As the Norwin School Board grapples with a $3.3 million deficit that has prompted discussion of a tax hike, teacher layoffs and restructuring of its arts and music programs, three incumbent directors and two challengers are vying for the Republican party’s nomination to four seats in the May 16 primary.
Competing on the Republican ballot for four-year terms are Brian Carlton, Raymond Kocak and incumbent directors Becky Gediminskas, Donald Rhodes and Barbara Viola. All of the candidates except Carlton cross-filed to run on the Democratic ballot.
Director Al Lynn has opted not to run for re-election.
Carlton and Kocak are registered Republicans, while Gediminskas, Rhodes and Viola are registered Democrats.
Republican voters in North Huntingdon, Irwin, North Irwin and a small slice of White Oak and South Versailles will have to vote in about six weeks to meet the June 30 deadline for the school board to decide whether to raise real estate taxes. Any teacher layoffs or program cuts would take effect in the 2017-18 school year, according to district officials.
Carlton, a former Norwin employee, said his goal is to keep the existing quality of education without cutting programs. Carlton said the district “should take a hard look at administrative costs before we affect programs for children.”
A member of the Western Westmoreland Municipal Authority board of directors, Carlton said he had intended to cross-file for both tickets, but a mistake in circulating the petitions disqualified him.
Gediminskas said she is seeking her fifth term because she believes the board needs the experience in these difficult times.
“I want to have some rationality in the decision-making,” she said.
Gediminskas, who is a nurse, said the district has to “use a scalpel in making the adjustments that will not have a big impact” on the quality of education.
Kocak, who served one term on the board before losing his bid for re-election in 2015, said he is concerned about possible cuts to programs.
“We could lose a lot of kids,” Kocak said.
The district should have sought an exception to raise taxes higher than the state index to avoid the current financial problems it faces, he said.
Rhodes, running for his fourth term, said he believes the district has moved forward during his tenure, providing a quality education with minimum taxes.
Rhodes said the district is looking at all facets of the budget, including reducing staff through retirements and evaluating whether those positions need to be filled. It also is exploring new ways of generating revenue including raising fees for use of school facilities, he said.
“We’re looking at all departments. Everybody is going to have to take a cut,” Rhodes said.
Viola, the board’s vice president, said the district is committed to making the fewest changes possible.
None of the programs will be eliminated, although some may be “pulled back a little,” she said.
While the district previously announced that family and consumer science could be part of the cuts, “that is off the table,” Viola said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.