Three candidates are campaigning for two seats on the Lackawanna Trail School Board in the upcoming primary election on May 21.
This includes incumbents David Thorne and Joseph Strauch, as well as newcomer Brian Petula.
All three candidates are cross-registered with the Democratic and Republican parties.
Both incumbents are in their second four-year term, and Thorne presently serves as president of the nine-member board.
Thorne, a Clarks Summit native who now resides in Factoryville, originally served on the Abington Heights School Board for three years. He has also been the assistant foreman at DPW for the past 30 years.
Having a son who required special education, Thorne wasn’t pleased with the way Abington handled these matters, which inspired him to run.
He found the work enjoyable and discovered that he “had a knack for it,” leading to his eventual decision to run for the Trail board, where he has held the title of president three times.
Strauch was born and raised in Manhattan, N.Y. and moved to Clinton Township in 1972. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Baruch College and later his master’s degree.
Strauch retired from MetLife in 2001, where he was a senior systems analyst.
His original reason for running was frustration over the lack of information being provided to the public in the district’s school board meetings.
“After attending a year’s worth of meetings, I decided I could offer the public more information than they’re getting,” he said. “That’s always been top of my agenda: information distribution.”
Petula, who was born and raised in Factoryville, graduated from Lackawanna Trail and considers himself a “proud Lion.”
He attended Lehigh University for political science/government and later earned his MBA and law degrees from Wake Forest University.
His career has revolved around education, law and technology. Petula is an attorney and owner of the online practice Crossover Law and a former Marywood University professor.
He has also worked with Future Connect, a company that offers career education to students K-12 online and in schools, and undergone an education policy fellowship with the Institute of Educational Leadership.
Petula, who has lobbied for education in the state government, said board members have asked for the past 10 years or so if he would get involved, which encouraged him to run in this election.
“I can see the schools are under increasing pressure financially due to the way cyber schools are run in Pennsylvania and healthcare costs,” he said, noting that this stress on schools impacts educational programming. “I feel like the students are starting to suffer, and hope that I can get involved in trying to help alleviate some of those issues.”
If reelected, Thorne said taking action against unfunded mandates that are crushing the district financially will be a priority. This year, he hopes the board can eliminate the per capita tax for residents.
The state’s funding formula for education allots more money to schools in bigger cities like Philadelphia, which is another problem Thorne wants to address.
“Charter schools are crushing us to death. You have millions going out the door,” he said. “The state legislature has the ability to fix it but they’re not. We can cut eight mills off our taxes if they would just fix the charter schools.”
Thorne considers his major accomplishments on the board to be negotiating two different pay freezes for all employees and helping the district climb its way out of a deficit.
“Now we’ve managed to do a building improvement, we’ve got a positive fund balance and we’re putting money away for future projects,” he said. “I think we’re on better financial footing.”
If reelected, Strauch wants to continue being transparent with the public and advocating with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
“It’s only with the public’s involvement that we can have a better educational system,” he said.
Reducing or at least not increasing taxes will be another priority, Strauch said, noting that higher taxes can be tough on seniors, farmers, businesses and people on fixed incomes.
Strauch cited conforming to the Sunshine Act and appearing in Harrisburg on the Sunshine Committee, perfect attendance and reviewing all documents and contracts in depth as his major accomplishments and strengths as a board member.
Petula believes the Trail School Board has done a fine job, but “I’d want to focus on controlling costs while improving educational outcomes and student success, and more specifically, like to explore building a strong alumni association for the school district,” to help fund scholarships and student programs.