s other assets. No, the possible school closures, combined with the purposed reconfiguration should not be an option. This plan does not solve our district’s deficit problem and will not lower our taxes.”

Wayne Kinley– “The main issue is looking at all the costs in the district. Eliminating unnecessary spending is the first priority. Cost containment and other ways to cut cost. Looking at future enrollments, only as a last resort closing schools. I would not want to close any schools. I’m interested in the welfare of the students. Even with school closures, that would be a temporary fix for a long term issue. Looking forward, what can be done so that the district is not dealing with this problem again in, let’s say, five years?”

∫ Should closing schools and reconfiguratiion be an option?

Manotti– “Closing schools if just a band-aid.”

Petrosky– “Closing schools does not cover the budget deficit that’s been projected. We need to respect our teachers because we have great teachers within the Jersey Shore Area School District. We need to negotiate contracts within the means of our tax base. We need to look at creating revenue streams. Inter-district programs, such as alternative education that will raise funds and we need to continue cutting costs where possible.”

Calhoon– “The district is experiencing a decline in enrollment, the administration needs to know why our children are choosing other avenues of education and work to reverse this. Contract negotiations and retirement incentives should be an explored option. He also presented an estimated $2.3 million cost for cyber and charter schools. With establishing an in house online learning environment the district could lessen this cost. I also urge everyone to contact legislation in support of Bill 34. The district shall not be required to provide funding to pay for the student’s attendance at the cyber charter school. “

Spangler– “With declining student enrollment, increasing mandated retirement costs, and approximately 15 to 20 percent of our total budget that can be reduced without restrictions by the state or binding contracts, there is not much room to work with,” Spangler said. “If we continue to reduce what isn’t restricted, it negatively affects the quality of education we can provide.” Spangler believes reducing the Public School Employees Retirement’s (PSER) index from 34.93 percent to 15 percent, reducing the amount paid to cyber charter schools to $5,500 per student or having everyone help pay to educate the districts kids and not just property owners could be possible solutions.”

Grant– Grant said he would encourage the residents of the Jersey Shore Area School District to read PA Senate Bill 34. He feels the bill has the potential to help bring financial resources back to the district.

Kinley– “One is to look at all costs, unnecessary spending. All salaries and benefits which compose in the neighborhood of 70 percent of the total budget. Lobby for more state funding.”

∫ The relationship between the current school board and the public is at times adversarial. How do you think tensions could be alleviated?

Manotti– Manotti agrees that compromise is the answer. “We’re all in it together, the district is not our arch-nemesis. I grew up in the district. I loved our school I’d like to get back to what used to be. If we could compromise, we could move forward.”

Petrosky–“I would like to see a ‘focus’ group created that would meet maybe bi-monthly with members of the community, leaders, administrators, teachers, etc. that could discuss issues before they become a ‘hot’ topic, rather than waiting until there are huge issues at hand like closing schools.”

Calhoon– “The board has a difficult job to do. Tensions could be alleviated with a different attitude then the do or die presented from the administration. There are other options out there to help alleviate the deficit issues. Forward thinking, financial transparency, and growth for our student body need to be the focus.”

Spangler– “We have live streaming for all of our school board meetings, which helps to keep everyone informed. However, we can no longer add comments,” Spangler answered. “Comments were being made that could potentially cause issues with legal and private matters.” Spangler suggests having a system where emails can be sent to the administration who could take time before the start of a meeting to answer the public’s concerns and questions about the previous meeting, as well as avoid dealing with questions that may violate someone’s privacy or legal rights. “Our school board members don’t get paid and we are all here for the same reason. That is to do what is best for our kids,” he said.

Grant — “I feel that tensions with the current school board and public could be minimized with more transparency and better communication.”

Kinley– “I think to be open and transparent with the public and to listen and acquire input from the public since I’d be representing them as their school board member.”