Seven candidates seek seats on PA board

June 27th, 2015 1:44 am

First Posted: 5/1/2013

The Pittston Area School Board will have at least one new face next year.

Three incumbents, two past board members and two newcomers are competing for four seats on the board.

Because it’s a primary election and all candidates are cross-filed, it’s foreseeable that all candidates could advance to the General Election in November. The four top vote getters on the Republican and Democratic ballots will advance.

Big issues facing the district include increased security in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, keeping up with technology and a $2 million budget shortfall which is looming in the district but could be acted on before any new members take office in December. Also on the table is the closure of the Benjamin Franklin Kindergarten Center in Dupont.

The district has a new administration in place. Its superintendent, George Cosgrove, and assistant superintendent, Jack Lussi, both retired last year and, as a cost-saving measure, Dr. Michael Garzella was hired to essentially replace them both. Also, the district’s principal of curriculum, Dr. Janet Donovan, was moved to a building principal position at the Intermediate Center.

And, just four years ago, the district was caught up in a countywide corruption scandal that saw the former superintendent, Ross Scarantino, and a board members, John Oliveri, spend time in jail on bribery charges.

One incumbent, Bob Linskey Jr., did not seek a second term on the board, instead opting to run for supervisor in Jenkins Township. Five other board members’ terms are not yet expired. They are Board President Charlie Sciandra, Anthony Guarglia, Joe Kelly, Richard Gorzkowski and John Donahue.

A relatively small group filed to run for the four available seats. In 1997, 20 candidates appeared on the ballot for the May Primary. In 2003, there were 17 candidates and, in 2007, there were nine.

Seeking seats are incumbents Kent Bratlee, Bruce Knick and Marilyn Starna, past board members John Adonizio and Marty Quinn and newcomers Vito Quaglia and Roseanne Ricotta.

Bratlee, Quinn, Ricotta and Knick are running together, calling themselves “Patriot First Team.” Knick said members of this ticket don’t necessarily agree on everything, but they are “people you can work to come to an agreement with, people that are able to find middle ground.” Is this quote correct?

Adonizio and Knick both had run-ins with the law during their tenures on the board.

In 2008, Adonizio was sentenced to one month house arrest and six months probation on DUI and resisting arrest charges. In 2012, Knick was sentenced to the county’s ARD program for first-time offenders on a DUI charge. Both men acknowledged the incidents, apologized and said they have put the incidents behind them.

The following are based on interviews with all seven candidates, in alphabetical order.

John Adonizio, 54, of Hughestown, said education, the budget and keeping taxes in check are the three biggest issues facing incoming members of the board.

“We want to make sure our children get a good education,” Adonizio said. “Every child that comes to our schools has an opportunity to better themselves. Our scores have been going up consistently. We need to stay the course we’ve been on.”

He said the budget needs to be examined with a microscope.

“We’re going to have to look at every line item and see what we can do without,” he said. “But there’s not much to be cut. Everything is contractual.”

He said innovative savings measures and new ways of generating revenue need to be implemented.

He said the district could save on energy costs by moving to natural gas or even wind power and units capable of generating electricity could be attached to each district school. “There are things we can do to be more self sufficient.”

Taxpayers, Adonizio said, can’t afford another tax hike. “Nobody wants to raise taxes.”

During his past tenure on the board, Adonizio said the board had schools wired for Internet capability. Also, the board previously purchased computers every four years to keep up with technology, but that was too expensive.

“We started leasing computers, so we got new ones every few years,” Adonizio said.

He said the district’s security system was also upgraded during his past tenure. And he was instrumental in getting the marquis in front of the high school, the new scoreboard at the football field, the baseball dugouts named for Jimmy Ardoline and the Hughestown sports complex named for Bucky Harris.

Adonizio is a 1976 graduate of Pittston Area High School and studied business administration at Marywood University and Lackawanna College. He has worked at Pepsi Bottling Group, Latona Truck, as a gas field worker and currently at Franchelli Utility Contractor as a utility worker.

He is single and has twin daughters, Alexandra and Olivia, both freshmen in college.

R. Kent Bratlee, 64, of Avoca, was appointed to the school board to fill the unexpired term of a board member who resigned. He previously sat on the board for four years. He said the three biggest issues facing the district are the budget, the teachers’ contract and security.

He said the district’s $42 million proposed budget has a $2 million hole that needs to be plugged.

“I think we can make the cuts from within,” he said. “There’s loads of line items.”

Bratlee said he’d like to keep all the sports and extra-curricular activities intact, but everyone is going to have to sacrifice. He hopes not to raise taxes.

“Salaries account for $32 million and that leaves us very little room to operate the schools with a $42 million budget,” he said.

The current teachers’ contract expires on June 30 and Bratlee said he would support requiring teachers to contribute to their healthcare.

“I’ll be fair if they’ll be fair,” he said. “I have to be responsible to the taxpayers and the educators.”

He said in light of what happened in Sandy Hook, Conn., and in Boston, security is a pressing issue and hopes the board will hire a head of security or a security chief to usher in the changes the district needs.

“We’re weak now,” he said. “Someone needs to take charge of security.”

Bratlee favors closing the Kindergarten Center, but said issues need to be worked out before he votes on it.

“Financially, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “But we have to figure out the logistics, fifth graders in the same building as eighth graders, also busing.”

Bartlee currently serves as vice president of the board.

A former resident of West Pittston, Bratlee was a member of Wyoming Area High School’s first graduating class in 1967. He studied business at Luzerne County Community College and served in the U.S. Marine Corp Reserve from 1969 to 1975. He is married to the former Alice Endres and they have two children, Michael and Nichole, and three grandchildren. Bratlee formerly owned Valley Meat and Deli in Avoca for 24 years before retiring. He now works part-time driving a school bus for Yatesville Bus Co.

Bruce Knick, 43, of Dupont, is completing his first term on the school board. He said technology, security and the budget deficit are three pressing issues the board is facing.

Knick said cyber schools are draining the district’s coffers and an in-house program must be implemented.

“Right now we’re using Seneca Valley for our cyber school program, but we need to take control of that,” he said. “We just hired a technology director to bring us up to date with technology, but we need to bring the cyber program in house.”

Security is on everyone’s mind after the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut.

“There’s no doubt we need an upgrade,” he said. “We’ll have to find the money for that.”

But finding the money is a different story with a massive budget hole looming.

“We’re going to try to keep the taxes down for residents of the district,” Knick said. “We’ve been filling budget holes through attrition and retirements. Also, an in-house cyber program could bring money back into the district.”

He said other districts have resorted to layoffs, cutting sports and extra-curricular activities and instituting a “pay to play” policy. He said he would work to avoid any of that.

“We’ve been able to not cut any of the major sports programs and I’m proud of that,” he said. “We’ve been able to keep operating without furloughs, without any layoffs and without cutting into our sports programs.”

Knick is a 1987 graduate of Pittston Area High School and studied business administration classes at LCCC. He is the father of Pittston Area ninth-grader Bruce Knick Jr and has been employed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission as a gamelands maintenance supervisor for 20 years. His work on gamelands includes planting vegetation for the animals and repairing and maintaining roads and bridges on state gamelands. His late father’s business, Hidden Valley Dairy, was based out of Suscon and Knick lived there until moving to Dupont.

Vito Quaglia, 42, of Jenkins Township, a high school principal, said providing a safe and secure environment for children to learn is his major concern. The budget and technology in the curriculum are two other important issues facing the board.

A large chunk of the budget is being directed to charter and cyber schools, Quaglia said.

“You’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “We need to find a way to bring those students back into the fold.”

He said the goal should be to bring in a cyber program run by the district.

“It’s more controlled and the curriculum will be seamless for both the brick and mortar program and the cyber program,” he said.

He said the budget crisis also needs to be addressed.

“You can only raise taxes so much,” he said. “You need to find alternate revenue streams.”

He suggested partnerships with businesses, such as naming rights, as a way to general new revenue. “We need to think outside the box.”

Quaglia said that, as a board member, he would talk to people on the ground and ask if there are other issues that need to be addressed. “But ultimately, my 20 years in public schooling give me the expertise to help make informed decisions.”

Quaglia grew up in Ashley and graduated from Bishop Hoban High School in 1988. He graduated from Wilkes University with a bachelor’s degree in English and history and a master’s degree in education. He also received his principal certificate. He taught at Delaware Valley from 1993 to 1999 and at Hanover Area from 1999 to 2000. He became an assistant principal at Wyoming Area in 2000 and became principal of the Wyoming Area Secondary Center in 2001.

He and his wife, the former Joanne Policare, have three children, Dominique, 14; Vito, 13; and Sophia 8.

Marty Quinn, of Pittston Township, said the big issues facing Pittston Area are education, taxes and security.

“Technology is the big thing,” he said. “I’d like to have a computer in each school for each child, but I understand they’re expensive. We should find a way to pay for it. Finding the money is the key.”

He suggests looking to the state for help.

“The state has a lot of good programs,” he said. “If we had a good grant writer, we could be cashing in on a lot of state grants. Let’s get some money back from the state.”

Quinn, who previously served on the Pittston Area School Board for 20 years, said he is also a taxpayer. “I don’t want to see taxes increase because I’d be increasing my own taxes as well.”

He suggested adding metal detectors or scanners at the doorways at each school to increase security. “It works at airports.” But, he said, he’d like to hear what experts have to say.

“We all have the same goal: To protect the children, teachers and staff in our school,” he said. “I’ll consider any proposals or suggestions.”

Quinn, who refused to provide his age, said he attended Pittston Township and Pittston Central Catholic schools in the 1950s. He received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in the late 1950s. He worked for the Teamster’s Union and the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Conrail for 26 years. He is retired and does electrical work. He and his wife, Barbara, have three grown children, Mitch, Mike and Brian.

“I’m anxious to get back on the board and see if I can help out,” he said.

Roseanne Ricotta, 62, of Hughestown, said healthcare costs, the budget shortfall and not cutting additional programs are the three biggest issues facing the district.

She said all district employees, including teachers, should be required to help offset the cost of their medical insurance.

“Whether it be a higher deductible or a percent of the premium, everyone should start contributing,” she said.

Ricotta worked for the state for many years and workers had to start contributing to their healthcare. “It was slow at first, but eventually, everyone had to do it.”

“Nobody wants to be the one that did it first, but someone will have to cave,” she said. “The cost of healthcare is strangling the school district. Free healthcare is no longer an option.”

She said the $2 million budget shortfall needs to be addressed.

“They’re closing the Kindergarten Center because the cost of repairing it is too high,” she said. “I think that’s a good start, but we need more cuts. We need to find places where the district is overspending, cut out the pork.”

She is not in favor of layoffs or cutting more program.

Ricotta was born and raised in Pittston and graduated from Pittston Area High School in 1968. She graduated from College Misericordia in 1972 with a degree in sociology and secondary education. She was employed for 12 years in the state Department of Education and for 24 years in the Social Security Administration, where she retired as a training coordinator. She has never held an elected office. Ricotta is single and has six great nieces and nephews.

“My concern is that the children are ready for the future,” she said.

Marilyn Starna, 58, of Pittston Township, said the budget, maintaining quality education and technology are the three issues she feels are most important as a board member of Pittston Area.

She said the looming deficit is significant and cuts must be made, including closing the Ben Franklin Kindergarten Center.

“Even if we get some money back from the state, we would take on more than $100,000 a year in debt service,” she said, citing the cost of a renovation project estimated to be $4.5 million.

“If I’m going to spend that much money, I’d rather put it into education and programs than an older building,” Starna said, noting she predicted this budget crisis two years ago.

She said cash for new and innovative programs is coming in from the district’s charitable foundation, but cuts must be made to keep the district above water.

“We’re here for educational purposes,” Starna said. “That should be our main priority. I’d hate to see any programs cut, but we need to be realistic.

She said a new technology director is in place and the district has computers and computerized white board, but technology needs to be integrated into the curriculum.

“We have everything we need, we just need to maximize the potential from it,” she said.

Starna, who is completing her first terms on the board, said board members are working on a budget that will avoid any layoffs. “The last thing I want to see is anyone lose their job.”

Originally from Plains, the former Marilyn Jackloski graduated from Plains High School in 1972. She took classes at Wilkes University and LCCC. She is employed as a bank manager at Wells Fargo on Main Street in Pittston and has worked in local banks since 1987. She and her husband, Robert, have resided in Pittston Township for 38 years. They have a daughter, Leslie, and two grandchildren, Beau and Milania.

The primary election is on May 21.