Finances a hot topic at GASD board debate
By Adam Michael, Times Sports Writer | Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2015 Gettysburg Times
Alex J. Hayes/Gettysburg Times DEBATE – Participating in the Gettysburg Area School District board of directors candidates’ debate Wednesday were, from left, Carlos Wampler, Paul Plank, Cynthia Anne Birdwell, Coyd Marion Bud Vance, William Hewitt, Jim Henderson, Keith Bruck and Stuart Kravits. Absent from the debate were Kathryn Hewitt and David Green.
Eight of 10 Gettysburg Area School District Board of Directors hopefuls met at the Lutheran Theological Seminary for a debate, sharing their merits while dissecting issues currently facing the school district.
Potential voters filled Valentine Hall Auditorium Wednesday to discuss hot topics such as tax increment financing proposals that could affect the district, current board strategies for reducing costs, strengths of the district and other audience submitted questions. The two-hour event was hosted by the Gettysburg Times and Gettysburg Area Democracy for America.
Four of five candidates self-identified as a “team” looking for change were on the receiving end of questions from Gettysburg Times Managing Editor Alex J. Hayes, who served as the moderator. Those candidates were Paul C. Plank, Cynthia Anne Birdwell, Coyd Marion Bud Vance, Stuart S. Kravits.
Another newcomer, Carlos E. Wampler, and incumbents Jim Henderson, Keith E. Bruck and William D. Hewitt also took part in the debate.
Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which would take the tax revenue newly realized from a developed property and use it to repay bonds issued by the Adams County Industrial Development Authority, created the clearest divide of the night. Two plans, Discovery Gettysburg and Gettysburg Crossing, are currently on the table.
Vance said the long-term stability of Discovery Gettysburg, a development proposal by developers Robert Karen and Rick Klein that would build homes for 2,000 adults, age 55 and up over the next 25 years, would expand the tax base over the long term.
Wampler said he believed in economic development, but not at the expense of students. Taking away public tax dollars to promote private development was not an option, he added. Bruck agreed with Wampler, adding that increasing retirement costs over the next decade would already draw the tax base too thin, inadvertently resulting in program cuts should either TIF program be approved.
Henderson said it was not the job of the school district to support for-profit, large corporations.
“It’s our job to provide the best education for students, not provide an unnecessary burden on tax payers,” Henderson said.
Bruck was the first to insinuate that the “Group of Five” joined forces to try to push through the approval of a TIF supporting Discovery Gettysburg.
“For so long, we’ve complained that we can’t stand politics in Washington and Harrisburg because big money dictates what gets done and what doesn’t,” Bruck said. “Guess what folks, this election, it’s happening here.
“Know this group and what they’re about. I’m not saying anything negative about the people running, I’m concerned about the group backing them.”
Vance and Kravits both said they’d decided to run for school board on their own.
“I’m my own man and I’ll make the best decision for the community and the children first,” Kravits said. “I will not support anything that pays individuals, no matter who they are. Mr. Klein is one person, he has one vote. He does not own me.”
Vance reiterated the same: “I’m sure you’ve seen the signs, it says paid for by candidate,” he said. “I’m my own person. I’m nobody’s lap dog. I’m here to make sure we provide the best opportunity for students supporting teachers at the lowest cost we can.”
“People think there’s a hidden agenda, but there’s no hidden agenda for all of us,” Birdwell said. “We’re problem solvers.”
Hayes turned the discussion to cutting costs in the school district, Birdwell suggested that solar panels had reduced energy costs in Carlisle, but would withhold her approval of that same solution at Gettysburg until she’d had a closer look.
Kravits said “going green” made a significant difference while cutting costs at Lockheed Martin and IBM. He added that Gettysburg High School, which was built in 1999, will soon be in need of maintenance from natural wear and tear. He said he will work to drive down the costs of capital expenditures of future projects.
Henderson turned the issue to state funding. He said that at its peak, state government funded 50 percent of costs of education. That funding has dwindled to 29 percent today, he said.
“I do not see areas where costs can be cut,” Henderson said. “We have reduced programs as far as we can without cutting into them. We have a debt, but our capital debt will be retired in 12 years time.”
Bruck and Wampler agreed that now was not the time to cut deeper into the school’s budget. Vance said preventative measures can be taken on projects that end up costing more than he believed they should. He pointed to repaving school parking lots at Lincoln Elementary and the high school.
“Why do we wait to replace it?” he asked. “Why didn’t we patch it up when the problem started. We need to have our eyes on preventative maintenance rather than replacement.”
While taxes were increasing, costs of salaries, pension and inflation have risen even more, Hewitt said.
“Sometimes when looking at taxes, we say we’re paying too much. You’re looking at the glass half full,” he said. “In the last four years, we could have asked for $22.4 million in tax dollars more than we did. That was allowable by law.
“When people say cut, cut cut, we’re doing it, but we’re not going to slash programs and opportunities for kids.”
Wampler worked 38 years at Gettysburg High School before recently retiring. He spent 25 years as a teacher and the last 13 as an assistant principal and athletic director and has lived in the school district for the entirety of that time.
Plank is semi-retired after 22 years working at Utz Quality Foods and previously has experience as a bowling business owner. He is an umpire for local baseball leagues.
Birdwell is a first-grade teacher in the Carlisle School District and has taught in Pennsylvania schools for 19 years.
Vance, who goes by Bud, is a retired lieutenant colonel after 27 years of active duty in the military. He retired to the Gettysburg area.
Kravits is retired after working 40 years as a presentation manager and “teacher of teachers” for IBM and Lockheed Martin. He moved here from Montgomery County, Md. 10 years ago.
Henderson has been on the board for the last four years and is its current treasurer. He is also the South Central Assistant Regional Director of Adams County, which he said has put him in a position to speak with local and state politicians about resources with school districts.
Bruck was a member of the Gettysburg school board from 2009-13 and returned after Kristin Woodward stepped down in March. He has been a teacher for the last 21 years and said he moved to Gettysburg from Littlestown to give his children a leg up on other kids across the Adams County in terms of education.
Hewitt is a retired career military man, spending 31 years in the army. He was elected to the board four years ago with the mindset to balance community needs with those of the students, teachers and administration.
Candidates David Green and incumbent Kathryn Hewitt, were not in attendance.
The primary election will be held on Tuesday, May 19.