WELLSBORO – 68th district representative candidates Clint Owlett, R, and Carrie Heath, D, presented their platforms on education needs in the district during a special panel discussion Wednesday, Aug. 15 at the Deane Center.
Nearly 100 people attended the event, including many from the education community, which was held in the upstairs meeting room.
Heath, a special education teacher at Wellsboro Area School District for the past 12 years, said she is “a living example of how education can be an equalizer.”
“I was able through intelligence and hard work to get a scholarship to a good college. I am here as an example of what education can do and how it is a vital part of our democracy,” she said.
Heath said the first plank on her education platform is to establish a career/technical center in Tioga County.
“We do not have one. If we can get one it will serve all students of the 68th district,” she said.
Secondly, she said is infrastructure.
“We need to focus on modern infrastructure, such as reliable cell phone service and high speed broadband,” Heath said.
“It is vital to education, as unreliable service can impact your ability to complete your work,” she said.
Mental health services are the third plank in her platform, she added.
“I have dealt with it on many different levels. We need to focus on bringing good services to our students, starting early in life. As a special education teacher, you might think what qualifications does she have to be a representative. You have to be able to read law, and be good at public speaking. Just as a teacher does in preparing a lesson plan, a legislator should be able to look at problems, figure out solutions and then break it down step by step.”
In addition, she said, a legislator, like a teacher, must be flexible in the face of obstacles that inevitabley arise.
“You have to be able to change plans, and maybe even change the goal, but we don’t see it a lot in our representatives. There seems to be a hard-headedness that prevents that,” she added.
Clint Owlett, who currently fills Matt Baker’s unexpired seat in the legislature, said as someone who started his own business, and served at a camp with teens for nine years, he has “learned what it means to be a servant,” something that is important for legislators to remember.
“Education, school safety and the opioid crisis are challenges here like we have never seen,” he said.
On the issue of property tax and schools underfunded by the state, Owlett said the state “doesn’t recognize unique challenges we have here. It is hard to watch families get pulled into drug addiction every day. We owe our kids a solid education in a safe location. Our seniors and farmers need to feel like they own their property and are not renting it from the government,” he said.
Owlett said he wants to always be learning from constituents about what is important to them.
“I don’t want to be a know-it-all representative. I am here to listen, and I have been talking to parents teachers and administrators to find out what is needed to meet those goals,” he said.
Owlett noted that career paths are a “great opportunity for our students.”
“Imagine our students graduating with great job opportunities, great salaries, a 401k and no debt,”
Owlett pointed to the recently held “National Night Out” at Packer Park as a big step in the right direction for the future of school safety.
And with what is happening at Mansfield University, the answers could be “right here in our back yard.”
“That is the kind of unity we need in our communities. We are normal people, we love our kids and our communities. We’re here to learn from each other. It’s about our kids having good opportunities and safe schools in our district. These are nonpartisan issues,” he added.
In addition to the candidates, the discussion included Tioga County commissioner Erick Coolidge, Southern Tioga School District teacher Jon Ruth, Tioga County Partnership for Communiuty Health director Sue Stickling; Tioga County Sheriff Frank Levindoski; former superintendent of Athens schools, Doug Alkin, who now works as a consultant with the state Department of Education; and Scott Henry, director of the Mansfield University police services program.
Each panel member discussed the importance of education in creating a viable work force for the region, as well as educating young people about the dangers of drug addiction in the face of the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation.
Coolidge said that through a series of summits with representatives from education, businesses and officials, progress has been made in finding solutions for the lack of skilled and qualified employees in the area for open job positions.
“Recently there were five electricians needed by Ward, they couldn’t fill the positions, there are 500 jobs in health arena that can’t be filled, how does that happen?” Coolidge said.
According to the result of the survey, there are not enough mechanics, plumbers and other technicians available.
“We are not saying there isn’t value in any education, but build a pathway for those who will come out of school and hit the ground running,” Coolidge said.
A third summit is coming in October, which will include the public and the press, Coolidge said.
“We are excited to have the president of the Federal Reserve in Philadelphia coming,” he added.