Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, an attorney in Indiana, is running for the first time for public office. She has been serving as chairwoman of an ad hoc community-based committee in charge of coordinating the establishment of a Challenger Learning Center for science and space education in Indiana County.
Absent from the candidates’ forum, Cuccaro had no immediate reaction to the school board’s vote to realign the elementary school and to call for a voter referendum on a possible 12 mill tax increase. Cuccaro told the Gazette she would expect a prompt and thorough orientation in the information and reports that led the directors to their decisions.
She said the realignment will have both drawbacks and benefits.
“There are upsides and downsides to it,” she said. “The biggest downside, people are very concerned about transitions and I don’t blame them. The toughest thing will be to make the transportation schedule as convenient as can be. That’s a lot of stress on the transportation staff.
“I think there’s a real upside to the realignment in the sense that the younger ones will get the remediation they need. It’s so important that children learn how to read. You’ve got to get the reading situation under control by third grade so they can go into upper-level classes well prepared. If we can get smaller class sizes and save money through realignment, and get the transpiration issues as clear as we can, then we will move forward in this district.”
Asked to name three ways the district could cut costs, she pointed first to the practice of not replacing retired teachers.
“I do think attrition is the most sensible move … that’s a key factor,” she said. “I have not seen the numbers, but if the elementary realignment works, as they have been projecting, that also should be an effective cost-cutting measure.”
Third, Cuccaro said, would be to seek savings in the negotiation of a new contract with the teachers’ association in 2014.
“The faculty contract coming up will have to be looked at with an eagle eye,” she said.
To that end, Cuccaro said she supports lower salaries for beginning teachers.
“I really feel that relative to the annual budget, roughly $50 million, the board has to review peer districts with similar-sized budgets,” she said. “We have to decide who the peers are and what salaries they offer. I don’t think it is appropriate to be below or sky high above the peer group.”
Cuccaro said the costs of the athletic program should be in line with similar districts.
“I think Indiana has to be sensibly within its peer group,” Cuccaro said. “The superintendent could find sensible comparisons across the commonwealth. I support the athletic program, but the cost would have to be proven to compare with our peers.”
She said the district’s newly established pre-kindergarten program is grant-dependent and its future is uncertain when the grant funds run out.
“There is no question in my mind that early childhood education is becoming important. But right now, the jury is out on how effective it is.”
Asked for her three top priorities for improving education, Cuccaro said working within the budget is first.
Second, she said, would be to properly execute the elementary realignment.
“I feel that we’re in a fiscal crisis,” Cuccaro said. “It’s really deplorable on many different fronts, and it happened so quickly. So if we’re going to do the realignment, we have to do it right.
“Number three: I think that every year the additional pressure on the budget is reserving enough money to make sure our schools are safe. I am not suggesting we reserve all kinds of money but we have to make sure it’s in the budget the way it never was before. The board has been moving forward and I applaud it.”