New Castle News

Closer Look

May 16, 2013

Our Opinion: We endorse candidates for New Castle board

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle school district is often a study in contrasts.

There are complaints about the district on everything from taxes to nepotism, from test scores to ethical slights.

Yet at the same time, plenty of students within the district excel. It’s a tribute to the hard work of those students, their families and the educators who support them.

But such achievement comes with no guarantees. The harsh reality is that the challenges New Castle faces now and into the future cannot be ignored or downplayed. Serious problems of declining enrollment, massive debt and limited financial flexibility are very real.

And we are pleased to see that at least in some circles, these issues are being addressed. Yet at the same time, we are aware that among some people, the financial, ethical and leadership problems in the district are dismissed, as if they neither exist nor matter.

Well, they do matter. It is foolish to assume the district can continue to lose students and population and not suffer the consequences. And it is equally foolish to believe past leadership problems haven’t contributed to this situation.

In reviewing candidates for city school board in next week’s primary, the New Castle News looked for individuals who demonstrated an understanding of the issues and the steps needed to address them. We sought those who offered a vision of something better for the community, and not a continuation of the philosophy that has hurt the district and the community.

While no candidate is perfect, we found four we could recommend to voters in a race where four board members will be elected in the fall. And from our perspective, the strongest candidate in the race is an incumbent, Dr. Marilyn Berkely.

Berkely sees positive changes coming for the district, particularly surrounding the selection of a new superintendent. She acknowledged deep divisions among the school board, and is striving for a superintendent who can promote healing and provide leadership. For this to happen, we think — as does Berkely — that a new superintendent must come from outside the district.

Berkely is concerned about the fiscal health of the district and is strongly critical of the school system’s historic embrace of nepotism. She understands the emphasis on hiring friends and relatives doesn’t protect local jobs. Rather, it destroys growth and opportunity by creating a closed system.

Both Democrats and Republicans will be able to vote for Berkely, who cross filed for the primary. So too has another candidate The News can recommend, Philip Conti.

A former board member, Conti has something of a reputation for being outspoken and combative. But it’s obvious he’s fighting for the taxpayers and ethical standards.

Another one-time board member who’s running only on the Democratic side is Andrea Przybylski. We believe she is a good fit for the board, as is a first-time board candidate, Thomas Ranieri. But Ranieri is on the ballot only as a Republican.

Meanwhile, we note that three school board candidates — Mary Ann Tofel, Anna Pascarella and George Gabriel — declined invitations to meet with the editorial board for its endorsement process. So they were not considered.

Yet we would be remiss if we failed to discuss our deep reservations about having Gabriel, who stepped down earlier this year as superintendent, serving on the school board. With a new superintendent about to take charge, voters should worry about the potential conflicts of having that superintendent working for his or her predecessor.

That’s especially true with Gabriel, who bears much of the blame for the divisions seen in recent years in this school district. A responsible superintendent would work diligently to heal rifts and create an inclusive system. Gabriel, however, was an active participant in an approach that kept some board members on the outside looking in. We don’t want a return to that.

So our endorsements for the New Castle school board go to Dr. Marilyn Berkely and Philip Conti on both ballots, Andrea Przybylski as a Democrat and Thomas Ranieri on the Republican side.

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