PMSD Candidate Forum Introduces Board Hopefuls

APR 6 2023

PMSD Candidates who attended the community forum to meet voters in March were, LtoR, Ronnie Byrd, Michael Stern, Maggie Hartmann, Elyse Nehring, Bill Nathan, and Larry Soodeen. (BTN Photo)

MOUNT POCONO – Six of the eight primary candidates for four seats on the Pocono Mountain School Board attended the candidate forum hosted by the Monroe County Branch of the NAACP at the Mount Pocono borough building in late March.

Candidates were first given time to introduce themselves and talk about their backgrounds, qualifications, and issues they wanted to focus on.


Forum moderators included Crista Caceres, chair of the Monroe County chapter of the NAACP, sponsor of the event (L) and Emyjah Gonzalez, Pocono Mountain West High School senior class president (R). (BTN Photo)

First up was Larry Soodeen, a Republican who has cross-filed in Region 2, which represents Jackson, Tobyhanna, and Tunkhannock Townships. There are four candidates with one open seat in the region.

Mr. Soodeen was brief, saying he was concerned with the budget and welfare of children.
Bill Nathan is a Democratic candidate in Region 2. He spoke first of his background and qualifications. A retired professor of mathematics at Temple University, Mr. Nathan as a Ph.D. in mathematics and described his scholastic administrative experience at Temple.

He is interested using his broad academic experience to “help the school board think about what it means to be an educated person in a public school district.”

Elyse Nehring is also a Democratic candidate in Region 2. The staffer for State Representative Maureen Madden, connects her interest in serving on the board to her experience as an advocate for her autistic child.

If elected, she hopes to emphasize the issues faced by children with special needs. And their families. “No one on the board understands what parents of special needs children go through,” she said.

Maggie Hartmann is a Democratic candidate who has cross-filed for the one seat on the ballot in Region 1, which covers Barrett, Paradise, and Pocono Townships. Ms. Hartmann is the mother of two young children, the oldest of which will start school this Fall.

She said she was philosophically committed to public school education and wanted to be the voice for those in the community who lacked the level of privilege needed to be available to attend and participate in board meetings.

Ms. Hartmann indicated her primary interest was in making sure everyone’s interests were represented.


Region 2 candidate Elyse Nehring responding to questions during the forum. (BTN Photo)

Michale Stern is a former school board member who served over twelve years on the board. He is a cross-filed Democratic candidate in Region 3, which is Coolbaugh Township and Mount Pocono.

Mr. Stern said he wants to join the board again to “continue to serve as an advocate for the children of the district.” He touted his community service, noting he ran a local food pantry for over 18 years and that he currently runs a youth basketball program serving over 300 children each season.

Mr. Stern highlighted his deep connection to the district, having put three of his children through Pocono Mountain and now attending the district is the first of his three grandchildren who will all go through the Pocono Mountain School District.

The final candidate introduced was Ronnie Byrd, a current board member standing for reelection. Like Mr. Stern, he is a Democratic candidate who has cross-filed to run for one of the two seats in Region 3 of the district.


PMSD board member Ronnie Byrd (left) makes his point during the NAACP-sponsored candidate forum held in Mount Pocono on March 29, 2023. Looking on are candidates Michael Stern (center) and Maggie Hartmann. (btn photo)

Retired from his service in the US Army and as a special agent for the US Department of Labor, Mr. Byrd teaches at Northampton Community College and Temple University.

Mr. Byrd said his focus is to continue to try to ensure resource equity throughout the entire district. He said that “sometimes what they have on the East side, we don’t have on the West side. I want to make sure that what they have on the East side, we have on the West side.”

A primary emphasis for Mr. Byrd is to see that the graduates of both schools can go to college. Asw the Commander of the VFW in Coolbaugh Township, Mr. Byrd is proud of the annual scholarships they give. recently that gave a West senior over $2,000 in scholarships, and this year they intend to award three $1,000 scholarships to graduates from Pocono Mountain West High School.

The first question for the candidates came from the Junior Moderator for the evening, Emyjah Gonzalez. Ms. Gonzalez is the senior class president at Pocono Mountain West where she is a National Honors Art Society member. She asked the candidates to identify the major issues they see facing the district.

Mr. Stern returned to a theme he had mentioned during his introduction – the need to encourage more direct parental involvement with and support of their child’s school endeavors.

He said the only time parents become active is when they have an issue to address or “their backs are against the wall” in terms of students not meeting the standards or criteria for graduation. He encouraged parents to use the several told for staying on top of and informed of their student’s progress throughout their academic career.

For Ms. Hartmann, the biggest issue facing Pocono Mountain is funding. She pointed to $14 million the school was mandated to pay out to charter schools. “The biggest issue is ‘fair funding’.”


Members of the public had he opportunity to question candidates during the forum and to gather with them informally afterwards to discuss their concerns. (BTN Photo)

Candidate Nerhing said over 90% of districts are short staffed. She would like to see a variety of approaches to resolving the staffing issues, including state-level programs to provide incentives to pursue educational degrees as well as funding to increase teacher compensation.

Mr. Nathan said he would like to see a much higher percentage of graduates go on to college and would like to see the district’s overall ranking in the state improve.

Mr. Soodeen talked about assisting the parents. “As we know society have created both man and woman to go out in the fields and work, leaving our children to something, in this case the school system.” He said more parental involvement in education would lead to fewer mental health issues.

Funding is also Mr. Byrd’s biggest concern with the school district today. he said the pandemic and the countywide reassessment “took a big bite out of us.”He told the audience that the lack of adequate funding was due in part to the mandate which requires the district to pay charter schools which district children attended.

“They can take that money and advertise and we can’t do that,” Mr. Byrd said. “And I have a problem with that.

For nearly two hours, the candidates continued to give (mostly) well-informed and considered responses to a series of questions from the moderators, as well as from the public, on a wide range of school-related topics.

Members of the public who participated at the event, or who watched it online, were provided a relatively comprehensive look at their candidates, what they stand for, and what they hope to achieve if elected to the board.

The no-shows were current Republican board members Stephen Watto (Region 1) and Rusty Johnson (Region 2). Both have crossfiled.

The full video of the forum is available to view on the Monroe County NAACP Facebook page, The local NAACP organized the event in cooperation with East Pocono Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.