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Saucon Valley, Hellertown-Council, School Board seats up

Voters across the country will be casting ballots Nov. 2 - or sooner by mail - and folks in Hellertown and the Saucon Valley School District will have the option to elect several new borough council and school board members, respectively, in addition to several county- and state-wide positions up for grabs.

The Press reached out to everybody who appears on the ballot in both races for candidacy information and received responses from several in each race.

Hellertown Council

A total of four seats will be determined among the six candidates: incumbent council President Thomas Rieger and Vice President Gil Stauffer, incumbents James Hill and Matt Marcincin and recently-appointed incumbent Andrew Hughes. Political newcomer Theresa Fadem is the remaining candidate.

Stauffer, Hughes and Fadem chose to respond for our requests for information on their candidacies.

Gil Stauffer, a retired vice president of community relations at Wachovia Bank, has been a borough council member since 2018. He says among his top priorities is “preserv(ing) Hellertown as the ‘small’ town it really is, with all the atmosphere and events that make it special.” As a 12-year board member and current treasurer of the Hellertown Historical Society, he said “to have a vision for the future you have to appreciate the past.”

Stauffer said he wants to “(maintain) a manageable budget and control taxes (and) improve the facilities that make the town run” such as the current construction of a new Public Works building, and backs “better and larger quarters for the police department.” Another top priority for Stauffer has been traffic in the borough, he said, as he pointed to recent pedestrian-friendly improvements along MainfStreet.

Andrew Hughes, a corporate vice president at New York Life Insurance Company and former borough council member, was chosen from several applicants in August to fill the seat left open by the resignation of Phil Weber. He also served on the Hellertown Zoning Hearing Board for 12 years and was chief deputy sheriff of Berks County for three.

Hughes said he believes “skyrocketing borough employee healthcare costs” are among the most pressing issues facing Hellertown. “Healthcare costs have increased an average of 8 percent annually over the previous three years and we are bracing for an even more substantial increase this budget cycle,” he said. He stressed the importance of council “navigat(ing) these treacherous financial waters” and providing “adequate (health) coverage without crushing property tax increases” on borough homeowners.

Theresa ‘Terri’ Fadem, a professional community manager, has lived in Hellertown since 2015. Married with four children, she describes her skillset as “experienced in budget preparation, assessment collection, governing document enforcement, dispute resolution” and more.

Fadem says one of her top priorities is “protecting our public health and keeping our town a safe and prosperous community for raising families.” She especially noted the need for “inclusive and affordable housing,” adding “we cannot support new construction and land development with the sole purpose of increasing tax revenue” without taking into account long-term effects on the community. She urges resident input on the topic and said the borough should be “building vibrant, enduring housing in a community that people don’t want to leave: our ‘Forever Homes.’”

Saucon Valley School Board

Seven candidates are on the ballot, vying for four seats: incumbent board Vice President Dr. Shamim Pakzad, incumbents Cedric Dettmar and Tracy Magnotta, and newcomers Raquel Barbera, John Conte, Vivian Demko and Robert Phillips.

Neither Barbera nor Conte responded to our requests for candidacy information.

Dr. Shamim Pakzad, an engineering professor at Lehigh University, has been on the board since 2017, serving a one-year term as president before beginning his current term as vice president. Touting “over 30 years of experience… as a teacher and tutor of elementary and secondary students in STEM and an instructor and professor,” he has two children currently attending Saucon Valley schools.

Pakzad says he is “most proud of this community for keeping schools open last year - one that allowed the children to be in the most appropriate learning and social environment.” He said he was also happy that the board has been able to “keep taxes flat on the community, and the school curriculum vibrant and focused on the core areas such as math, reading, science, history and arts.” He said he “will continue to work toward schools that are inclusive, safe for all kids, and free of bullying and intimidation.”

Cedric Dettmar, who works as an MIT engineer and business owner, has also been on the board since 2017. He has two daughters at Saucon Valley HS and also boasts of the current board’s record. “Just a few months ago, our high school was ranked in the top 100 in Pennsylvania by U.S. News for the first time in a very long time,” he said.

He said one of his primary goals upon joining the board was “improving relations between the board and the teachers’ union.” With little recent precedence, they “agreed on an early contract that worked for both sides,” he said. “With all of this we have been able to keep taxes flat in spite of many costs rising with inflation.” Like Pakzad, he also says he’s proud of “keeping Saucon Valley open five days a week all year,” adding “Our students’ learning loss was minimal and our parents were able to continue working.”

Tracy Magnotta, also a four-year board veteran, is a practicing complex civil litigation attorney and partner at the firm of Anapol Weiss. She and her husband have four sons attending Saucon Valley schools ranging from grades 6 through 12. “First and foremost, fiscally responsible decisions should be made based upon what is in the best interests of the students,” she said, adding “the school board is not the place for partisan politics.”

She points to her board tenure, “wherein taxes were kept flat, programs and opportunities were expanded and Saucon was the only school in the Lehigh Valley which safely resumed in-person learning” in 2020-21, she said. She adds that she is “a strong advocate for providing a high-quality education for all children and believes that education is the great equalizer” for students to “reach and unlock their highest potential.”

Vivian Demko is a veteran teacher of nearly three decades and life-long resident of Saucon Valley. She says she holds several degrees in education, including “a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in computers in education, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and an IDA Accredited Teacher Certification in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory method of teaching children to read.”

She says she brings a “unique, insightful, perspective of our school system that is not found on our current board” and “will serve our school community with integrity, honesty and compassion.” Her top priorities are to “work with administration to assure the supports that students need to reach their potential are available, remediate the toxic school climate that currently exists and improve communication amongst all members of our community and school(s),” she added.

Robert Phillips, whose candidacy replaces that of withdrawn incumbent Sandra Miller, is a telecommunications professional whose children are attending or have graduated from the district. He says he has three primary goals: “make Saucon Valley a school of first choice; be fiscally responsible; (and) engage the entire community in enhancing our schools.”

Phillips spoke especially of increased participation at board meetings, saying “I will work to make online meeting participation an option for the community. Faculty participation at board meetings should be welcomed.” Additionally, retaining students in the district is a priority, he said, so they don’t “enroll in cyber and charter schools that benefit from the tax dollars that follow the student … we have to adjust our education experience so that the student wants to be a Saucon Valley Panther.”

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS Photos: (demko), (dettmar), (magnotta), (pakzad), (phillips) - Vivian Demko, Cedric Dettmar, Dr. Shamin Pakzad and Robert Phillips are four of the seven Saucon Valley School Board candidates.
Cedric Dettmar
Robert Phillips
Dr. Shamin Pakzag
Andrew Hughes
Theresa Fadem