When they go to the polls next week, voters in the Easton Area School District's Region 1 will have to choose from six candidates seeking three seats on the school board.
All six of them -- who appeared at a public forum Wednesday night at the Chrin Community Center in Palmer -- have some tie to education, if not the district itself:
- Robert Arnts, a retired Easton Area High School history teacher, who said he has “the time...the energy and the passion" to serve on the board.
- Robert Fehnel, who served 25 years on the Wilson Area School Board, and says he wants to bring his expertise there to Easton.
- Jodi Hess, an incumbent board member. She told the audience she had a "great passion for education."
- Millie Mandarino, also an incumbent. Like Hess, she touted her experience on the board and her commitment.
- William Rider, the former principal of Easton Area High School, who said he wants to balance "accountability" to the students and fiscal responsibility.
- Richard Siegried, who previously served on the board for eight years. ("People have asked me if I'm crazy" for wanting to return, he said. Later, he told the audience "I have the passion and desire to lend my time to our students." Actually, both Hess and Fehnel also made jokes about whether you needed to be crazy to want to serve on the board.)
All six candidates live in Palmer Township. Region 1 includes the township and parts of Easton's West Ward.
At Wednesday's forum -- which was organized by the League of Women Voters and the district's PTA programs -- the candidates answered questions about their positions.
Here are some of the things they discussed:
On cutting programs:
That's a hot topic these days, as the current board debates possible cuts to jobs and programs. No one said they were in favor of it Wednsday, although some candidates, like Siegfried and Fehnel, said it's worth examining what attracts students and what doesn't.
"You don’ t want to run a program for two students, three students," Fehnel said.
Mandarino said art and music and athletic programs help create well-rounded students.
"They need to know how to win, they need to know how to lose," she said.
And Arnts -- who got laughs throughout the evening for his off-the-cuff comments -- said the district should do whatever it needs to do in order to keep arts and music.
"I would sell doughnuts on the street corner if they were cutting arts and music," he said.
On dealing with district finances
The candidates all said more communication and teamwork was needed when dealing with district finances and the teachers' contract.
"First of all, everyone needs to stop blaming," Mandarino said.
Siegfried criticized the board for its use of an outside attorney to deal with the teachers union.
"If it were me doing the negotiation, I would’ve gone back to the teachers, not brought an outside strongarm in," he said.
Both Hess and Rider said the board needs to go "line-by-line" when budgeting to identify places where savings could be found.
None of the candidates want the district to change to block scheduling, something the board has discussed recently.
Fehnel said it's hard enough for kids to get caught up at the start of a new semester. "The first few weeks back in a semester are about catching up," he said. "Now you’ve just increased that gap.”
Arnts said it doesn't work.
"It’s hell on kids. I can’t imagine keeping their attention for 90 minutes," he said.
Hess and Rider say it's worked on a "modified" schedule at the high school, but didn't agree with the idea for the whole district.
"There’s no continuity, there’s no sequence," Rider said.