Candidates Discuss Key Issues At W-B Area Forum
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre Area School Board candidates discussed several key issues during a forum Friday night — student achievement, expenses and the plan for a new consolidated high school.
A crowd of around 50 heard from eight of the nine primary election candidates. Four incumbents are running — the Rev. Shawn Walker, Mark Atherton, Dr. James Susek and John Quinn, who was unable to attend the forum because he is recovering from eye surgery.
“We are in a big transition in our school district,” Atherton said. “And I am confident that I can make a positive impact by serving on the school board.”
Walker said the election “is about moving education forward,” adding it’s “about progress” and “about the future.”
Five challengers are on the May 21 primary ballot — Terry Schiowitz, Debbie Orlando Formola, Beth Anne Owens-Harris, Bob Holden and Robin Shudak.
“I truly don’t think there has ever been a more pivotal time in the history of our school district than right now,” Owens-Harris said.
“District wide students are failing scholastically,” Schiowitz said.
The school district “is failing our students because it is neglecting the very thing it is here to do — education,” Shudak claimed, adding “less than half the students can read at their grade level.”
The school board plans to build a new $121 million consolidated high school on an old mining site in Plains Twp.
“That site is unsafe in my mind,” Formola said.
Susek said the state Department of Environmental Protection “would not allow us to build there if it was any danger to any children.”
The district plans to merge its three high schools — GAR, Meyers and Coughlin — into the new high school when the 2021-22 school year begins.
“Low socioeconomic students in big schools tend to fall through the cracks,” Holden said. “We cannot afford to have any more students fall through the cracks.”
Susek said “one school is the way to go” and added “the site in Plains Twp. is a great site.”
Owens-Harris said “no matter how shiny the new building is, no one will move to this city to send their child to a failing school.”
Walker said the new high school will provide “an atmosphere and environment that our kids will be most successful with.” The consolidated high school will reduce personnel and other operational costs by $3.5 million a year, and that will offset the added costs in transportation and debt payments, Walker explained.
The forum was at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre. It was initially going to be at Wilkes University’s Henry Center Ballroom, but the university and the Downtown Residents Association canceled the forum at the Henry Center due to “escalated hostilities” and security issues there.
Hostilities increased after Richard Holodick, a member of the Save Our Schools group opposed to the high school consolidation plan, posted photos on Facebook that put the faces of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District superintendent and solicitor inside circles. Those photos “give the impression ... of looking through an unmarked rifle scope,” school board member Denise Thomas said.
Two city police officers were present at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church during the forum.
Contact the writer: