Ten candidates are seeking nominations for the six open slots on the Laurel Highlands School Board. There are five four-year seats open and one two-year seat created by a resignation last year. Nine of the 10 candidates have cross-filed on the Democratic and Republican ballots. They are Lyn Andaloro, Ira Chrise, Bill Elias, Jamie Miller-D'Andrea, Frank Mutnansky, Gary "Putso" Pillar, Norma Santore, Melvyn D. Sepic and Thomas A. Vernon. Robert P. Kovach is seeking only the Democratic nomination.
Eight of the 10 candidates, Andaloro, Chrise, Elias, Miller-D'Andrea, Mutnansky, Pillar, Santore and Sepic are also running for the two-year term on the Democratic ticket; all of those candidates except Chrise are cross-filed on the Republican ballot.
Nine of the 10 candidates met recently with the Herald-Standard Editorial Board to address issues in the district. Kovach chose not to participate in the sessions.
Consolidation of schools
The first question dealt with a study being done to see if money could be saved if there were a county-wide school district with just one superintendent and administrative team.
Miller-D'Andrea noted that consolidating school administration across the county could be cost-effective in the areas of staff development and purchasing and would provide curriculum consistency in the county.
"We have to take into account that administration is only three percent of our budget. Eighty percent is professional and non-professional staff. I do not support cutting staff," Miller-D'Andrea said.
Mutnansky said the time isn't right for county-wide consolidation.
"When the state quits sending money, that's really going to have to be looked at hard, but I don't think we're at that point yet. I don't think people are willing to give up their local school district," Mutnansky said.
Santore said she wants more research and proof that switching to a county-wide system would be better than the current system.
"I don't know if it would be the best thing for the taxpayers or our students," Santore said.
Andaloro said she is glad the issue will be studied. She noted the Intermediate Unit 1 already offers consolidated purchasing program, and Laurel Highlands shares some resources with the Uniontown Area School District.
"I don't want it to be a financial burden on one district. At Laurel Highlands we have a fund balance. Will we burden our taxpayers with the burdens of other school districts?" Andaloro said.
Elias said there are a lot of logistical issues to be dealt with.
"Are you going to try to have all the professional and non-professional employees on the same salary scale? What will you pay the superintendent? How many assistants will you have? The bottom line is, what will it cost the taxpayers? We have four schools in the vo-tech and Laurel Highlands pays the most," Elias said.
Pillar said more data is needed, but it is a good topic for study.
"The only way I could see something like that happening is if we did away with the property tax," Pillar said.
Sepic said that when he first started teaching in 1963 there was just one superintendent for the entire county.
"We have consolidated some school districts in Fayette County to make it more effective. Can we make six school districts one? I don't know," Sepic said.
Vernon said something has to be done to cut educational expenses.
"Anytime someone tells me we can save 10 to 15 percent on our budget, I'm going to listen," Vernon said.
Chrise said the Intermediate Unit shows that some combined services can work, but he said he is not in favor of the county commissioners appointing the county-wide school board members.
"The only way I would totally support a county-wide district would be if it would benefit our students and be a savings for the taxpayers of Laurel Highlands," Chrise said.