By ROBERT CONNELLY
Candidates seeking election in the township and schools have narrowed the focus to a few issues as the Nov. 3 election approaches.
In the Austintown Board of Trustee race, incumbent Rick Stauffer is running against challengers Bruce Shepas and Andrea Paventi.
Shepas previously ran for trustee in 2013 while this is Paventi’s first attempt. She did show interest in filling out the remainder of Trustee Lisa Oles’ term earlier this year after her resignation, but Stauffer was chosen by Oles’ campaign committee after Trustees Jim Davis and Ken Carano did not agree on a candidate.
All three candidates support the township levies, two for the roads and one for the parks, and focus on infrastructure improvements. All three want to bring in more businesses to the township and repair township roads.
Stauffer wants to continue as a trustee and wants to continue to team up with “the schools, township leaders, civic organizations and churches” for a vision of the future.
That vision would help guide economic development in Austintown, Stauffer said. He said he has reached out to local business owners, who told him that they had never been asked about their ideas.
“I think we’ve been talking to all the wrong people” on business development, he said. The people he talked to said, “Nobody’s ever asked the questions. They’ve got a million ideas.”
Shepas emphasized that being a businessman himself would be an asset for economic development.
Stauffer specifically talked about vacancies on state Route 46 and Victoria Road. He asked: “Why in the world are we not filling these spaces in Austintown?”
Shepas and Paventi both said the township needs to continue blight removal. Shepas said: “With zoning there are vacant homes, high grass, and junk vehicles that are nuisance. It costs money and man hours citing, mowing, and cleaning up these properties. Stiffer penalties may be necessary.”
Shepas talked about wanting to ensure the racino monies, or $1 million coming to the township from Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course through the racino payments, are used properly. That’s $500,000 this year and $500,000 next year.
Shepas and Paventi want that money to repair township roads. “If there is extra money left over, I would do a town hall meeting” to have public input on what to use those funds on, she said.
Meanwhile, Stauffer wants the township to look into using the money for infrastructure as two previous $1 million payments went to help township roads. He said while township officials have discussed a new township hall, or renovations, Stauffer is “big on using existing facilities ... expand in space [where] we are now seems the most reasonable.”
Paventi said she is against using the racino monies for a new township hall.
Stauffer, pastor of Tabernacle Evangelical Presbyterian Church on Raccoon Road, addressed concerns of a pastor holding public office.
“Anyone that holds the role of trustee has their convictions ... and they bring those convictions to the table,” he said in an interview.
When asked about his personal stance on gambling, he said he works with Mike Galle, general manager at Hollywood Gaming, if there are issues with another church and the facility.
Shepas, not saying anything about Stauffer personally, said: “I don’t think we should mix religion and state.”
In the Austintown Board of Education race, incumbents Dr. David Ritchie and Harold Porter are challenged by Nick Cocca for two seats.
Cocca wants to “limit the number of students we accept through open enrollment so that we can properly educate the students we have” because “it costs more to educate an open enrollment student than we receive from the state for accepting them,” he said.
Porter said he is “totally against open enrollment but realize that we will have to reduce it little by little. What was a Band-Aid has now become a tourniquet. This tourniquet will eventually cut our funding because open enrollment is so out of control that people will not vote for additional monies that we will need in the next year or two.”
Ritchie said in a phone interview that open enrollment monies are “a large amount of money.”
“We just, right now with the way it is, we are still profiting,” he said.
Porter believes the district is “in need of a change at the superintendent position. Issuing another contract to our current superintendent could be detrimental to our school district.”
Ritchie said Porter and Superintendent Vincent Colaluca “do not see eye-to-eye,” and his contract does not come up for two years.
Ritchie wants to continue to use his “experience to draw upon for both old and new issues” in the school district and keep the community informed on what is happening in the schools.
Another main issue for Cocca is Common Core standards in the classroom. He wants to “lobby the Ohio General Assembly to eliminate Common Core in its entirety.”
“We’re not real, real happy with Common Core, but the way it’s set up with the state, there is no other choice. It’s fine to say that you’re going to go to the Legislature and all that,” Ritchie said.
“This has been going on for how long and there’s never any movement from the Legislature.”
Cocca also said that his recent time in the schools, a 2013 Austintown Fitch High School graduate, means he is “extremely familiar with the current situations in our schools” and knows “first-hand the effects of recent school board policies.”