The last remaining Armstrong school board director who had supported efforts to renovate the district’s high schools rather than to consolidate into fewer buildings was voted out of office at Tuesday’s primary election.
D. Royce Smeltzer has served on the board for 16 years, but lost both the Republican and Democratic nominations Tuesday in the district’s Region III to Linda Walker and Timothy Scaife. Adam P. Grafton was the fourth candidate, who was also defeated.
And because incumbents Joe Close, in Region II, and James Rearic, in Region I, won both party’s nominations as well, all nine board members will support consolidation efforts come December.
“It was a good run. It was a good experience (but) it was time,” Smeltzer said. “I feel that I did my part.”
There were two seats open this year in Region III, which covers Smicksburg Borough and West Mahoning Township in Indiana County and Atwood, Dayton, Elderton and Rural Valley boroughs and Boggs, Cowanshannock, Kittanning, Pine, Plumcreek, South Bend, Valley and Wayne townships in Armstrong County.
Since they received both the Democrat and Republican nominations, Scaife and Walker will be the only two names on the ballot in November for those two positions. Stan Berdell holds the third seat.
Smeltzer has consistently voted in favor of smaller community schools. He voted against closing Elderton Junior-Senior High School both the first and the second time; and voted in favor of re-opening and then renovating the high school.
He was one of the six directors who voted to borrow roughly $80 million to renovate the Elderton complex, Ford City Junior-Senior High School and Kittanning Junior and Kittanning Senior high schools.
After four of the six renovation-minded directors lost in the primary election last year, Smeltzer and director Sara Yassem tried to combat efforts to close Elderton Junior-Senior High School a second time. Yassem resigned Feb. 29, leaving Smeltzer to champion the community school idea — and Elderton — on his own.
He opposed building the new high school, arguing that if a school were to be built, all district students should be able to attend. He supported efforts by South Bend Township parents to secede and by Elderton area residents to start a charter school, which the board denied last March.
He said before the election that he wasn’t afraid to say no when he felt his constituents would be better served in other ways, and that he thought the district was headed in the wrong direction and that decisions were being made with blank checks.
And he said Wednesday that while he remains concerned about the district’s finances, losing the seat is “a burden off my shoulders” and that he wished Walker well.
“Linda Walker’s the hardest working board member on there,” he said. “I hope she serves us well.”
For her part, Walker said she was ready to continue on.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into it, up to my elbows,” she said.
Walker was appointed in February of 2012 after Yassem resigned. She has voted in favor of efforts to build a new high school to consolidate Ford City and Kittanning high school students into one building. A longtime English teacher in the district, she had said she brought educational knowledge to the board and looked forward to a stable district where the school board could focus on education issues, not buildings.
“I really feel that more than a vote for me personally, I think the vote was for the direction that the board is taking,” she said. “(It was) a vote for change and for moving forward and doing the best we can for the students and also for the taxpayers’ money.”
Scaife has served as vice president and then president of the teachers’ union and retired this year as a math teacher at West Shamokin Junior-Senior High School. He looked forward to helping the district find a way to start working together, and promised to represent the students and taxpayers, not the union.
He could not be reached for comment this morning.