Two seats are up for grabs on the Hancock County Board of Education in the May 8 primary election.
Incumbent Patsy Brancaszio believes his district's students are performing on par or above par. He said students today learn quickly because of their early use of and familiarity with technology and the Internet. He noted the board has talked much about how to improve the district's graduation rate. And he believes by offering additional vocational-type classes, more students will be encouraged to stay in school, learn a trade and graduate.
''We tend to forget that not all students are going to college,'' Brancaszio said.
In terms of infrastructure improvements, in November 2010 voters approved a bond levy to build a new consolidated elementary school and make improvements to existing buildings.
''It's a long-range plan, and the bond levy has taken care of that,'' he said.
Brancaszio said the board would look into lowering its tax levy rate if the county would see an influx of money from natural gas drilling.
''We're always looking at that. We're very appreciative of the citizens passing this levy. ... If the rate comes down for them, it comes down for the board members as well. We're all in this together. We'll have to see what happens,'' he said.
Incumbent Jerry Durante believes his district's biggest challenge is keeping up with the pace of changing educational standards. Additional training for teachers and administrators helps in that arena. And for students, Durante said the board just last year started a summer school program to help students improve in subjects in which they were struggling. And by preventing students from becoming discouraged and giving up, the district can improve its graduation rate, he said.
''That's our priority, to keep pace with future needs,'' said Durante, who has served on the board for a total of 18 years.
Durante noted the board is grateful to the district's voters for approving the November 2010 bond levy to allow for a new elementary school and improvements to existing buildings.
''Our needs are being satisfied now because of their votes,'' Durante said.
And if the county did see a influx of money from gas drilling operations, Durante said the board would likely study whether it could decrease its tax levy rate.
''We're holding out hope for the future. If there was a windfall, the board would be very receptive to lowering the rate,'' Durante said.
Candidate Michelle Chappell believes today's children often struggle because their schools do not have enough resources, leaving the students unprepared.
''In generations past, the bar was set much lower because most occupations required little, if any, post-secondary education. Nowadays, most professions and trades require at least a college degree or comprehensive certification,'' she said. ''Also, Hancock County needs to recruit, retain and support the very best teachers and administration for our students.''
Chappell said by focusing and studying what has been successful in the school system, the district can work on ideas to improve its graduation rate.
''I believe that all students in Hancock County can be successful when given the appropriate support,'' she said.
Chappell believes the county's new construction and renovation plans will meet the students' needs, but those needs must often be reviewed. And she noted it is difficult to say whether the tax levy rate could be lowered anytime soon.
''I would pledge not to raise the tax rate, but to be fiscally sound with the current dollars that are currently allocated. Without knowing the total financial effects of the Marcellus Shale on Hancock County, I think the county on the whole will have to evaluate the outcomes of this endeavor,'' Chappell said.