Keystone Oaks School Board Candidates Focus on Overturning Consolidation, Open Communication
Seven candidates are running to fill six slots on the Keystone Oaks School Board. Other platform concerns include responsible spending, in-house suspension and creating charter schools.
Seven candidates are in the running to fill six open seats on the Keystone Oaks school board.
Three regions are represented on the board, and the candidates for each region are as follows:
For Region 1 (Castle Shannon), newcomer Lisa Cancelliere is battling incumbent Raeann Lindsey for both a four-year term and a two-year term position.
For Region 2 (Dormont), newcomer Joseph Finucan and incumbents Robert Lloyd and Robert Brownlee are vying to fill two open positions with four-year terms.
For Region 3 (Green Tree), newcomers Daniel Domalik and David Hommrich are running to sit in two open four-year seats.
We talked to the candidates to get their opinions on the issues that matter most to voters. Here’s what they said:
Region 1: Castle Shannon
In Castle Shannon, Lisa Cancelliere and Raeann Lindsey are both on the ballot for the four-year term position. Cancelliere is on the ballot for the two-year term position, for which Lindsey is also running as a write-in.
Republican incumbent Raenn Lindsey is the only incumbent candidate running on a Save Our Schools Coalition platform, where her primary goals are to overturn school consolidation plans and enhancing educational opportunities to maintain the school population and bring new students into the Keystone Oaks School District.
Lindsey said she has consistently voted against school consolidation since she was elected to the board in 2009, and that she will vote to overturn the consolidation plan if elected to a new term.
“All three of the elementary schools (involved in the consolidation plan) are the foundations of the communities in which they sit,” Lindsey said. “Consolidation would be a great detriment to the communities.
“We are already seeing a decline in the school populations of middle and high schools. Consolidation would only add to that decline.”
What’s more, she sees consolidation as a “temporary bandage” for the district’s financial concerns and believes that the long-term detriment far outweighs the immediate benefit.
“Sacrifices will have to be made,” she said, “but cutting schools out of the district is not the right move.”
Instead, Lindsey would like to cut back on maintenance-related expenses and promote more responsible spending on non-educator costs. She wants to develop a task force to brainstorm on money-saving ideas and wants to see those ideas fully executed.
Lindsey has lived in Castle Shannon for eight years and has two sons currently enrolled in Myrtle Elementary School.
Democrat newcomer Lisa Cancelliere is also running on a Save Our Schools Coalition platform. While she is not against the idea of consolidation in general, she is against the particular consolidation plan that came at the hands of the current school board and she would act to overturn it if elected to the board.
Cancelliere said she is not happy with the way the current school board has investigated and publicized their consolidation plans and that she would overturn their decision in order to postpone, if not prevent, consolidation while a more thorough and honest analysis of viable alternatives is conducted.
Furthermore, she said that if the board is going to take something away from the parents and kids in the district, they should at least give them something back, or “throw them a bone,” such as by making all-day kindergarten programs available in the district.
Other key points of her platform include reinstituting in-house suspension in schools and raising Annual Yearly Progress scores in all schools across the district.
She said that at-home suspension is counterintuitive and ineffective. In-house suspension, she said, is a better tool to identify the causes behind problematic behavior and gives the school system a greater chance to make a difference in the life of children with occasional or recurrent rule-breaking.
Cancelliere also wants to improve Annual Yearly Progress scores throughout the district, using Aiken Elementary as an example. Because of Aiken’s receipt of a Blue Ribbon, Cancelliere wants to conduct an assessment to identify what elements made Aiken succeed and then implement those elements, where possible, in the rest of the district.
Cancelliere is a 57-year-old mother of four and grandmother of two, all of whom have worked their way through the Keystone Oaks School District.
Region 2: Dormont
Newcomer Joseph Finucan faces off against incumbents Robert Loyd and Robert Brownlee. There are two four-year term positions at stake.
Democratic incumbent Robert Lloyd says that he wants to represent the tax payers and senior citizens on the school board. To this end, he wants to find out the answers to many of the questions left unanswered in light of the school board’s recent decision to consolidate.
Lloyd said that he has no discernable opinion on consolidation at this time because he has not seen any numbers, other than guesswork, to influence his position. Before deciding if he is for or against consolidation, Lloyd wants to have savings and costs disclosed and wants to find out what will happen to closed school buildings.
He wants to make this information available to the public in an honest and acceptable way.
“Taxpayers should not be kept in the dark,” he said. “They deserve to see the full picture. It’s their money that pays for what goes on in the district, and they’re the ones who have kept me in office for 16 years.”
Lloyd, 81, has six grandchildren, has been on the school board for 16 years, and has served as the board treasurer.
Republican newcomer Joseph Finucan—known as “Dormont Joe” around town and online—is running on a Save Our Schools platform. He is the only candidate running in Dormont who has vowed to appeal the board’s consolidation plans, and a motion to overturn the decision will be his first act in office if he is elected.
Finucan said that the board’s reasoning behind the consolidation is faulty, that it won’t save a lot of money considering the transportation, parking lot and surveillance costs that would be consequent of consolidated schools.
Another financial element that Finucan draws attention to is the federal money given to the district that will be lost if students charter out of the district. He cited that approximately $11,000 in funding would be lost for each student that left public schooling in the district, a figure which could exponentially increase to outweigh the estimated 1.5 percent budget savings the district would realize upon consolidation.
Rather than pushing students out of the district, Finucan wants to draw them in not only by reversing the consolidation plan but also by creating physical brick-building charter schools within the district.
Over the next 15 years, he would like to create charter schools in the area that offer unique educational opportunities that are appealing to both students and parents, such as entrepreneurial, technology, creative arts and writing charter schools.
“We need to build the district up rather than tear it down,” he said.
Finucan is also a strong proponent of the common platform goals of the other Save Our Schools Coalition candidates, including restoring the district’s standard of educational excellence, tightening finances, improving communication and providing more accountability for Annual Yearly Reporting standards.
He would like to incorporate more technology in the district and enhance its Internet presence by setting up online digital offices hours for teachers and administrators, among other things.
Finucan is a 42-year-old father of two children in Dormont Elementary School. He was a teacher in Baltimore County, MD for five years before returning to Pennsylvania and taking up residency in Dormont.
He has also worked at the Allegheny Intermediate Union.
Incumbent Robert Brownlee could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Region 3: Green Tree
In Green Tree, newcomers Daniel Domalik and David Hommrich are looking to fill two open four-year seats.
Domalik and Hommrich are the co-founders of the Save Our Schools Coalition, which initially began as an information-gathering movement with the goal of preventing school consolidation in the district.
Over time, however, the movement expanded to include several other topics, which Domalik described as “an amalgamation of all those things… destructive to the school district.”
Newcomer Dan Domalik’s Save Our School Coalition platform focuses on the goals of open communication and responsible spending.
“There’s been a culture in school district for years that has been uncooperative and unresponsive,” said Domalik. “It has left people in the dark, allowing a small number of people to conduct business behind closed doors.
“It’s time to open those doors and let the light in.”
Domalik said that, unlike the current school board, he would make information available to interested members of the public and would not require them to push for information. He wants to have the public more involved in school board decisions, and plans to take members of the community up on their offers to participate in board committees.
About finances, Domalik wants voters to know that he will push the new school board to be diligent in discussing, disclosing and accounting for spending.
“Money is a precious commodity,” he said, “and we should spend the taxpayers’ money the same way we’d spend the money in our own pocketbooks.”
As far as consolidation goes, Domalik is not against consolidation per se, but is against consolidation in the district at this time because he believes the board has not met its burden of proving that consolidation is a necessary step.
If put into office, he said he will vote to reverse the consolidation plan so that more information can be gathered as to the feasibility of consolidation and other money-saving alternatives.
Domalik, 41, has two children in the school district.
Newcomer David Hommrich wants all of the Save Our Schools Coalition ideals to be realized on the school board. He is pushing for fiscal responsibility, education of the students, open communication and maintenance.
If elected to the board, he will establish committees to address each of these four pillars of his platform. He said that the committees will consist not only of school board members and affiliates but also of any interested members of the community who can bring their knowledge and expertise to the benefit of the school district.
“The school board should sit on top of the community,” Hommrich said, “not hover above it.”
Hommrich said he wants to “fundamentally change the way the school district runs,” and that his first act to this end would be to vote to overturn the consolidation plan.
Hommrich said that he realizes that the district is in financial hardship, but that eliminating schools is not the way to deal with it. Instead, he said that the district should push to have unpaid property taxes collected.
According to Hommrich, there are approximately one million dollars in uncollected property taxes in Keystone Oaks alone. If the board pushed for the collection of these taxes, he said, there would be no need to consolidate schools within the district.
Given that consolidation would only save the district an estimated $150,000 each year, Hommrich does not think it is wise to take schools away from taxpayers when collection a million dollars in unpaid taxes could eliminate the need to do so.
Hommrich, 51, has twin 11-year-old sons who started middle school this year.