Posted by: wcdem2 | October 2, 2009

School Board Battleground

by WCJim [Posted August 14, 2009 ]

[Jim Jones represents ward 6 on West Chester Borough Council and is a regular blogger about West Chester events and issues. His post below, from August, remains very relevant in showing what can happen when voters do not pay enough attention to school board elections]

If you’ve read a local newspaper in the past two months, you know that something bad has happened in the Owen J. Roberts School District. And if you saw yesterday’s article on PhillyNews.com, you know that the Phoenixville school district is in a similar situation. The problem: school boards playing politics with district management. Since June of last year, the Phoenixville Area School District (PASD) has hired and lost six (6) superintendents. And according to PhillyNews.com, the district has also lost “an assistant superintendent, a business manager, a high school principal, an athletic director, a human-resources director, a special-education supervisor, and a technology director. Most recently, the basketball coach and an outreach supervisor were fired.” The author declined to assign blame, but suggested that it stemmed from a plan for a new elementary school that had to be scrapped. Not surprisingly, tension resulted from the lawsuits that followed. [Kristin E. Holmes, “Job turnover alarms some in Phoenixville district” at PhillyNews.com (Aug. 12, 2009)]

The rate of turnover is lower in the Owen J. Roberts School District, but the level of public concern is much higher. It erupted in July after a five-person majority of the nine-member school board fired a popular superintendent, Myra Forrest, without cause or warning. Despite an outcry from the public, critical comments in local newspapers from West Chester to Pottstown, and the intervention of State Senator Andy Dinniman, they refused to back down. Two weeks ago, they appointed former elementary school principal Barry Flicker to replace her, and yesterday (August 13) he submitted a letter of resignation.

The conflict between the OJR majority and the other members started after the 2008 election. That’s when five candidates endorsed by the OJR Taxpayers Association were sworn in. Over the past two years, their composition has changed because one was arrested and convicted for sex crimes involving an OJR student, and a second one moved out of the district. The process of appointing replacements was complicated — you can follow it in the school board’s minutes for their June 23, 2008 and October 13, 2008 meetings — but each time it led to the replacement of one OJRTA ally with another.

Over the past two years, the majority was able to fire the school district’s solicitor, approve a new school year calendar despite the objections of both faculty and staff, commit what at least one expert called a Sunshine Law violation, appoint the OJRTA president to the board, and fire the superintendent without cause. Their reign appears about to end — three of the five lost their spring primary election — but in the meantime, they’ve still got nearly five months left.

Like Owen J. Roberts, the West Chester Area School District has its own “taxpayers” group whose stated goal is better education through “fiscal responsibility” but whose true motives are more comprehensive. Last February, four of them won the Republican party endorsement and stirred up a firestorm when an essay by one of them, Sean Carpenter, came to light. Writing for the PA Conservative Council, his essay The Shot Over The Bough praised their endorsement as the first step in the reconquest of the Republican party by conservatives. He went on to thank another conservative group, Chester County Action (Americans for Christian Traditions In Our Nation) for helping to prepare them for the endorsement process. The nominations generated concern among current board members, even though all but two are Republicans. Two of them publicly criticized their own party leaders for refusing to consider qualified candidates in favor of ideologues. Two of them, Sue Tiernan and Susan Carty, received the Democratic party endorsement and went on to place first and second among all nine candidates in the May 2009 primary.
West Chester Area School Board Primary Results Democrat

LISA R. SAMUEL.  .  .  .     2,180   18.84
JOHN F. WINGERTER.  .  .       430    3.72
DEBORAH L. LICZWEK  .  .     2,128   18.39
GARY J. BEVILACQUA  .  .       735    6.35
SEAN CARPENTER.  .  .  .       441    3.81
MARIA ARMANDI PIMLEY.  .       415    3.59
SUSAN SPELLMAN TIERNAN .     2,399   20.73
SUSAN J. CARTY.  .  .  .     2,366   20.44
HEIDI ADSETT  .  .  .  .       464    4.01
WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .        15     .13

Republican

SUSAN J. CARTY.  .  .  .     1,854   10.18
MARIA ARMANDI PIMLEY.  .     2,802   15.39
SEAN CARPENTER.  .  .  .     3,080   16.91
HEIDI ADSETT  .  .  .  .     2,678   14.71
GARY J. BEVILACQUA  .  .     1,800    9.88
JOHN F. WINGERTER.  .  .     3,032   16.65
DEBORAH L. LICZWEK  .  .     1,005    5.52
SUSAN SPELLMAN TIERNAN .     1,769    9.71
WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .       190    1.04
Naturally, that has generated a backlash from party conservatives who accuse the current board members of selling out (and worse), and the war that is going on within the Republican party is spilling over into the school board election. The number of players on the conservative side is impressive, although you have to follow a lot of links from one web page to the next to find Shannon Royer (two-time candidate for state legislature), Val DiGiorgio (current County Controller), Kurt Schroder (State Representative for the Downingtown area), and even Dick Yoder (West Chester Mayor). We’ll find out in about three months whether the traditional Republican edge in school board elections can withstand the turmoil generated by this year’s party mominations. If it does, then we’ll have at least two years until the next school board election to see if the school district can withstand the kind of behavior that has wreaked havoc in the Owen J. Roberts district.


Want to research this for yourself? Here are some links to get you started.

Next, Google any of the candidates’ names and add phrases like “conservative” “property tax” and “tea party.” Then start following the links.

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