Franklin Regional school board candidates cite state funding, safety as major challenges | #schoolsaftey

In the Franklin Regional School District, seven candidates will compete for five full-term school board seats in the Nov. 7 general election, while the current board president goes up against a challenger for a two-year seat.

Full-term seats

George App, 42, said he wants to be a voice of civility, common sense and forward thinking on the board.

“The school board has the responsibility of setting the future direction of the district through establishing priorities within the budget, overseeing curriculum and setting standards and goals for the superintendent,” App said. “These need to be done openly and transparently, with rational thought, respectful discussion and careful consideration.”

App said school funding, and particularly the effects of a recent Commonwealth Court ruling on equitable school funding in Pennsylvania, will be a major issue moving forward.

“Consequences of this ruling almost certainly will impact significant crucial sections of the FRSD budget,” he said. “We need to work collaboratively and innovatively together as a board with the administration, community and our state delegation to mitigate repercussions.

Amy Sheridan, 52, said she chose to run after a board-approved novel was removed from her son’s English class, and later reinstated.

“What I took away from that experience and conversations with community members was that most people want to trust the board to make policies that benefit all young learners, and we also agree that politics have no place on the school board,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan shared App’s concern about school funding in light of the Commonwealth Court ruling, and said the district must be mindful of its resources.

“We need to balance a drive for excellence with realistic understandings of how we can best and most efficiently put taxpayer funds to work in our community,” she said.

Josh Zebrak, 36, said he is running because he felt the current board lacks representation for “the common people.”

“I’m not a big fan of career politicians and I think we need some more grassroots representation,” Zebrak said.

Zebrak said he’d like to advocate for a basic financial literacy course at FR.

“I’d like to see that as one of the requirements for graduation,” he said. “Whether you work at McDonald’s, you’re an attorney, whatever – you need to understand personal finance,” he said. “And you’re just kind of left figure that out on your own.”

Zebrak said that while he does hold conservative views “and I think that’s an important factor, I don’t know that we need to focus exclusively on the social dynamic battle happening in schools.”

Deb Bucciero, 71, said she is concerned that the Judeo-Christian values system in the U.S. is being devalued in modern education.

“Parents are busy making a living and put a lot of trust in our school district. Are (they) worthy of that trust?” she asked. “One thing I notice when a parent or community member asks a question of the school board, more times than not, there is no verbal response made. I think every effort to answer our community member’s questions should be made.”

Bucciero said the district needs to “get back to basic, common-sense education.”

“We are getting away from the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic and spending copious amounts of money and time on mental health, feelings and gender issues, which are, most of the time, better dealt with in the home,” she said.

Incumbent Scott Weinman, 47, has two children in the school district, and said he wants to continue on the board to help guide the district in all aspects of its mission.

“During my first term, I encouraged the board to address public comments, when possible, during meetings. I have also encouraged the public to attend FR’s various committee meetings,” he said. “I intend on continuing these practices, so the public knows where I and the board stand on various issues.”

Weinman said the district should be teaching students “how to think, and not what to think, while leaving politics out.”

Incumbent Vince Azzolina, 44, said he wants to continue to maintain the district’s strong reputation.

“I think we live in a strong, well-run district – however, we can always improve while continuing to provide insight and resources to community members that highlight what the district is doing, where the district is planning to go, and how it impacts all the students, teachers, families and citizens,” he said.

Azzolina said the three biggest issues facing FR are the mental health and safety of students and staff, facility improvements at Franklin Regional Middle School and the senior high school and staffing.

“All three of these challenges get addressed with the proper engagement, focus, planning and follow-up,” Azzolina said.

John Fallat, 59, said he is concerned that FR and other districts are “getting away from traditional education.”

“I think that we have a lot of positives to build on but would work to make sure we are extra transparent, particularly on major decisions,” Fallat said. “I would also like the district and school board to respect the taxpayer more and scrutinize every financial decision very carefully. It doesn’t seem that we like to say ‘no’ in Murrysville. I think that we need to accept that no is an appropriate option sometimes.”

Fallat said educating students in a fiscally responsible way is the biggest challenge facing the district.

“There needs to be some serious discussions on spending and debt reduction as well as creative ways to increase revenues. The taxpayer has endured tax increases almost every year for the last 20 years,” he said. “They have been generally modest increases but it’s not going to reduce the debt fast enough in my view. And there are more large expenditure decisions on the way.”

Two-year seat

David Murphy, 51, will challenge incumbent and long-time board member Herb Yingling for a two-year term on the school board.

Murphy, who has a seventh- and eighth-grader in FR schools, said safety is his primary concern.

“I think we need to reinvigorate anti-bullying policy and enforcement to focus on a safe, healthy learning environment,” he said.

And while Murphy said students come out of the district well-prepared for their future, “we’re breaking the bank to do it.”

“Our debt is huge,” he said. “We’re running deficits and we need to control our spending. It’s easy to just raise taxes every year. I’d like to minimize that if possible. I think administrative costs are probably the first thing we could address.”

Incumbent Herb Yingling, 75, said he’s running to maintain the quality of education for which the district has been recognized, particularly in rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

“We’re No. 1 in the county and near the top in the state, and we want to keep it that way with our policies and the way the board has been doing things,” Yingling said.

He agreed that safety is a top concern.

“We’re always trying to improve, and we can always make it better,” he said. “I want to make sure we keep on track with our curriculum and kids are getting the best education possible.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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