Central York school board
Ten candidates are running for five seats on the school board of Central York School District in the 2015 Primary election on Tuesday, May 19.
The York Dispatch asked them to answer three questions and provide basic bio information to help voters with their selection.
Their responses are:
Edward T. Blankenstein III (R/D)
Occupation: Retired Teacher, Part-time consultant
Education: Masters Degree - Millersville University
Community organizations with which you are active: Volunteer for The Community Literacy Council and Shadowfax
Marie L. Damiano (R/D)
Matthew Diaz (R/D)
Age/Family: 41; I have four kids in the school district ages 9 to 18
Occupation: Director of Operations for Shellys Great Deals (family-owned small business)
Education: B.A. Political Science and French, Minor in German, Gettysburg College, MBA, York College
Community organizations with which you are active:
Shelva J. Eller (R)
Age/Family: I was born in York County and graduated from Dallastown High School. I have been a resident of Manchester Township for over 20 years.
Occupation: My husband and I own and operate an excavating business along with our two sons.
Community organizations with which you are active: I have been attending school board meetings for four years because I am concerned about the cost and the quality of education.
Jane Johnson (R/D)
Age/Family: 50 years old/Four children: Matthew-CYMS, Philip, Olivia-CYHS, Ian-Virginia Military Institute
Occupation: Homemaker and Guest Teacher, Prior Occupation: Mechanical Engineer
Education: BS Mathematics, BS Mechanical Engineering
Community organizations with which you are active: Boys Scouts of America-Troop 25
Barbara W. Johnston (R/D)
Age/Family: 68 years old; Husband, Ken Johnston, Daughter, Dr. Heather Johnston Herman (CYHS 1985), Son, Trey Johnston (CYHS 1989)
Occupation: Retired Central York Classroom Teacher/Reading Specialist/Reading Department Chair
Education: Graduated From: Haddonfield High School, Haddonfield, NJ; Temple University (BS in Elementary Education); Millersville University (Reading Specialist); Penn State (Masters in Curriculum and Instruction)
Community organizations with which you are active: Central York School Board Director; YMCA; Women's Giving Circle
Gregory W. Lewis (R/D)
Age/Family: 62/married to my wife, Catherine for 30 years, both our sons graduated from Central York High School.
Occupation: USAF retired colonel and currently a captain for Southwest Airlines.
Education: 1976: BS in Mechanical Engineering, United States Air Force Academy, and 3 MAs in Aviation Management, International Affairs, and National Security Studies.
Community organizations with which you are active: admissions officer, USAF Academy. Boys Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, American Cancer Society.
Karl H. Peckmann (R/D)
Age/Family: 50 years old; 2 sons – Senior & Freshman at Central York High School; Wife – Regina – Teacher at Roundtown Elementary
Occupation: Workers' Compensation Judge
Education: Widener University School of Law, J.D., 1994; West Chester University, B.S. in Criminal Justice 1989; Wissahickon High School, Ambler, PA, 1982
Military: United States Army, Combat Engineer, 1985 – 1987
Community Organizations: School Board Director, Central York School District; Joint Operating Committee Member, York County School Of Technology; President, Central York Aquatics; Member, Zion Lutheran Church
Eric P. Wolfgang (R/D)
Age/Family: 55, two adult children, both of whom graduated from Central.
Occupation: Quality Assurance Manager, EMSG, Inc.
Education: Associate Degree Electrical Engineering Technology, Penn State
Community organizations with which you are active: York Habitat for Humanity, Covenant Moravian Church, Pennsylvania School Board Association, Penn State Alumni Association
Gregory Young (R/D)
Age/Family: Children in North Hills and Central Middle School
Occupation: IT Manager
Education: Masters degree
Community organizations with which you are active: Pleasureville Basketball, EYC Flag Football
Questions and answers
1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the school district's performance at baalancing educational wants and needs, balancing the good of the students and the good of the taxpayers? Explain why you give the district that rating.
Blankenstein: I would rate the Central York School District on a scale of 1-10 an 8 based upon it's performance at balancing educational wants and needs, balancing the good of the students and the good of the taxpayers. The reason I would give this rating is that, personally, I feel the Central York School District has historically been rated above average in all the aforementioned categories and this would be an appropriate rating.
Damiano: No response.
Diaz: 8 -- As a parent of four students in the district, all of whom have very different needs and interests, I have been impressed with our district's ability to customize the learning process for each child. Our district recognizes that every child is unique and as such, their ability to understand is different. I think that we need to do a better job at communicating with parents and the community at large about how we invest in resources such as technology. There is a strong perception that we rely on it blindly.
Eller: I would rate the school district performance a "7." I would only approve a tax increase if balancing a budget without raising taxes would have a negative effect on education. I have not seen this hardship to justify an increase, but taxes were raised last year and are scheduled for an increase again this year.
J. Johnson: I would rate the district performance at balancing the educational want and needs ... a 5. My rating is based on spending/budgeting. At the moment the administration is NOT proposing a balanced budget, but a deficit. I am very happy with most of what our district is doing for our students (rating 8). However, not even a preliminary budget (presented in the fall) should be presented with an almost $2.5 MILLION deficit. We can't spend money we don't have and try and rationalize it. The 2015-16 budget proposal is almost balanced but this is based on what the current administration/board hope our new Governor will propose and a TAX INCREASE to the CYSD residents (the April budget presentation still had the district proposing over a $400,000 deficit). I am not in favor of this kind of financial planning/spending.
B. Johnston: I would rate CYSD at a 9 because although we do a great job, we should always be striving for excellence. Central's millage rate is 18.22, which continues to be one of the lowest in the county, and yet the quality of our education is excellent. CYSD was ranked as the most effective and efficient school districts in York County in a study commissioned by York College. Augenblick Palaich and Associates, Inc., a Denver, Colorado-based education consulting firm conducted the study of all of the York County districts. This outstanding ranking is a reflection of our excellent, dedicated professional staff, administrators, and school board. I believe that Central York is doing a great job balancing the needs of the taxpayers while preparing our students in this 21st Century technological world.
Lewis: I give the District an overall 8. I believe the current board has done a magnificent job of trimming unneeded "fat" from our budget, saving over $11M from our budget over my term, while maintaining and providing a world class education for our students. We have been recognized as one of the most efficient school districts in PA, we have not increased class sizes, have not furloughed employees or cancelled programs like some of our neighboring districts. We have implemented "college in high school" where our students can earn up to 36 hours of college credit while at CYHS. Our students are issued IPads in lieu of books thereby giving them not only an education in the latest technology but also the ability to collaborate with students worldwide! We have negotiated a very fair new contract with our teachers and support staff that provides cost of living raises while bringing their healthcare benefits in line with that of most of the district's citizens, the net results being less than a 1 percent increase to our budget for the next 4 years. We have a nationally recognized theater and music program, and are actively seeking an AFJROTC program. All of this while holding taxes very flat over the last few years. The bottom line is we are doing a very good job at Central, we have a visionary administration who are totally dedicated to continually improving our students education; but, we also have the message that dollars are tight and taxes will not be raised, except as a last resort. I'm very proud of the current board, I urge re-election of all current incumbents, and I know our community shares my pride of CYSD!
Peckmann: Rating = 9. Central York School District, hereinafter CYSD, has one of the lowest property tax rates in the county. Class sizes remain manageable. CYSD has introduced technology into our curriculum in an effective and efficient manner. Our academic results are excellent.
Wolfgang: I would rate the District as an 8 or 9. While there is always room for improvement, a previous State study rated Central York as both highly effective and efficient when looking at our test scores vs. our per pupil costs.
This showed that we are maintaining a high level of student achievement while being fiscally responsible to the community. We were and I believe, continue to be the only District in York County that is both highly effective and efficient.
Young: I would give the current school board a 9. The children in the school district have access to many programs which include music, arts, sports and technology with minimal yearly tax increases. The education provided by the district will prepare the students for their next steps once they graduate.
2. Specify a major issue facing the school district and explain how you think the school district should address that issue.
Blankenstein: Major tax reform seems to be one of the major issue facing local school districts. It seems to me that all school boards need to be completely abreast of the legislative reforms and be able to address those reforms in a productive manner.
Damiano: No response.
Diaz: I think that the district needs to explain to the community its current financial condition as it pertains to the larger shortage in the Pennsylvania teachers' pension commitment. As taxpayers we hear a lot about the strain on the budget system at the state level and we are facing a pending tax increase with the proposed budget for 2015-2016. Too many taxpayers in the community feel that the school district spends money at least somewhat frivolously. While the increases may be necessary, the public at large does not have a sufficient understanding of the rationale. This could be a case where the district needs to over-communicate.
Eller: Student learning in CYSD emphasizes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to encourage higher education. I believe because we no longer encourage careers in the trades, a skills-gap is resulting in the work force. These are good middle class jobs needed to replace retiring baby boomers. These careers could provide an opportunity for students to become business owners in their future.
J. Johnson: I believe that Technology is a big topic of concern. I am very pleased to be a part of a school district that promotes technology and innovation. I do, however feel very strongly about keeping a level of traditional study and skill sets. Can our kids write with pen and paper, in cursive or just block? Can they do math without a calculator? Balance a checkbook? Can they spell now that they are on computer all day with auto correct? Some days I drive to school or work one way and another day I may take an entirely different route on the highway. One may not be better or worse. But our administration is keen on driving ALL of us down the road less traveled. Not every child in CYSD is college bound, and although technology will continue to grow as part of our world I don't feel like we are emphasizing other key elements that make students successful in the people part of our world. Technology is starving American culture of an opportunity to be people without a device 24/7.
B. Johnston: The biggest challenge facing Central York is how to continue to deliver an excellent quality of education while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Budgets are tight, but the need to deliver an excellent education to our students remains the same. We must weigh the needs of the taxpaying public with the requirement that our students develop the skills to become thoughtful, contributing, well-rounded members of our society. Although reading and math skills remain top priorities, the students of today must also acquire excellent critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills.
Lewis: When I was elected to this board 4 years ago, our mandatory payments to the teachers' retirement plan was about 12 percent of our personnel budget, which is the largest part of our total budget. In 3 years, that payment has grown to over 31 percent and will eventually "break" our budget. I'm sympathetic to our employees as they have dutifully paid into the funds; and in all fairness, they are not the ones who messed it up. The politicians did! We had a republican governor who chose not to expend political leadership and capital to fix the problem, and the current democratic governor says there isn't a problem. Another almost equally important issue is the law that requires us to pay "prevailing wages" for our construction and maintenance. This costs the districts many millions of dollars above what a private citizen would pay for the same work. Both of these problems are huge issues and burdens to local taxpayers, and I don't see a solution. We at CYSD are in very good financial shape when compared to other districts, and I give the current board and administration total credit for that; however, even if we chose to, we are unable to raise taxes enough to cover projected future payments! The pension payments, is our biggest budgetary challenge, and eliminating prevailing wage laws would free lots of money that could be channeled elsewhere. At the school board level, all we can do is continue our fiscally frugal budgets while lobbying the governor and legislature to fix the problems. At some point in the not too distant future, these payments will have huge negative effects on our children's education!
Peckmann: The major issue facing CYSD is the increasing pension costs. CYSD needs to educate all taxpayers so that they can join with us in our efforts to lobby local politicians, and politicians in Harrisburg, for meaningful and fair pension reform.
Wolfgang: Continuing to remain highly effective and efficient, while faced with the ever growing pension obligation and budgetary pressures that come from the lack of an equitable State Education funding formula which has not been changed since 1991, despite Central York gaining hundreds of students since that time. We need to continue to lobby the State Legislators for long term solutions to both the Pension crisis as well as fixing the funding formula. In addition, doing everything we can to balance the needs of all the stakeholders of the District in a fiscally responsible manner.
Young: There are many difficult issues facing the school district. While it is difficult to pick one topic, I would like to allow for individualized learning so all children can be challenged.
3. Why did you decide to run for election this year and why do you think you're one of the best candidates for a school board seat?
Blankenstein: I believe that I am one of the best candidates because I retired from the education profession with almost 30 years of experience.
Damiano: No response.
Diaz: I want to make sure that subsequent generations of our community have access to the same opportunities and resources that my children have enjoyed. We have a fantastic school system and I want it to continue to attract new residents and companies because they recognize all that we have to offer.
Eller: I am running for school board to help control the cost of education and improve academics to better prepare students for their future.
J. Johnson: I have been active as a parent, community member and tax payer in our district from the time my children started school. I feel a strong responsibility to be informed and educated about the changes in education from year to year and the costs associated with keeping our district on the path to continued success. I will represent our school board with integrity, hard work and dedication. For those who know me, I always do my homework on the issues important to our families. I will cast votes not based on political ideology but rather what's best for our children's education. I will do all of this and also be a watchdog for the taxpayers of Central.
B. Johnston: I decided to run for reelection this year because it is important to have an educator on the school board. I had a lot to learn in my first four years on the board, and my understanding of the challenges facing the district has been heightened. Our current school board works well together with our diverse professional backgrounds and areas of expertise; I have learned so much from our collaboration. I am an excellent candidate as a result of having been a parent of two former Central York students, a teacher of Central York students, a professional developer for Central York teachers, and now a retired Central York taxpayer. As a result, I am able to understand all sides of each issue. I would be honored to have the community's support for my reelection.
Lewis: I believe that when one stops learning, life is over! I have learned so much in this job, am totally up to speed on the issues, and truly enjoyed contributing to a world class school district. I believe the taxpayers of Central York School District are equally satisfied and I urge them to re-elect all current incumbents to keep the district moving in the right direction. In this job, one has to balance often competing priorities. In that capacity, I have been a voice of reason and common sense in helping to ensure our school district reflects the values of our community. Lastly, I am blessed with a world-class education that was obtained through taxpayer-funded programs. My life has always been devoted to public service having spent 29 years serving as a fighter pilot, commander and staff officer in the USAF and currently serving as an admissions officer for the United States Air Force Academy. "To a man to whom much is given, of him much is required," I've enjoyed giving back to the community and institutions that provided my many blessings, and will be honored to continue serving!
Peckmann: I decided to run because I believe that efficient and effective public education is the most important function of state and/or local government. It provides all students with the ability to learn, through academics and extracurricular activities, and become productive young adults that will contribute to and ultimately lead our community, state and country.
Wolfgang: As a member of the business community, I continue to see how the value of a strong education is the key to our continued economic success in the future. We must be committed to developing the process of life-long learning, which must be established in the K-12 program. The value in serving is bringing my 16 years of experience on the Board as an advocate for all the various stakeholders in the District and balancing their various needs and concerns in order to provide the best educational opportunities for each and every learner to reach his or her potential. I know of no greater value of a school board member than providing the very best educational opportunity to all learners who will make up the next generation of citizens and leaders of our country. I continue to be excited about this very important commitment and I would welcome the opportunity to continue contributing to this worthy community service position. I believe that my passion for the educational process and 16 previous years of service and proven commitment to this District, help to make me the best candidate for an additional term on the Board.
Young: I choose to run for the school board not because I didn't agree with the job the current board was doing but because I wanted to get involved. I can bring a perspective from a parent with children in the district. I am also very active in the community and passionate in the endeavors I pursue. I will balance what is best for the students and taxpayers. This is also my first run for public office, I will bring some new ideas and perspectives to the school board.