Six candidates are seeking four seats on the York Suburban school board in the 2013 election Nov. 5.
Three candidates are seeking re-election this year: Lynne Leopold-Sharp, Emily Bates and Cathy Shaffer advanced from the primary election in May. Shaffer had the most votes on the Democratic ticket.
Ralph Felter, Ellen Freireich and Nicholas Pandelidis will challenge the incumbents. Pandelidis received the most votes on the Republican ticket in the primary, but did not cross-file as a Democratic.
For more questions and answers from the candidates, go to www.yorkdispatch.com/election2013.
Below, the candidates have responded to questions from The York Dispatch about upcoming building decisions and what sets them apart as candidates.
The district recently received the results of a feasibility study ex amining building conditions and en rollment projections. One option is closing an elementary school. How do you believe the York Suburban school board should proceed on this issue?
Bates: Undergoing periodic reviews of district facilities and projecting future enrollments are normal processes for school boards. Some of the reports the board requested have been completed, but an update on enrollment forecasting is still due from Pennsylvania Economy League. Once all reporting is complete, the board must hear the educational recommendation from district administrators. The idea of closing Indian Rock Elementary arose from campaign rhetoric and has not been justified as the direction to move. We need to remember that just because we can close a school, it does not mean we should close a school.
Felter: The board should exercise due diligence beyond the findings of the feasibility study and determine whether or not closing Indian Rock is a preferred option for reducing expenses. It is not my preference. Unfortunately this emotional issue cannot be ignored. It warrants consideration along with several other distasteful, but unavoidable, options. My preference is to genuinely seek / achieve more affordable arrangements in the wage and benefit area. This makes up 67 percent of our budget and is projected to grow to over 70 percent. We are faced with a projected cumulative deficit of $7 million over the next four years, even after taking inflationary tax increases under Act I. This unfortunate predicament is due to a spending policy that, even though well intentioned, did not take into account the realities of future funding and other critical needs facing the district. Our challenge is to prioritize many conflicting needs, in light of financial realities, with a goal of protecting academics.
Freireich: The YS board needs to very carefully and thoroughly digest the feasibility study, review the enrollment reports from administrators and PELS (Pennsylvania Economy League Study), review the room utilization study, analyze future program (including state/federal mandates) and facilities needs. The administration should prepare numerous plans that propose choices for the board -- stay as the district is currently, reconfigure grades, reconfigure buildings -- each choice should outline the impact on programs, class size, staffing, transportation and overall costs. The board needs to have community meetings to gauge the feelings of the district for any proposed changes.
Leopold-Sharp: The feasibility report and related documents provide information on the district's infrastructure. This information needs to be evaluated in light of projected enrollment and current and future educational programming to determine the best use of our buildings. The board should receive an analysis with multiple options for facility usage. Each option should outline the educational impact of any proposed changes to current building usage and grade configuration and describe pros and cons for each. Analysis of changes in instructional techniques (based on changes in classroom space), curriculum, cooperative instruction, inter-grade interaction and building climate must be addressed. In addition, the analysis must address infrastructure needs and space availability for other functions (student instruction and support provided by traveling intermediate unit staff members, before/after school child care, conference space, etc.). Changes in transportation necessitated by the establishment of new attendance areas must be given serious consideration.
Pandelidis: York Suburban faces a $7 million budgetary shortfall (see answer 5 for clarification) over the next 4 years. York Suburban has many fine teachers; however, an unsustainable union-driven wage and benefit contract has significantly contributed to the deficit. The average salary for York Suburban teachers is $77,800 and benefits amount to $34,000. This contract was negotiated by the incumbent board member candidates Bates, Freireich, Leopold-Sharp and Shaffer. This deficit is the cause of York Suburban facing very difficult budget choices including facility utilization. "Smarter Spending, Better Education, Lower Taxes" means that individual spending decisions cannot be made in isolation. Spending in one area necessarily means less spending in another. The board, administration, teachers, and parents must examine and prioritize all current spending so to protect student education within the constraints of the budget. The good news is that $48 million is more than enough to provide an excellent educational opportunity for the district's 3,000 students.
Shaffer: While several studies have been completed, more information is needed. The Pennsylvania Economy League enrollment projection study update is due as I draft this response. Once this and all data assessment has been completed, the administration, the educational experts, must review and present options to the board, the governing body. In turn, the board must deliberate on the merits of each option. The deliberation must consider what is best for students with consideration for fiscal concerns and input from the community at large, a balanced approach. Just because we may be able to close a school, does not mean we should close a school.
What sets you apart as a candidate voters should support for a seat on the York Suburban school board?
Bates: I bring 13 years of board experience. I know the role of the school board, what it can and cannot do and will continue to work without the need for a period of transition. I do not bring an agenda or a personal ax to grind. Rather I bring a passion for public education in general and York Suburban in particular. Be wary of candidates whose children have graduated and now favor reduced support for current and future students. Be cautious of candidates who are looking to change government at a level other than the school board. My commitment is to maintain academic excellence in York Suburban.
Felter: As with all candidates I have unique talents, experience, education, and perspectives that will be brought into the district's workings. The board currently has some very talented directors with admirable business, professional, and educational backgrounds. Unfortunately it seems that the talents they bring to the table, as well as their perspective and advice, is often discounted or ignored because of opposing interests. It seems that new approaches, which may be counter to "business as usual," often don't receive the benefit of due diligence. The district is at a critical juncture that requires openness and receptivity amongst all involved parties, including board members. With a pending four-year deficit of $7 million, the past "spend-and-tax" approach needs to change. All reasonable options that will contribute to the district's long-term sustainability and success, irrespective of who suggests them, need to be evaluated and given a fair hearing. This may require that "favorite positions" be replaced with other alternatives that afford a better avenue for meeting the district's objectives. I pledge to do this.
Freireich: I am an advocate for children. I have always believed that students are the most important resource in a community. Experience counts! After two years off the board, I am concerned that what is best for students is beginning to take a backseat to shortsighted personal agenda goals. During my 16 years on the board, I based my decisions on what is best for the children and affordable for the taxpayers. I served in numerous leadership positions, and have continued to attend board meetings, committee meetings, and countless of the district's academic and extracurricular activities. Representing YS and leading the York Adams Academy board (an alternative high school opportunity) was an informative experience. I would welcome the opportunity to continue working on behalf of our children -- and all the residents of the district -- to bring a balanced approach to academic excellence and fiscal responsibility.
Leopold-Sharp: My moderate voting record during my 18 years of service on the school board sets me apart and reflects my commitment to making decisions based on the facts. Rather than acting on impulse or emotion, I have researched issues, listened to a variety of viewpoints, and reached a conclusion based on data. My opinions and votes are my own. I have supported compromise for the good of the district. This meant adopting budgets that were balanced with current revenue, not large fund balances. It meant reducing services so that academic programs remained intact. It meant accepting the outcome of a vote, whether mine was on the winning or losing side, and supporting the decision of the board. I understand that school directors are charged with governing their school districts. I have patience, treat others with respect and remember that no one understands all or is always correct.
Pandelidis: Ralph Felter and I are honestly acknowledging the fiscal crisis facing YS. Our incumbent opponents' emotional rhetoric concerning Indian Rock, the swimming program, or whatever else they are accusing us of wanting to cut is nothing more than an effort to divert attention away from the real issues, and to divert/blame that rightly falls on their shoulders. The YS April budget report projected deficits of $0.9, $1.8, $1.9, and $2.4 million for the next four school years. This projection assumes each year's deficit will be resolved but makes no effort to identify how that would be done. Each year's deficit should be carried forward to all subsequent years; therefore, the actual 4-year deficit is more accurately $7 million. Each year's shortfall can only be resolved with a permanent ongoing cut or tax. This cannot be an "us versus them" discussion. We can and we must spend smarter to protect education, while being responsible stewards of hard-earned taxpayer money.
Shaffer: I am one of only two candidates who reside in the eastern portion of the district. As the board personnel committee chair, I served on the committee to open and renegotiate the staff contract which resulted in a savings of $1.5 million and provided cost certainty for an additional two years. In addition to that, long-term savings will be realized by the outsourcing of food service, another committee in which I played a role. As a parent of two successful graduates, I have been engaged in several volunteer initiatives that have benefited students, parents, staff and other community members and brought in significant revenue to fund those initiatives. I co-founded the York Suburban Education Foundation, which has raised over $300,000 in five years and given grants totaling over $110,000 at no expense to taxpayers. I continue to lead this independent, nonprofit organization. In 2001, I founded and led York Suburban Communities That Care, sought and received grants in excess of $500,000. I also co-founded and led the York Suburban Post Prom, now a York Suburban tradition. All of these initiatives have been funded by donations or grants.