LEWISTOWN - Five area residents who oppose the decision to consolidate high schools announced their candidacies for the Mifflin County School District Board of Directors, during a press conference held Thursday at the Downtown OIP in Lewistown.
The candidates gave brief statements about their desire to change the direction of the school district and provide the best education the board can afford. Each candidate said he or she stands in firm opposition to merging Indian Valley High School and Lewistown Area High School.
"They did this in a haphazard, short-sided, irresponsible matter without concern for the impact on the community and the students affected," candidate Beth Laughlin said.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Five area residents announcing their candidacy for Mifflin County School District Board of Directors on Thursday include, from left, front, Annemarie Swifford and Beth Laughlin; back, Kent Smith, Tom White and Neil Russler
Laughlin said it was not a well thought out plan because they did not consider the diverse population located all over Mifflin County when they opted to consolidate.
But she also said she was unsure of what could be changed to alter the direction of the consolidation. Laughlin said they will have to wait to see what type of flexibility will be available when Governor Tom Corbett releases the state budget in upcoming months. However, she did offer some thoughts on future community involvement.
"We want to have open discourse with community members," Laughlin said. "The community is tired of getting shut out."
She also suggested this was an opportunity to implement a financial advisory committee that would be flexible to beliefs and opinions presented by the community.
Laughlin and the four other candidates gave short statements pertaining to their electoral hopes.
Anne Marie Swifford stressed the importance of making decisions in the best interest of the children.
"We can return the school district to fiscal solvency and educational excellence," she said.
Swifford has two children who attend Strodes Mills Elementary. Her husband, Daniel, is a lifelong resident of Mifflin County and is a doctor in the community. According to a press release, she remains involved in her children's education as the PSA president at Strodes Mills Elementary. She is frequently a guest reader to her son's class and room mom for her daughter's class.
According to the release, Swifford received a bachelor's degree in travel and tourism management from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an associate's degree in travel and tourism from Herkimer County Community College. Her professional experience ranges from being a corporate meeting planner to working with a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company and five-star hotels, the release states.
Candidate Neil Russler expressed his desire to mitigate the financial distress of the school district with "reasonable and sustainable solutions."
He said incorporating the community, parents, students and educators in this discussion is vital to achieving success. Russler also said he would like to help each child reach their academic potential.
"Through the use of ingenuity and resourcefulness, I believe our finances will be able to support and open doors to our future," Russler added.
Russler and his wife Deanna have five children ranging in age from 3 to 6 years old. He is a 1983 Chief Logan graduate and a 1986 graduate of Pennsylvania College of Technology, according to a press release. He works as an engineering support specialist at Penn State University, the release states.
Laughlin said she is running to be given the opportunity to change the way the school district is doing business. She stressed the importance of staying true to Mifflin County's roots, saying, "We don't need to be State College, we don't need to be Harrisburg."
According to a press release, Laughlin received a Bachelor of Science in forest products. She and her husband, Joe, own and operate their dairy farm in Ferguson Valley, and they have four children.
According to the release, Laughlin said she discovered how important it is for members of a community to be involved and volunteer when she was given the opportunity to become a 4-H leader while her children were small. The release states she has been active in organizations and activities such as The Victory Park Restoration Committee and Dairy Princess Committee.
Candidate Kent Smith said the community needs to work together to set a budget that they can maintain. He said it is also important to prioritize education to attract businesses to the county.
He is a life-long Mifflin County resident and is employed as the Mifflin Borough Chief of Police, according to a press release. The release states he and his wife, Angie, live in Reedsville with their two children, Jake and McKenna, who both attend school in the district. The release states Smith is a 1990 graduate of Indian Valley High School and a 2001 graduate of the Act 120 police training program through Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He completed the Penn State supervisor course in 1998 and served on the board of the Mifflin and Juniata County Abuse Network as well as the Juniata County Prison board.
Candidate Thomas White Jr., of McVeytown, said he is "eager to prioritize the needs and the wants of the school district while maintaining fiscal and educational responsibility."
According to a press release, he is a state certified water treatment plant and distribution system operator. He is a certified HVAC technician and has 15 years of experience in home and commercial building construction. He also has served as an Oliver Township supervisor for five years.
He is a Lewistown Area High School graduate and was a part-time student at Penn State University, the release states. He was a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society and has received numerous certificates in both the HVAC and water treatment, distribution field.
The release states he is employed as an operations manager at the municipal authority of the borough of Lewistown. He and his wife, Beth White, have a 10-year-old son. He is a lifelong resident of Mifflin County and a member of the Pine Glen Church of the Brethren.
Pennsylvania's municipal primary election is slated for Tuesday, May 17.