First Posted: 5/7/2013
Nominations for four seats on the Wyoming Area school board are on the ballot in the May 21 primary election.
Two of the four incumbents, Gil Dominick and Frank Casarella, are not running for reelection, so there will be at least two new board members and possibly four next school year.
There are nine candidates for the nominations. All nine are crossfiled as Republicans and Democrats.
Among the candidates are the two incumbents, board president John Bolin and treasurer John Marianacci, who have been on the board since 2005 and are running as a team; former board members Tony Valenti and Nick DeAngelo who lost by 1.08 and 1.5 percent in the 2011 general election and are running as a team; three newcomers to politics from Exeter Township, John Paul Bonin, Kimberly Yochem and Michael J. Brown, who are running as a team; and two previous candidates who are running independently in Ree Ree DeLuca and Jerry Stofko.
Four of those candidates will make up the next board with Estelle Campenni, Deanna Farrell, Mary Louise Degnan, Elizabeth Gober-Mangan and Carl Yorina, Jr.
Every candidate sees the lack of a teachers’ union contract as a major issue, but they all acknowledge that if a settlement is reached between the current board and the union before the November election, newcomers to the next board won’t have input into that contract, or a future one, unless it is less than four years.
Incumbent board president John Bolin, the owner/operator of Flowers by Lucille in Wyoming Borough, had a quick answer when asked for three top issues. “Teachers contract, budget, security and safety.”
Asked about the status of the negotiations with the teachers union he said, “They’re coming along, progressing. We met on May 1. We’re following procedures, meeting in good faith and progressing very well. Health care is an issue. We’ve got to get that hammered out.”
Bolin said raising taxes has been a necessary evil. “In 2005, before I got elected the previous board passed a teachers’ contract and a $20 million construction project and didn’t pay for it. We cut the construction project to $10 million, but we’re still paying for it. It’s like a 30-year mortgage.”
As to the safety issue, he said, “It’s safe, but there is always room for improvement. Restructuring the entrance, maybe new glass in front of the school. We’ll have to see what we can afford.”
Incumbent board secretary John Marianacci has a Bachelor’ s Degree in Criminal Justice. He is a 20-year veteran corrections officer for Luzerne County. He is running as a team with Bolin.
Candidate Tony Valenti is the office manager for Cenera Auto Parts in West Pittston.
Valenti, who was on the board for 20 years before losing a close race in the 2011 General Election, said her top issues are the lack of a teachers contract, property taxes and the budget. All are intertwined and, she said, “Everything is about money.”
As to the budget she said, “We’ve been away for two years, so we’ll have to see where we can go with it. We may have to make cuts, but I don’t want to hurt education. The students are the priority. They are our future.”
Valenti said things are tough all over and while there is no easy fix, a small state sales tax increase would help. “Every school district is in trouble. The state should raise the sales tax one percent for education. That would be fair to everybody. The board’s hands are tied. They can only go to the property owners and that’s getting out of hand. I which I had an easy answer. We have to look at everything.”
Valenti said she and the other non-incumbent candidates are not privy to the contract negotiations with the teachers, so she really can’t comment, except to say, “they have to settle.”
Valenti said experience is her greatest strength. In 20 years on the Wyoming Area School Board, she was president, secretary and treasurer.
Nick DeAngelo served as treasurer and vice- president during his eight years on the board, before he lost a close one in 2011 and he sees that experience as a plus for his campaign. He has 38 years experience in the private sector as a retail sales manager. His three issues are the budget, teachers’ contract and taxes.
He said he and his running partner, Valenti, have been going to meetings in the two years they have been out of office.
DeAngelo said he is against closing schools. “Neighborhood schools are one reason people want to move to our district. So, no. We don’t want to close schools. We want to keep class sizes down. Some kids get lost in big classes. Some need individual attention. We don’t want to lose that.”
He said the budget was about $24 million when he was first elected and now it’s $30 million. How to slow that escalation and slow the raising of taxes each year is the challenge. “We’ve go to look into everything in the budget,” he said.
DeAngelo, who was in the minority when the last teachers’ contract was approved, said that while teachers deserve “a fair contract,” if elected, and given the opportunity, he would look into having teachers contribute to their health care premiums.
John Paul Bonin
A little over a year ago John Paul Bonin, Kimberly Yochem and Michael J. Brown were three of a group of parents who got together to challenge the proposed closing of the Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School in Harding.
They all live in Harding and have kids in Dymond.
Bonin said the Dymond numbers were done internally, not externally, and that was a problem.
“When we looked at the numbers, that’s when we saw the issues with the budget were district-wide and decided to form our team,” Bonin said.
Bonin emphasized though the team formed over Dymond, they would vote to close it, or another school if, “an external analysis showed a school could be closed and benefit the taxpayers on conditions of enrollment going down and that it could be justified to the state.”
The team has a campaign based on what they call three pillars of excellence: “good business management practices, community involvement and contracts.”
Examples of the three are 1. Look at line items and perform evaluations. 2. Get people with ideas involved. Establish a funnel of ideas from the bottom up. Maybe go to borough meetings to get people involve. 3. Cell phones, the district has 44 cell phones and the April bill was $1,600.
In an email Bonin wrote, “With a combined forty years of leadership and strategic financial business planning, we bring new problem solving processes and business management skills for a better future.
“As taxpayers, homeowners and parents with six young children in the district, we understand the need for financial stability in our homes and in the workplace.”
As to the teachers’ contract stalemate he said, “We agree its unfair they have been teaching four years without a contract.”
Brown said his, Bonin’s and Yochem’s education and work experience are strengths. Bonin has a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and as a manager of business development nationally in private industry he prepares yearly sales budgets and strategies
Brown is employed as the Operations Manager at Prebola Enterprises, Inc. in Wyoming, where he is responsible for improving productivity, efficiency and profitability
Yochem has a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration. She is an Account Executive in Provider Network Management
“The first thing,” Brown said, “would be to go through everything, getting new quotes. Dallas changed bus companies and saved $83,000. Every little bit helps.”
Brown said he goes to school board meetings and often there are only 30 people there. “We don’t think everyone is aware of what’s going on. We’d like to get more people at the meetings.”
Yochem said Bonin can speak for her on the issues as the went over the budget together and are running as a team. She did say it is tough for the team to address the teachers’ contract. “There are no numbers. We only know what anybody else knows, so it’s hard to know what we would do. They should have a contract.”
Ree Ree DeLuca
Though she was defeated in the 2011 primary, DeLuca is not deterred. She believes she could make a difference on the board. “My three major issues are getting the teachers and retirees to contribute to their health care; second, getting the teachers’ contract settled and third transparency to public so people know what’s going on.
“This is what I think is important right now. I have three in school and care a lot about kids.”
DeLuca has questions about the Sara J. Dymond school. “Is it true there are 12 rooms and they only use six, what’s the cost of the insurance and fees on sewage plant and how much is the cost to bus and serve lunch everyday.”
Jerry Stofko, a retired United States Postal worker who is running on his own, didn’t want to comment for this story. Stofko missed a ballot position in the 2011 primary by 1.25 percent on the Democrat side and by 48 votes on the Republican side.