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New school director plans to bring 'neutral' perspective to Northampton Area School Board

Northampton County Courthouse, Easton, Pa.,
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
Six Northampton County judges voted on the appointment of a new school director to the Northampton Area School Board; two abstained due to conflicts of interest, according to a court order.

EASTON, Pa. — A group of county judges appointed a new member to the Northampton Area School Board after school directors twice failed to fill an open seat that had been vacant for several weeks.

President Judge Craig Dally issued a court order Tuesday appointing Nathan Lichtenwalner to serve as the board representative for Region 2, which covers Northampton Borough and East Allen Township.

The Region 2 seat had been vacant since mid-March, when Director Chuck Frantz resigned. Lichtenwalner will serve out the rest of Frantz’s term, which ends in 2025.

Lichtenwalner, a district parent and deputy sheriff in Northampton County, said his priorities as school director will include district finances, construction and safety.

“Having the obligation to the taxpayers, that’s my main focus, while obviously keeping the children in mind,” he told LehighValleyNews.com on Wednesday.

The board will vote on a final 2024-25 budget later this month after approving a $132.5 million spending plan in May with no proposed tax increase.

“I’m hoping to shed some light on that and actually bring some order back to the middle school because right now it’s not a good place for the children.”
Nathan Lichtenwalner, newest Northampton Area School Board member

Lichtenwalner also said he will be focused on district renovations and other construction projects, particularly the $75 million elementary school and education center being built at Route 329 and Seemsville Road in East Allen Township.

On safety, Lichtenwalner said he’s concerned about “violence and chaos” at the district middle school, including bullying and fighting.

“I’m hoping to shed some light on that and actually bring some order back to the middle school because right now it’s not a good place for the children,” he said.

The appointment process

A group of Northampton County judges selected Lichtenwalner from a pool of seven applicants who all interviewed before the school board in April. Their resumes were forwarded to the court in May after the board had twice failed to approve a new school director.

When the board first tried to fill the vacancy in April, multiple school directors abstained from voting, making it impossible for a nominee to get the support needed to be appointed.

Residents subsequently petitioned the court to fill the vacancy, but Dally kicked the decision back to the school board. He was concerned the directors’ abstentions violated board policy.

In May, the board failed to fill the vacancy for a second time when they remained deadlocked after seven votes. That’s when school directors decided to ask the court to make the final decision.

According to state law, all commissioned judges participate in a vote when a court of common pleas is tasked with filling a vacancy for an elected office.

In this case, a majority of Northampton County judges voted in favor of Lichtenwalner after considering all seven candidates.

Of eight county judges, two abstained from the vote due to conflicts of interest, according to the court order. The order does not include information on why the judges selected Lichtenwalner.

The candidates

The other applicants for the board seat included: Michael Buckley, Shelby Fabian, William Jones, Maggie Kemp, Fran Shehab and Christine Steigerwalt.

Buckley is an Epic credentialed trainer at St. Luke's University Health Network; Fabian is a mechanical engineer; Jones is a software engineer; Kemp is an employee at a local temporary staffing agency; Shehab is a reading paraprofessional in another local school district; and Steigerwalt is a former teacher and school administrator who worked in Northampton Area and Palmerton Area school districts.

Additionally, Jones unsuccessfully ran for school board as a Republican in the November 2023 election; at the time, he was endorsed by the Northampton County chapter of Moms for Liberty. And Kemp served two terms on the Northampton Area School Board in past years.

Lichtenwalner said he looks forward to serving the community and hopes to bring a “neutral” perspective to the often divided school board.

“I’m going to listen to what everyone has to say, and I’m going to form my own opinions based on the facts that are presented,” he said.

The next school board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 10, in the auditorium of Northampton Area High School.