School board looks toward special election

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Williamsport Sun-Gazette continues its look at the key contests for municipal, township and school board nominations in the May 21 primary election. Installments each day through Saturday will focus on a different race.)

Although the May 21 primary election may settle races on area school boards long before November’s election, a newly-created seat on the Jersey Shore Area School Board will place a new board member on it immediately.

After a court-ordered reapportion of boundaries for the district’s school board earlier this year, a special election is set to place a new board member in June. The change in boundaries will move from nine current regions to three.

The special election – which will move one seat from Region 2 to Region 3 – has one name on the ballot, Loren Koch.

Richard Emery, superintendent, explained that the current board member whose seat was moved will step down once a new member is elected. According to the district’s website, the seat currently is held by John Shireman, representing Jersey Shore’s 3rd Ward.

“What it will do is we have a current board member that would be up for re-election and he does not live in the region that they moved the (seat) to,” Emery said. “The board member will step down. That board seat will be redistricted.”

With a board member stepping down after the special election, it will remain a nine-member board, Emery said.

Although he’s never been around for a reapportionment of school board boundaries before, Emery believes it will be a smooth transition with the new board member, saying it would be like a board member stepping down in the middle of their term.

“It won’t be any different than if a board member steps down,” Emery said. “I have had that happen before.”

The move, Emery said, will give district residents a more equal say in school matters.

“You look at the population of the district and try to best apportion it to represent the district as fairly as possible,” he said.

And although Koch is the only candidate for the one seat in the special election, the other two regions will have active races in the primary.

Incumbent Craig M. Allen and Bethany Shrodo will vie for a lone seat up for grabs in Region 1. In Region 2, current board members Harry Brungard and Shelley A.R. Helm will be up against David R. Hines and Kelley Wasson for two seats on the board.

All candidates cross-filed and will appear on both ballots.

Brungard, who has served on the board for eight years, said with so many changes happening in the district – construction project, possible school closure – he would like to “see things through.” He said his experience working on the board would make it easy for him to understand the full scope of the situation.

Helm, also on the board for eight years and currently board president, said her motivation for being on the board is simple: “It’s always the kids.”

She added that the issues facing Jersey Shore are the same everywhere, including retirement, health care, and cyber and charter schools. And with a background as an educator, Helm said those working in education must be “forward thinkers” to see the next obstacle. She added that the administration has been good at doing so.

Shrodo, who works as an engineer, believes she would be an asset to the board when it comes to construction projects, like the one it is undergoing at Jersey Shore Elementary School. By knowing the right questions to ask and understanding the PlanCon process, Shrodo said it would allow the board to be more fiscally responsible to the district’s taxpayers.

But as a mother of two students in the district, Shrodo added that she also wants the best for students.

“I’m a parent so I have the kids in mind, too,” she said. “So I don’t just want to pass the budget, which is a goal, I also have the kids’ interests in mind.”

Wasson, who has lived in the Nippenose Valley for 44 years, currently is performing an internship as a school counselor and believes she would bring a fresh perspective to the board.

“As I began the process of attending school board meetings I just felt that I could contribute to that board in a positive way,” she said. “… I would bring to that board a voice of perspective – new perspective.”

All candidates mentioned the decision facing the board in the coming months as the district is looking at potentially closing Nippenose Valley Elementary School.

“No one wants to close a school,” Helm said. “It’s just you have to be a global thinker. You have to know what’s going on in education. It’s not like it was thought of yesterday, it’s been a five-year haul.”

Helm also noted that it’s “not personal” with closing a school for her.

Wasson wants to learn more about the closing before deciding how she’d vote on it. She added that the board needs to be open with the public when making decisions.

“I really do believe we need to see that. I think we need a more open board,” Wasson said. “… I want to hear all of the information before I vote either way.”

Shrodo does not agree with any consolidation plan in the district. But if one is implemented it must look for the students’ best interest.

“If that’s done, it needs to be done carefully,” she said.

Although Brungard agrees with closing a school, he said there were better options.

“I agree with the consolidation but I think there were other schools out there that would have led to a little more income through leasing,” he said.

And while each candidate spoke about specific issues, they also said it’s important to look at the “big picture.”

“I think, personally, I am very good at looking at the big picture. I am very astute and looking at all angles,” Wasson said.

“It’s the whole picture,” Shrodo said, “I want it all to run properly.”

Allen and Hines did not return messages seeking comment for this story.