Indiana, PA - Indiana County

PURCHASE LINE: Eight running for seats on school board

by SAM KUSIC on May 12, 2011 3:00 AM

PURCHASE LINE -- While Purchase Line School District can't boast of a large enrollment or a plush bottom line, there is one thing that is plentiful these days -- turmoil.

Purchase Line, like many other districts in the county, is struggling to make ends meet due to state budget cuts. And those come against the backdrop of a controversial renovation plan and lingering questions of what the future holds for North Elementary School as well as for the district itself.

Into that mix comes this year's election, which has the potential to upend the board's makeup as three incumbents seek to hold their seats, two appointees look for their first full terms and three newcomers look for a place at the table.

Five seats are available. There also is a sixth two-year seat.

In the field are incumbents Mary Ann Pittman, Matthew Pearce and Taylor Myers. They're joined by newcomers James Stiffler, Vicki Froum-Goss, James McMullen, Pamela Gardner and Kevin Smith. Stiffler and Smith currently are serving as board appointees.

They're all seeking four-year terms. But Pittman, Smith, Pearce and Stiffler are also hedging, seeking a two-year seat as well.

The board already has been undergoing a transition that began with the death of its president, Pastor Robert Kurka. Kurka died in November after losing his battle with cancer. The board later appointed Stiffler to take his seat. Then in January, former board member Galen Edwards announced that he was resigning, saying he thought the time was right to step down and let others with a more vested interest in the district take the leadership reins. He was replaced by Smith.

In addition, longtime board member Roy Markle has chosen not to seek re-election, saying that it's time for him to step aside, too. His wife, Barb Markle, a district employee and former president of the support staff union, retired at the beginning of the school year.

Markle said he had been asked to run again, but declined.

"I said, 'No, thank you.' It's time for me to quit."

However, he said there is a group in the district who are going to attempt to have him put on the ballot through a write-in initiative. Markle said he thinks the group is trying to send a message to the board about the direction the district is heading.

Still, he promised his time on the board is at an end.

"I'm kind of trapped in the middle, but trust me, I'm not going to be at polling places handing out stickers. I'm finished. It's time for somebody else."

Markle said he'll miss the district's children. "I enjoy watching them be students. Just when you think the world is going to hell, they turn around and do something that knocks your socks off."

Markle said the challenge before the board will be to find a way to deliver a quality education with the resources the district has, an education that truly prepares students to enter the work force.

And that will be difficult, considering that the district, which relies on the state for the lion's share of its operating funds, is facing a deficit due to state budget cuts and is considering laying off some teachers. It's also borrowed to pay for the extensive renovation of South Elementary School.

So there are questions about the financial path ahead for the district. The Gazette posed a set of three questions to each of the candidates intended to solicit their thoughts on some of the lingering issues.

However, several of the candidates declined to answer the questions, generally saying that the issues raised are touchy and that they were worried about unnecessarily angering residents. Other candidates, however, did answer the questions and their responses appear in the profiles below.

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