The local optometrist Dr. Rhonda Laughlin returns to the Greater Latrobe School Board as Chairperson after just a few months.
The board this week selected Laughlin by a 7-1 vote to fill a seat vacated by the February 4 resignation of veteran school principal Bill Palmer.
Palmer, general manager of a construction company, served 12 years on the board and was re-elected in November for a further four-year term. He told the Tribune-Review he’s moving out of the county to be closer to his parents, for whom he’s a caretaker.
“I’m going to miss it,” Palmer said of his school board responsibilities, which included chairing the Technology Committee and helping represent Greater Latrobe on the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center’s Joint Operating Committee.
“These 12 years changed my outlook on life a lot,” he said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the current and former Board members and with the Superintendents. And I have enjoyed working for my most important constituents, the district children.”
Laughlin, who served three terms on the board and was president, failed to seek re-election in 2017. However, she was appointed to the board last year and served until the board’s reshuffle in December, when she ended the tenure of Steven LoCascio, who died suddenly in May.
According to District Attorney Ned Nakles, Laughlin’s new appointment expires in December 2023.
Andrew Repko cast the only vote against the appointment. He indicated that candidates who had campaigned for the school board last year but dropped out of the race should be considered instead.
Repko, Palmer, Heidi Kozar and Merle D. Musick won the November election with about 20% of the vote each, while former candidate Cathy Sarraf received about 15%. Tom Gockel ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign after coming up short in the primary.
“I appreciate your time on the board,” Superintendent Mike Porembka told Palmer, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “You challenged me as an administrator to think outside the box. They always had our students in mind and what was best for our taxpayers.”
Nakles said Palmer’s professional expertise has proven invaluable when construction issues have arisen at district facilities. Palmer was also involved in negotiating a large monetary gift benefiting the district’s sports complex, the attorney said.
“He’s always worried about the kids in the district,” Nakles said.