Ritchey leaves board with final nod to children and Apple Festival

PAT FRIDGEN
Howard Ritchey is in his final months of service as a member of the Greencastle-Antrim school board. He has been on the Board of School Directors for 16 years and seen enrollment grow from 2,357 to over 3,000.

Outgoing member Howard Ritchey has left his mark on the Greencastle-Antrim School District Board of School Directors. After 16 years of service in the unpaid elected position, Ritchey is known for his work on legislative issues and for his promotion of the annual Apple Festival and Antique Engine Show.

Encouraged by citizens to run for the board in 1995, Ritchey won a seat and immediately became involved with legislative issues as they affected Pennsylvania school districts. He focused on state government on behalf of the board, became the liaison to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, was the first Franklin County coordinator, and was also the Region 9 assistant director. He attended PSBA meetings in Mechanicsburg and reported back to the school board each month.

One topic in recent years was Act 1, also called the Taxpayer Relief Act. In 2006 most districts opposed the measure, which would restrict tax increases to an index determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Anything higher would have to go to a referendum. Ritchey called former governor Edward G. Rendell "a brat" for forcing Act 1 onto the local boards.

"That's what's killing us now," he said. "I don't like raising taxes more than anyone else. It affects me too."

He considered the public education his three children received in Greencastle worth more than the taxes he has paid out. He likes the district's motto "Children First".

"That's what I put into my votes," Ritchey continued. "If I have to choose between the taxpayer or the children who get hurt, I'm sorry, it's the taxpayer."

While he deals with heavy-duty issues on the meeting agendas, he also gets to have fun with lighter topics. For years, Ritchey has reminded board members and visitors about the Apple Festival, held the second Saturday of each October. He encourages attendance, and spending some time in the old farmhouse kitchen at Tayamentasachta. A school board member could be as helpful as anyone at peeling apples, rolling dough or assembling apple dumplings. Their sale is a fundraiser sponsored by the environmental center's Advisory Committee, of which Ritchey is also a member.

"The Apple Festival is our main funding source. We've done thousands of dollars worth of improvements to Tayamentasachta that otherwise taxpayers would have to pay for."

The committee donated much of the expense of the outdoor classroom, maintains the computer system, purchases a multitude of supplies, coordinates educational programs for students and the community, and develops short- and long-range plans for the 35-acre site on Leitersburg Street, adjacent to the elementary and primary schools.

Ritchey added, "Tayamentasachta is a pride and joy of the community. It is well-used. Go out there and just sit, and watch the people come and go over a weekend."

Sixteen years

Ritchey, 71, first taught in the district as an industrial arts teacher in the secondary schools. He then went into the private sector as a salesman for various companies, selling tools, cars, insurance and hardware. His territory covered hundreds of miles around Greencastle. He has served on the school board during the tenure of two superintendents, Dr. P. Duff Rearick, and Dr. C. Gregory Hoover. For the past 20 years all parties involved worked to build up a quality educational system, ramping up curriculum and providing learning opportunities, he said. Ritchey personally wanted to see student standardized test and college entrance exam scores go up, which was accomplished. He noted that people move into the community because of the schools.

"That is a pat on the back to the school board, administration and teachers," he said.

Now enrollment is at its highest, with 3,031 students. A building expansion project was tabled this year due to the economy. Ritchey would like to see it revived as soon as feasible, as a need, not a want. The extra 47 students in the halls this year may not seem like a lot, he said, but it was basically two classrooms.

He has also served on the board's Facilities Development committee, and represented both G-ASD and Fannett-Metal School District on the Lincoln Intermediary Unit committee for 12 years.

Ritchey and his wife Merle have three children, Todd, Susan and Scott, and eight grandchildren.

He considers his time on the school board, which ends in December, an honor and a privilege in serving the community. He's also aware that the Apple Festival is fast approaching.

"It's a wonderful event. People can have a good time out there."