Six running to fill four seats on Bethel Park School Board

Published Oct 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm (Updated Oct 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm)

On Nov. 5, residents in Bethel Park will go to the polls to cast their votes in the race for school board. Six candidates are running to fill four seats. The election is of importance because the new board will be involved in negotiating the next teacher contract in 2016.

Earlier this month, the Bethel Park Republican Committee held a meet-the-candidate night in which several issues were addressed including district policies, programs and budgets. The forum can be viewed in its entirety on Bethel Park’s cable television station.

The Almanac asked two questions to each of the candidates: What the candidates would do when the contract expires in 2016; and their stance on proposed House Bill 1189, which if it passes would change how schools are funded. The bill has been amended several times with a new amendment stating that if passed, school boards may “by resolution, levy, assess and collect or provide for the levying, assessment and collection of a tax on a personal income or tax earned on income and net profits for general revenue purposes.

A board meeting was scheduled for Oct. 28 to potentially ratify the new teachers’ contract.

Cynthia Buckley

Buckley is nearing the end of her first term. Prior to her time on the board, she regularly attended meetings for nearly three decades. Buckley has lived in Bethel Park for about 29 years and has taught kindergarten and first grade in the district for more than 36 years.

“I think we’ll start with what’s most important­—the child. Always, the children should be first,” she said about her approach to contract negotiations. “There’s a lot involved. I think we have to sit down. We need to meet in the middle,” she said. “Seventy percent of households don’t have kids in the district,” she said, adding, “We’re not spending Monopoly money. This is the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollar.”

Buckley said the board must remain respectful of taxpayers, but also represent the needs of the children.

Buckley called HB 1189 a “complicated process.” She said as a board member she receives several e-mails each week from the state. Buckley said she realizes the current property tax situation isn’t fair because not every district gets the same amount of money. But, to eliminate the property tax and increase the sales tax “is going to be a nightmare” if the bill becomes law, she said. “There’s a lot of work yet to be done,” she said, adding there would be a large fiscal impact on the district if it passes.

John DeLallo

DeLallo, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, grew up in Bethel Park before serving in the military. He lived in Dormont for about 20 years and in Johnstown for 10 years. In 2009, DeLallo moved back to Bethel Park. His son is a teacher in the district.

DeLallo said he’s not sure what to think about both sides accepting the fact-finding report that was agreed to earlier this month.

“I haven’t seen it,” he said. He said he doesn’t think a dispute will come up again in 2016, adding he’s hoping that any agreement that was reached this year will just be revised.

“I’m going to work very hard to make certain there’s never a remote opportunity for another teacher’s strike,” he said.

As for the house bill, “If House Bill 1189 passes, you are going to have 500 school districts with different tax schemes,” DeLallo said. “There’s no question in my mind that the bill will pass,” he said. “I have visions of how crazy it’s going to make people,” especially seniors on fixed incomes, he said.

Pamela Dobos

Dobos is a lifelong resident of Bethel Park. She taught English in the Bethel Park School District for 35 years prior to her retirement. She’s listed on the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers’ website as part of the contract negotiating team.

“I’m very familiar with the district,” she said, adding, “I bring a positive attitude. I will put the students first.”

“For a long time there’s been tension and conflict between the school board and the teachers,” Dobos said, referring to the many arbitrations and contract disputes. She said if elected she would work to develop a rapport between the board and teachers. “There’s a lack of trust right now,” she said.

Regarding HB 1189, Dobos said, “Property tax reform is necessary. Whatever the legislature comes up with should be a positive step.”

Tom Majernik

Majernik, who is originally from Greene County, moved to Bethel Park in 2005. He teaches Spanish at Chartiers Valley Intermediate School. He also has a background in international business. His son and daughter attend school in the Bethel Park District.

Majernik started going to school board meetings because his daughter and son, who was in high school at the time, were concerned about issues at the school, like the teachers’ contract.

“As a school board member, you have to first be focused on the kids,” he said. “It’s not about politics, it’s about the kids.”

“I’m very happy about the fact that the fact-finding report has been accepted,” Majernik said, but added there’s still going to be “a lot of hard work to get a collective bargaining agreement in place.”

Majernik said he hopes that the new school board would be able to consider working on a three- or four-year contract extension. He said the state has to “provide a reasonable mechanism to provide funding for schools, whether it’s 1189 or tax reform.”

“It’s all mandated by the state,” Majernik said. He added that the state “really has to find a funding mechanism that’s going to work in the long-term. I don’t know the answer to it.”

Connie Ruhl

Ruhl, who has lived in Bethel Park for more than 40 years, is seeking a fifth term on the board. She has worked in the banking profession for more than 20 years and has served on various boards and advisory committees. Ruhl is executive director of the South Hills Chamber of Commerce and vice president of the South Hills Area School Districts Association.

Ruhl said it’s “hard to say” what will happen with the contract in 2016. “There are a lot of things on the back burner.” Ruhl pointed out that the state may possibly be taking health care benefits off the table as far as negotiations are concerned. Issues like charter school and teachers’ retirement benefits reform could also “totally change how we negotiate,” Ruhl added.

Ruhl said although the first version of House Bill 1189 basically “died” amendments are still in the works. She said if it eventually passes, “In essence, you’re still paying taxes.” She added she doesn’t see the advantage in changing the way taxes are collected.

Russ Spicuzza

Spicuzza has served on the Bethel Park School Board for six years and has lived in the community for more than 20 years. Although his degree is in secondary education, he works in the business sector. “Obviously even though the contract does expire in 2016, we would have to be on the contract table shortly,” Spicuzza said, adding the board’s ultimate responsibility would be to “be true to everyone.” He said, “We want fair contracts for the school district and the teachers.” Spicuzza said in his professional life he’s negotiated several contracts.

“The best is when both parties win,” he said. “The contract has to be fair and equitable,” Spicuzza added.

“It’s been a long and arduous process,” he said of the contract dispute. “The biggest issue to me was the resolving of the contract.”

Spicuzza said of HB 1189, “My issue with any of those bills is I have no control over what the state does. The power lies in their hands,” Spicuzza said. He said the board has had discussions on the proposed bill, but added, “We can’t make a decision on a what-if and we can’t raise taxes on a what-if.”

In the race for mayor of Bethel Park, Republican Jack Allen is running unopposed.

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