RUSSELL, Pa. – The applicants were whittled from six to five, before finally being narrowed to one appointed to fill a vacancy on the Warren County School District Board of Directors.
During a special meeting Monday night, the board unanimously agreed to appoint Jeff Dougherty to fill the empty Region II seat. The seat was vacant because Chloe Shaffer, who won the seat during November’s Municipal Election, opted not to take the post.
Dougherty was chosen from a pool of five applicants following a 10-question interview process during the meeting. Six people had originally applied, Dougherty, Dr. Darrell Jaskolka, Jennifer Lauffenberger, Dr. Joseph Peterson, Brianna Powers and Lanora Sondericker. Sondericker withdrew her application prior to Monday’s meeting.
Dougherty will serve on the board through December 2023, with the winner of the 2023 Municipal Election to serve out the remainder of the 4-year term.
The 10 questions ranged in topics from their primary motivation for serving on the board, to charter schools, school choice, consolidation, budgeting and taxes, working with the administration, and the school’s role in family services.
Dougherty, a captain in the City of Warren Police Department who has two school-aged children and is married to a district employee, said his primary motivation for wanting to serve on the school board stemmed from the time he’s spent in schools as a police officer.
“My main motivation in running for school board is, I’m in the schools a lot with my profession,” Dougherty said. “Talking to different employees, talking to different parents, it seems like there’s a lot of questions that come up on future decisions that have to be made. Whether financing or the consolidation of schools. I want to have an impact on the decision, an impact on future decisions that are made for my children and the children that are coming to the Warren County School District to ensure that everything’s going to be sustained and not only have a good impact for the students but the citizens of Warren County.”
Dougherty also pointed to his work in helping negotiate union contracts with the city, managing the Warren Police Department’s $2.3 million budget and his time spent coaching youth sports with providing him skills that would be strengths in his position on the board.
He said the district has room to improve in areas like transportation and helping students speak out about things that may be affecting them outside the classroom such as mental health, homelessness or hunger issues.
The district’s most pressing short-term issue, Dougherty said, is staffing.
“If you don’t have the staff there to support or teach the kids, you don’t have much of a learning experience,” Dougherty said.
Long-term, the district has to keep a watchful eye on both the budget and enrollment to prevent issues down the road, according to Dougherty.
“We need to make sure the budget is secured so that we don’t have a budget issue down the road,” he said. “Along with that is enrollment. I think there needs to be a discussion and a long look at the enrollment issues. I understand that some schools in our county right now are graduating 35 – 40 kids. Can we sustain that? Can the school district and the budget sustain being able to employ certain people in those schools if there’s no staff to support that?”
When it comes to cyber, charters and school choice, Dougherty said he believes it’s important that students be in a physical classroom with their peers and that he’s “not a fan” of charter schools or school choice.
As for consolidation, Dougherty said it comes down to numbers and affordability, and that it’s a “discussion that needs to be had and (consolidation) looked at very in-depth.”
Dougherty said he would be in favor of a tax increase if it was necessary to support children.
“It’s an unpopular decision to be made on any level, but if it’s to support the children and the programs and give them what they need, you’re going to have to look at that and if taxes need to be raised, they need to be raised,” he said.
Working with district administration is like working with other board members, Dougherty said, it’s about working together as a team.