COLEBROOKDALE >> Four applicants are seeking the vacant Boyertown Area School Board Region 1 seat held until last month by Robert Caso.
Region 1 includes the boroughs of Bally and Bechtelsville and Colebrookdale, Earl, and Washington townships.
Caso resigned just two months after being reelected to a four-year term. The person who fills his seat will serve until December of 2019, the next municipal election.
In November of 2019, voters will decide who fills the remaining two years of the seat’s term.
One of the four applicants for the seat, Rodney Boyer, was a candidate for the seat in last November’s election for a Region 1 seat. He lost to Caso by 49 votes.
The other applicants for the seat, in the order they were interviewed, are William Yanalavage, Ruth Baker, and Robert Houck.
The candidates were interviewed publicly by the full school board Monday and Tuesday evenings at Colebrookdale Elementary School and the interviews were video-recorded by the district.
The board will vote on the new member at the Tuesday, March 13 meeting in the Boyertown Education Center on Montgomery Avenue. The candidate selected will be sworn in immediately and take part in the meeting that night, according to School Board President Donna Usavage.
A mechanical engineer with a daughter who went through the Boyertown schools and is now in college, Yanalavage said he applied for the seat because he believes it is time to give back to the community.
A Boyertown graduate, Yanalavage said he went to Penn State for a year after graduating and then took a factory job with his father.
He decided to get a college education while working in the factory, got a degree from Temple University “the hard way,” by going at night and working full time.
It took 9 years. He has been a mechanical engineer for 39 years.
Yanalavage told the board his job involves cost-cutting, working with a group to find a less expensive way to produce a quality product and the key to that is listening to all ideas, no matter who they come from.
He said he does not understand why students would drop out of high school and said education really has to “grab” students and help them find their best path to the future.
Yanalavage said school board members must balance needs of children with needs and burdens on the taxpayers. “I don’t know all the ins and outs of what happens with the money, but I’m willing to learn,” he said.
Boyertown provides a good education, Yanalavage said, but there is room for improvement. He said he does not know a lot about how the school board functions, but has no personal agenda.
Baker, who often speaks at school board meetings, said she best represents the views of Caso for Region 1.
Baker says she has done private tutoring, has organized donation of dictionaries to the schools in the 1990s and sat on strategic planning committee in 1990s. Baker has served on other boards, is recording secretary for Rolling Hills Landfill Advisory Council, has served on Earl Township Planning Commission and helped to establish historical society.
Baker said she hopes public schools accomplish something similar to what she received in Boyertown Schools; good grammar, writing, science she needed, strong level at math that allowed her to test out of college courses, as well as respect, community service, good citizenship and common sense.
If selected, Baker said she would benchmark district performance against other high-achieving districts in the state, and well-respected private schools. The SATs are the only nationally normed test and Boyertown is in the lower third, she said. So she would look to see what higher-achieving districts are doing differently.
Recognizing that the school board only has control over about 30 percent of budget, Baker said she would also like to streamline operations as much as possible to avoid tax increases on the horizon, without having it harm student achievement, which means she would look at administration and things that are “nice to have but not needs.”
Baker said the role of individual school board members should be to represent their region, “with honor and integrity.” For the board as a whole, Baker said its role should be to act as an oversight body, ensure students get what they deserve and are well-prepared and that there is “no malfeasance or moral turpitude among staff.”
Boyer is a retired music teacher from the Pottsgrove School District, where he worked for 34 years.
He has a daughter in the school system.
Boyer volunteered in daughter’s school, was homeroom parent, volunteered in the library at Washington Elementary and dance marathon at Boyertown Junior High West. He volunteered at the jazz fest last weekend and served on the district’s strategic planning committee.
Boyer said “public education is crucial to our country, since founding of the country,” adding that in 21st century, public education has to be bigger than being able to read the Bible, in a technology-laden world. “Schools should teach students to be good citizens of country and of the world.”
Boyer said it is the job of the school board to set policy and strategy for school district, ensure adequate resources. Individual board members bring their thoughts, ideas and backgrounds and contribute together as a team but none have more power than another.
Calling the quality of education in Boyertown “superb,” Boyer said he is the best candidate, because he has “skin in the game,” a daughter in the school district. He also has 34 years of experience in public education; has served on strategic planning committees and on school evaluation teams.
Boyer said the greatest challenge facing the school board is working together as a team to accomplish the mission. Also, “we have some budget problems, not unique to Boyertown, but it is a major one.” The board must also hire a new superintendent, a new business manager, negotiate a new contract with the teachers and fix the problems at the stadium at Boyertown Area High School.
A former CEO in the foundry industry, Houck said he is familiar with the Boyertown School district largely through his wife who taught there for more than two decades.
With a number of tough financial decisions on the horizon, Houck told the board his experience could be helpful in cutting costs, obtaining money and he also has a background in human resources and helped negotiate 14 union contracts.
Houck said the role of public education is to provide best the options for students, to guide them in direction of their abilities, which is why guidance counselors are so important. Public education should prepare kids for college or a trade, to make educated decisions on what is best suited for them.
Houck said his objective is “to have best possible relationship with staff and teachers,” make this an open forum to bring for the best ideas. “For me, its about what’s best for the students, opportunity wise and facility wise.”
The role of the school board, said Houck, is to make best decisions for the majority of people in the school district, enact obtainable budgets, but get best gang for the buck out of that for students. “I know its tough not to do major cutbacks,” he said.
Houck said Boyertown schools need improvement in terms of education level, when compared to private schools. “I don’t know how to do that and I don’t mean that as a condemnation, but efforts need to provide more emphasis to kids and help them excel.”