The Greater Latrobe School Board on Tuesday accepted the resignation of one school board member and appointed a replacement on the same night.

Directors, during Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, accepted the resignation of board member Michael O’Barto, effective, Jan. 5, and appointed Cathy A. Sarraf to fill his unexpired term on the board.

O’Barto served on the school board for three years and his term expires in 2021. He won a six-year term on the Unity Township Board of Supervisors during the November general election and by law, cannot serve on both boards. O’Barto previously worked as a township supervisor for more than 20 years before joining the school board.

Directors voted 6-1 in favor of Sarraf joining the board with Paul McCommons dissenting.

“The board considered the applications that had come in,” solicitor Ned Nakles said. “They chose the applicant they felt would best serve in that role.”

Sarraf was one of seven candidates, including four incumbents, who competed for five open seats on the board in November. Sarraf finished sixth with 3,243, or 11.23%, of the votes. She was nominated on the Democratic side of the ballot to fill a vacancy created by Conrad Lazor’s passing.

“Considerations that played into it was the long-time knowledge of (Sarraf) and the fact that she chose to run for office when a seat was open and she was the next-highest vote-getter who did not actually win,” Nakles said. “Those were the consideration, as well as her character, her knowledge, background and knowledge the board had of her.

“It was not a reflection of anybody else who was not chosen, but more a reflection of the fact that the board was well acquainted with (Sarraf), her qualifications and the fact that she ran for office and was the next-highest vote-getter.”

Sarraf, who raised three children in the district, considers herself lucky to live within the district and said she has an appreciation for the work that’s being done at Greater Latrobe.

“For me, it’s a recognition of what’s best for kids and I have a foundation of belief that the community reflects what’s going on in the school district,” Sarraf said. “We want a strong community, we want a future for Latrobe … for young people coming back and building their lives here, and I think we have to give them a strong education and a school district to be proud of, so they want to bring their kids here to continue their lives.”

Sarraf spoke of providing a quality education while still being respectful to taxpayers and board spending. She said the district’s tax rate is low by comparison in the county, ranking third from the bottom.

“We all think taxes are too high, but we’re not being gouged like we all think we are,” Sarraf said. “Just because we see taxes going up, doesn’t mean we’re high by comparison. When you see the product we’re putting out for the tax rate, I think we’re pretty lucky here.”

Sarraf appreciates the product the district provides to taxpayers is high-ranking, yet still carries a low tax rate.

“I just want to keep the good work that’s been going on for years and make a future for kids here at Greater Latrobe, so they want to build their lives here, too,” Sarraf said.

Also on Tuesday, Barb Terek of Horner, Wible and Terek, PC, said that Greater Latrobe had an unmodified or clean opinion on its audit for the year, the best opinion the district can have.

“You have no internal control deficiencies that were reported at the financial statement or federal financial assistance level,” Terek said. “You have no non-compliance with contracts and laws and regulations.

“These are all things that are super important and not obtained easily. A lot of work goes into that at the school district level and you can be commended on that. That is not normal across audits.”

At the board’s regular meeting next week, directors will vote to accept an anonymous food service donation of $2,000 toward delinquent accounts.

“I think that’s amazing,” board member Heidi Kozar said. “Thank you, whoever you are. That’s a really generous gift for our students and we really appreciate that.”

Greater Latrobe Business Administrator Dan Watson said the district never denies a child a meal and tries to encourage families that meet the requirements for free and reduced lunches to complete applications, so the district can receive subsidies to offset costs.

“We feed our children,” Watson said. “There are very few people that abuse the fact that we don’t lunch shame and that all students are provided a lunch. Lunch shaming is against the law.”

Assistant Superintendent Michael Porembka said that people who “flat out” refuse to pay delinquent lunch bills can be taken to local magisterial district justice offices. Watson added that Jillian Meloy, the district’s Director of Food Services, reaches out throughout the community and makes it known that there are students who can’t afford meals at Greater Latrobe.

“We’ve continued, over time, to get these types of anonymous donations to offset or reduce these child delinquent meal accounts,” Watson said. “I think word is spreading, so when those funds come in, we recognize students with large delinquent balances who can’t afford to pay and (Meloy) and her staff divvy out funds accordingly to help reduce costs.”

Porembka also spoke of a Rotary Club backpack program, which supplies nutritious food for the weekend, from Friday to Sunday, to hungry district children in need.

The program started with 24 bags for children at Latrobe Elementary School and it has expanded to all three Greater Latrobe elementary schools and the junior high. The bags are packed with easy-to-prepare weekend food and discreetly given to the children in need.

“There are a tremendous amount of backpacks going out, more than 100 every weekend,” Porembka said. “It has been well-received and it continues over holidays too.”

Items for next week’s regular meeting include:

  • Resignation of Lori Thomas, medical assistant and Ron Zimmerman, junior high girls soccer coach;
  • Jacob Ballard (music), Nancy Burford (home economics) and Theresa Williams (health and physical education) as substitutes;
  • Amy Sassos, substitute food service, in addition to curriculum and software services assistant and custodian;
  • Joseph Conrad, musical volunteer;
  • Permission to advertise board retreat for 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Center for Student Creativity;
  • Change order material credit of $2,792.61 for the roof replacement project at the senior high school;
  • Nomination for a board member to serve on the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit board of directors;
  • Renewal of Johnson Controls Fire Protection LP Services Agreement;
  • Addendum to a contract between the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit and the district to provide Title 1 services to non-public schools;
  • Western School of the Deaf services contract;
  • New Story tuition agreement for a student;
  • Fulcrum Management Solutions service agreement;
  • Dr. Robert Ketterer Charter School renewal;
  • Natural gas procurement agreement.

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