Candidates for the Elizabethtown Area school board agree that the district’s four As — academics, athletics, arts and altruism — are alive and well.
And they’d like to keep it that way.
How they intend to do that was discussed at a public forum held Thursday, Oct. 26, at Elizabethtown Area Middle School. The event — sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Elizabethtown and hosted by The Elizabethtown Advocate, an LNP Media Group publication — featured an hour and a half of commentary from prospective school board members.
Democrats Kelly Shaffer Fuddy and Erin Grosh participated against Republicans Menno Riggleman and Michelle Pelna. Andrew Esoldo, a Democrat, and James Read, a Republican, did not attend.
The six candidates are vying for four four-year seats on the school board in the Nov. 7 election.
Among the topics discussed were unfunded state mandates, issues pertaining to the school district’s budget and how to preserve quality educational opportunities while remaining good stewards of taxpayer money.
“Everything’s getting more expensive,” Riggleman, a self-described “numbers man,” said. Balancing a budget, he said, has become increasingly strenuous with rising pension and health care costs.
Riggleman said his 11 years running a business could help him figure out fiscally responsible ways to counteract state mandates.
Riggleman did have some awkward moments on stage.
To an audience-submitted question regarding a comment he made about potentially cutting programs, he mentioned his Christian faith and the concerns he has heard from residents regarding the use of bathrooms by transgender students.
“Call me old school,” he said, adding that he isn’t “here to stir up trouble.”
Other candidates in attendance assured the audience that cutting programs is the last thing on their minds.
“There are really hard decisions to come,” Shaffer Fuddy said, adding that there are “threats to programs that are really special to our children and to our community.”
They include arts, library instruction and music programs, in addition to extracurricular activities, where Shaffer Fuddy said students often “find their voice.”
Instead of opting for cuts, Grosh, a homemaker and former educator, said, the school board must “open up those activities to everyone” and invest in “quality teachers” and “quality thinkers.”
“I don’t have any brilliant answers,” she said. “But I would say that creative problem solving from our school board will be a big part of it.”
She said extracurriculars, for example, take up only 2 percent of the district’s budget. To diminish that and take away those opportunities, she said, would be “heartbreaking.”
Echoing her fellow Democrat and childhood friend, Shaffer Fuddy said school board members must become “idea generators” and be willing to listen and heed the community’s concerns.
As a chaplain, she said, her job is to listen. And she’ll take that skill to the board if she’s elected.
Pelna, the only incumbent in the race, knows the issues Elizabethtown faces all too well.
She said the school board has made “great strides” during her eight years as a board member.
“Balancing the needs of our community and our school district is challenging, and it’s going to continue to be challenging,” she said.
But, she said, she feels prepared to have the “tough conversations” to overcome that challenge.