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Election Results Unlikely To Stop W-B Area School Consolidation

May 23, 2019

Tuesday’s primary election for Wilkes-Barre Area School Board was not quite a resounding endorsement of the plan to build a new high school in Plains Twp.

But it now looks likely that a new board majority will not take over in December and stop the high school consolidation project. Four incumbents were on the primary ballot, and only one, Dr. James Susek, failed to win a Democratic or Republican nomination and advance to the November general election.

One of the nine current school board members opposes the high school project, so a new majority would need four new members. Only three of five so-called opposition candidates won primary nominations, and that means electing four new members would require the election of an independent, third-party or write-in candidate.

Members of Save Our Schools, a group opposed to the plan to build a $121 million high school in Plains Twp., aggressively campaigned against the incumbents. Beth Anne Owens-Harris, one of the five challengers, received the most votes in the Democratic and Republican elections.

But school board President Joe Caffrey said the primary results show voter approval of the current board, predicting the three incumbents to win primary nominations Tuesday — Mark Atherton, the Rev. Shawn Walker and John Quinn — will be tough to defeat in the general election.

 

“The results I feel were very good,” said Caffrey, who a second four-year term in 2017.

According to unofficial results, the Democratic winners are Owens-Harris, 2,570 votes; Atherton, 2,229; Walker, 2,178; Quinn, 2,020; and Terry Schiowitz, 2,000.

The unofficial Republican winners are: Owens-Harris, 916; Atherton, 828; Schiowitz, 805; Robin Shudak, 798; and Quinn, 797.

Caffrey said many votes were based on the individual candidate and not based on opposition to incumbents. Owens-Harris received 3,486 total votes, while the candidate with the fewest votes was opposition candidate Bob Holden, who received 2,099 total votes.

“She definitely will bring a lot to the board,” Caffrey said of Owens-Harris. “She is very intelligent. She presented herself well. She stayed away from controversy.”

Owens-Harris said she is a little surprised by her first-place finishes. The Wilkes-Barre resident works as a psychologist for the Carbondale Area School District and worked for Wilkes-Barre Area for nine years.

“Being active in the community, being involved and showing up to events,” Owens-Harris said, trying to explain her success in the election. “I have experience working hand and hand with families. Being a psychologist allowed me to build relationships with families. People might trust me, having worked with me and knowing I am very students focussed. I also have a track records of really believing in the city and remaining positive on what our city could be.”

The high school consolidation project was “the hot topic,” but voters looked at other issues, she added.

“I hope to be a collaborator,” she said, noting she has “good relationships” with Wilkes-Barre Area officials and prefers “neighborhood schools.”

The district is building the new high school to merge the district’s three highs schools — GAR, Meyers and Coughlin — when the 2021-22 school year begins and is consolidating sports programs in the fall.

Eight of the nine primary candidates cross-filed and were on the Republican and Democratic ballots. Walker only filed as Democratic candidate.

Five candidates in the general election will win four-year terms on the board.

In the 2017 general election, the four winners were: Caffrey, 3,959 votes; Denise Thomas, 3,841; Ned Evans, 3,722; and Melissa Etzle Patla, 3,553. Two independent candidates, John Suchoski and Sam Troy, failed to get on the board in 2017. Patla was the only candidate backed by Save Our Schools in the 2017 primary and won a Democratic nomination.

Contact the writer:

mbuffer@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2073, @cvmikebuffer

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