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Vacant school board seat is filled

An appointment to fill a vacant seat on the Northampton Area School District Board of Education has been made.

Nathan Lichtenwalner, a Northampton County deputy sheriff, was appointed June 4 by order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County to represent Region 2 - Northampton Borough and East Allen Township.

Lichtenwalner took the oath of office June 6 from Northampton County President Judge Craig A. Dally at the county courthouse. Lichtenwalner, one of seven applicants for the seat, fills the unexpired term for Region 2 through Dec. 1, 2025.

The appointment was made by county court after the NASD school board deadlocked on filling the seat.

School directors voted 8-0 at the March 11 board meeting to approve and accept a letter from Chuck Frantz to resign from the board as of March 1 and authorize the administration to advertise the vacant board position for Region 2.

Dally presided at a hearing May 1 in Courtroom 1, Northampton County Court, Easton, concerning the Region 2 appointment. NASD Solicitor Atty. John E. Freund III, founding member of King Spry Herman Freund and Faul, was notified of the hearing in a Civil Division Rule to Show Cause order filing April 11.

The May 1 court hearing was held because an appointment was not made for the Region 2 vacancy at an NASD school board meeting April 9 when seven applicants for appointment as interim board member were interviewed but none received a majority vote of the eight-member board. Several directors voted to abstain for nominees.

The applicants interviewed April 9 were Michael Buckley, St. Luke’s University Health Network trainee; Shelby Fabian, mechanical engineer at ARCCA; William Jones, software engineer at PowerSchool Group; Maggie Kemp, former two-term NASD Region 2 school director; Lichtenwalner; Fran Shehab, Gockley Elementary School reading paraprofessional; and Christine Steigerwalt, retired Palmerton Area School District principal and NASD assistant principal and physical education teacher.

According to Section 315, Pennsylvania Public School Code, “If, by reason of a tie vote or otherwise, such vacancy shall not have been filled by the board of school directors within 30 days after such vacancy shall have occurred from the qualified electors of the district, the court of common pleas of the proper county, upon the petition of 10 or more resident taxpayers, shall fill such vacancy by the appointment of a suitable person from the qualified electors of the district.”

Those petitioning Northampton County Court for appointment to the Region 2 seat were Jones, Kemp and Steigerwalt. Lichtenwalner said he obtained the required number of signatures but did not file the petition.

At the May 1 court hearing, Dally sent the Region 2 board appointment decision back to the NASD school board.

“Should the board fail to fill the vacancy by June 3, 2024, the applications and/or resumes of all interested, and qualified, applicants shall be forwarded to the Office of the Northampton County Court Administrator for the Court’s review and consideration,” Dally said.

He noted the abstentions made by a number of the directors are not in accordance with the board’s policy manual.

“Based upon the board’s policy manual, there are very few instances when a director should abstain and, if necessary, a director should verbally disclose their reasoning for abstaining,” Dally said. “Thus, the court directs the board to vote on this matter with no abstentions, except for good cause, in accordance with the board policy manual.”

Per Dally’s directive, the NASD school board met May 8 to consider the Region 2 appointment.

Voting “yes” to ask Dally to appoint the Region 2 representative were school Directors Dr. Michael Baird, John Becker, Josh Harris and Ross Makary and board Vice President Kristin Soldridge. Voting “no” were school Directors Kim Bretzik and Brian McCulloch and board President Doug Vaughn.

Freund told the board he would recommend Dally choose between Steigerwalt and Lichtenwalner, for which school directors deadlocked, voting 4-4 at the May 8 meeting. Voting to appoint Steigerwalt to the seat were Baird, Becker, Makary and Vaughn. Voting to appoint Lichtenwalner were Bretzik, Harris, McCulloch and Soldridge.

Steigerwalt and Lichtenwalner were the final two applicants considered by the school board at the May 8 meeting. School directors voted 6-2 to choose Lichtenwalner in a runoff with a third applicant, Jones.

Voting for Lichtenwalner were Baird, Becker, Harris, Makary, Soldridge and Vaughn. Voting for Jones were Bretzik and McCulloch.

School directors voted seven times at the meeting May 8 with identical results for three applicants. Baird, Becker, Makary and Vaughn voted for Steigerwalt. Bretzik and McCulloch voted for Jones. Harris and Soldridge voted for Lichtenwalner.

This deadlock led to the decision being sent back to the court system.