As he seeks his third term on the Salisbury Township School Board, Thomas Mantz coined a term to describe himself: “kid-centric.”
Mantz, 63, earned an associate degree in electronics from the former Spring Garden College in Philadelphia. Forty-three years ago he began working as an electronic engineer for AT&T Bell Laboratories, which has since evolved into the LSI Corporation.
He moved to the Salisbury Township School District in 1998 and eight years ago considered his first run for school board. “I cared about what was going on and I was encouraged by a lot of people to run,” he recalled.
Mantz, a Republican, cross-filed to run in the May 17 primary for a third four-year term, so his name will appear on both the Republican and Democratic ballots.
Mantz chairs the school board’s Technology Subcommittee and Student Activities Subcommittee. He also is the school district’s representative to the Lehigh Carbon Community College’s Board of Trustees and serves as that board’s secretary.
In addition, Mantz is on the school board’s negotiating team for current negotiations with the teachers union. The teachers had agreed to a one-year extension on their last contract and that expired in August 2010.
Mantz said he’s generally not at liberty to discuss the negotiations. However, negotiations include the possibility of increasing the teachers’ contributions to their health care coverage, he said. “That’s the major discussion item.”
Meanwhile, school districts throughout the state are facing the loss of nearly $1 billion from the state’s proposed budget, and shrinking state and local revenues. This leaves the Salisbury district in a quandary, Mantz said, because “there’s no place to cut the budget. Whatever we do to cut the budget affects the kids.”
Nevertheless, he said, the school board has asked district administrators to propose ways to cut the budget and he is counting on the administration to do that. If the administration cannot do this sufficiently, he said, “then we’re going to have to make some hard decisions.” For now, he said, he has no specific suggestions for where to cut the budget.
Salisbury Township has offered $1.2 million if the school district will sell some land on Emmaus Avenue to the township. Mantz is against the sale. Instead, he said, “We need to find someone who will provide whatever the purchase price will be, in addition to continuing tax revenue.”
For example, he said, the district should consider a sale that would lead to housing for senior citizens or “a commercial endeavor that would not have an impact on the school district but it would pay taxes.”
Mantz also is against vouchers. Gov. Tom Corbett supports vouchers, using per-pupil subsidies to allow low-income students in a failing public school to transfer to a different school.
The Salisbury Township School District is surrounded on two sides by the Allentown School District and, with vouchers, Mantz envisions ASD students wanting to transfer to smaller schools with more individualized attention in the Salisbury district.
“We’re a very successful district, well-thought-of, with a good reputation,” Mantz said, adding, “that’s going to eventually come back to the (Salisbury) taxpayers.”
The Salisbury district already is facing another big financial challenge, Mantz said, with costs to send students to charter schools and cyber charter schools. The 2011-2012 district budget includes $500,000 to cover those costs, Mantz said. “Every one of those kids is affecting our taxpayers.”
Rarely do candidates surface to challenge incumbents on the Salisbury Township School Board, Mantz said. He believes that’s because constituents believe the board is doing a good job.
“We really talk things out, and generally agree because we talk it out and we compromise,” Mantz said. “There’s a fair amount of experience on our board and that helps a lot, too.”
There are four cross-filed candidates for the Salisbury School Board in the May 17 primary, incumbents Russell Giordano, Frank Frankenfield and Mantz, and newcomer Samuel DeFrank. Two board members have decided not to seek re-election even though their terms are up, Keith Reinsmith and Kathleen Heffelfinger.
Consequently, there are five openings on the ballot. The four candidates are virtually assured a win in the primary. Unless there is a write-in candidate winning the fifth seat in the general election in the fall, the school board will then advertise for candidates for the fifth position. The board then will interview candidates and appoint a new board member to fill the fifth opening.