Peters Twp. hosts school board candidates forum
Seven candidates vying for four seats on the Peters Township School Board in the May 21 primary participated in a candidate’s forum April 23 in the auditorium of the Peters Township Middle School.
The candidates answered, on a rotating basis, 12 questions ranging from the recent uproar about the district’s growth and human development program, to the amount of money spent on upgrading and expanding athletic fields above Pleasant Valley Elementary School, to what the candidates expect will be the biggest issue in the next five years.
Participating were incumbents Lori Cuervo, Sue Smith, David Hvizdos and Cynthia Golembiewski. Jamison Hardy, Rebecca Bowman and Lisa Anderson are also in the race.
As an answer to the biggest issue in the next five years question, three of the incumbents, Cuervo, Hvizdos and Golembiewski answered funding or the budget.
“Everything we want and need to do begins with money,” said Golembiewski.
Bowman commented that meeting the needs of all students was most important. Three percent of the district students receive a reduced or free lunch, she said, noting that not all Peters Township residents with children in school are living on an above average income.
For Smith, an incumbent, finding the right superintendent is essential. Former superintendent Nina Zetty left the district in December for a similar position in the Gateway Area School District. Joseph Dimperio is serving as acting superintendent until a replacement is found. The board has conducted five interviews with potential superintendent candidates and expects to have a new superintendent in place by the beginning of the school year.
Anderson said the budget was important but felt the turnover in the administration and central office needed to be stabilized. Hardy said he questioned fiscal responsibility from the board.
“You don’t spend more money than you take in,” Hardy said.
On the issue of fiscal responsibility, Smith answered that 72 percent of the annual budget is spent on salaries and benefits that “are controlled by contracts.”
Hvizdos replied that two years ago the district was financially strapped when state and federal funding was slashed. Even with less money coming in, Hvizdos said not one teacher was eliminated. Anderson said financial responsibility means spending money in a “smart” way.
“I’ve never been afraid to spend money on important matters,” Anderson said.
For Bowman, the district may, at times, see less funding, and that’s when the district should tap parental involvement.
A $2.5 million upgrade and improvement project was completed at the athletic fields above Pleasant Valley Elementary School in the past year or so, at a time when money was tight. The project was financed by a bond issue. One question dealt with whether the expenditure was necessary.
Safety was one of the answers, repeated by Hvizdos, Golembiewski and Cuervo. Smith pointed out she voted against the project, adding she was not in favor of “gold-plated” fields. In response to the question, Bowman said she feels an extra curricular activity should be self-supporting and “parents should raise the money if they want the fancy schmancy stuff.”
Hardy said he was torn and was concerned about the residential disruption.
Anderson said that athletics are extremely important, but smart spending is equally important. She, like Hardy, is concerned about disruptions to the neighbors.
On April 15, several parents attended the school board meeting to express concerns about the growth and human development program for the fifth-and sixth-graders. Parents who spoke told the board they preferred to teach their children about body changes and sexuality with some saying they relied on “bible-based faith.”
Golembiewski said the issue was being dealt with, and she did not feel it appropriate to discuss in a public forum.
Anderson classifies herself as being more liberal as to what students can hear.
Hardy, a Lutheran pastor, has three children and worries about students hearing false information outside the classroom. If, he said, a parent wishes to protect their children, there is the ability to opt out.
The students who have permission to attend, are instructed in two, 40-minute sessions each year in the fifth grade, and in three, 40-minute classes in sixth grade. Cuervo said of the nearly 350 eligible students at the middle school, less than 10 have opted out. She said parents can attend the discussions about the program this summer.
As for Bowman, an abstinence program is something she would like to see in the district. And she would like to see more training for teachers, coaches and other school employees to answer questions if posed by a student.
Smith said a majority of students are not being opted out by their parents. “The program should represent the community at large,” Smith said.
Hvizdos said the board has always sought parental input when it came to possible changes. And, he added, a parent can always opt out their child.
“The program is necessary and it does have value,” Hvizdos said.