LEWISTOWN - Keeping a watchful eye on taxpayer dollars, communicating effectively with the public and improving vocational instruction for local students were among the topics discussed by the candidates running for Mifflin County School Board during the Farm Bureau's Measure the Candidates event, held Wednesday at Mifflin County High School.
Candidates Richard A. Smeltz, John Knepp, Bob Hammond, and incumbents, Kristen Sharp and Walter L. Harpster were in attendance. James R. Hurlburt Jr. was not present, and there was mention that one candidate has withdrawn from the race.
After brief introductions, the candidates answered four questions posed by the audience.
Q: What is your interest in seeking a position on the Mifflin County School Board?
All candidates emphasized the need for greater financial accountability. Sharp stressed that the investment is "in not only your children, but my own," adding that she currently has two children enrolled in elementary school in the district.
Hammond pledged his support for taxpayers. Knepp agreed, adding that he hopes to improve communication between the school board and the public about how taxpayer dollars are being spent.
"I believe there needs to be a watchful eye over where your taxes are going," Smeltz said.
He added that the board must be careful with every dollar coming in, but not at the cost of children's education.
After serving on the board for eight years, Harpster said he is happy with where the district is headed and wants to see the community continue to move forward.
Q: Are you in favor of spending upwards of $10 million to upgrade the former Highland Park school to a new Career and Technology Center?
Smeltz said he is "100 percent against" the idea, and most of the other candidates followed suit. He said he visited the CTC during its open house last fall and felt that the school was well-equipped to handle vocational education for Mifflin County students into the future. He said the school sits on a 20-acre parcel of land with enough room for agricultural students to raise 6 to 8 acres of corn to feed their cows, and the school still has room for auto body and other educational departments. Smeltz said he doesn't see how all of that would be possible with moving to another campus.
"I believe the CTC should stay exactly where it is," Knepp agreed.
He said he is a 1984 graduate of the school, which underwent a series of recent renovations to update the heating system and roof.
"It was built to be a vo-tech," he explained.
Harpster and Hammond agreed that they're not in favor of investing money into the former Highland Park Area Elementary School.
"I can't intelligently sit here and say spending $10 million to move facilities is a good idea ... at this time," Hammond said.
Sharp's response varied slightly from her fellow candidates.
"I understand the direction our county wants to go," she said.
Sharp added that she thinks moving facilities is a good idea, but she doesn't feel that now this is the right time. Instead, she said she would like to see more investment into the improvement of current school buildings and facilities.
Q: If you are elected, do you feel it's important to visit our schools on a regular basis?
All candidates agreed that they plan to be as available as possible to the public.
Knepp said he will visit schools to seek student and faculty opinions for improving operations.
Harpster agreed, saying he has been active in the schools and doesn't believe board members can fully understand the district's needs without being involved.
Additionally, Smeltz said the board should be more approachable and wants to make it easier for the public to contact board members.
Sharp said her career makes it more difficult to be in the schools, but she makes herself as available as possible to answer questions from the community. Hammond agreed that he is available and will be accountable to those who vote.
Q: How do you feel about sub-contracting custodial services?
"I don't agree at all ... our custodians are taxpayers in the county," Knepp said.
The other candidates agreed that money should stay local; however, several candidates hesitated to give a definite answer about the future.
"The school board has to look at all ways to save money," Harpster said. "Currently, we don't outsource any of our jobs."
However, he said it's important for the district to put their money into classroom instruction.
"We have to look at that too," he said, referring to cost-saving options outside of the classroom.
Hammond, Sharp and Smeltz agreed, emphasizing that they aren't for sub-contracting services, but that it's beneficial for the district to explore the possibility.
Following questions from the public, candidates gave closing remarks.
The candidates presently are running for four-year terms on the Mifflin County School Board. A two-year term is also available, but no one has filed for the position.