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Kurtzman reflects on school board tenure

December 26, 2012
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - When Joe Kurtzman joined the Fairmont Area School Board in 2006, he was immediately placed on the operations committee and given a 3-inch-thick booklet outlining all the problems with the district's buildings.

It was a trial by fire.

Kurtzman was called to join the board out of the blue - a seat needed to be filled and board members at the time recommended him for the job - but he had never served in that capacity before.

He had retired the previous year from the Workforce Center. His three children had been through Fairmont Area Schools.

"I didn't know anything about the school board other than what I had read in the paper," he said, adding that he didn't understand why the buildings weren't being repaired.

He got his questions answered, and helped the district resolve every problem in that report he had been handed.

Kurtzman chose not to run again in the last election. He will be replaced by Nicole Green, who was elected in November.

Sandy Beckendorf, a fellow school board member, was president of the board at the time Kurtzman's name came up. While she didn't know him personally, she knew of him. She decided to be the one to call and gauge his interest.

"I was impressed right away the first time I talked to him," Beckendorf said. "He didn't say yes right away, but I was impressed with the way he handled himself."

During his time on the board, Kurtzman helped prepare for six referendum attempts, experiences that comprise both the highs and lows of service on a school board.

"Nobody wants to ask people to raise their taxes," he said. "The board has different rules and regulations they have to follow than other governing bodies."

He said it was frustrating to know work needed to be done but not be able to do anything about it quickly.

Kurtzman didn't hesitate when asked about the worst experience he had on the school board.

"The lowest point was cutting all those teachers [in 2011]," he said. "That is hard on the school board; we have to read out all their names."

He enjoyed seeing how everything came together for the closing of Budd School, the relocation of the city water plant on its site, and the addition of classroom space at Fairmont Elementary.

Kurtzman said former board member Helen Gould was a great mentor for him as he learned the ins and outs of his position.

"The one who taught me the most was Helen Gould," he said. "I have never met someone who knew more about how a school board works."

Kurtzman believes the coming year will be a good one for the school district, with an operating levy in place for five years and the building upgrades mostly complete.

Kurtzman decided to end his tenure on the board because he and his wife plan to do more traveling.

"We got a great school board member and I made a great friend," Beckendorf said. "I am really going to miss him."



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