Cites diversity of issues facing district; wants to avoid cutting program or staff
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
After just a few months of serving on the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, Leticia Flores DeWilde has discovered that it is a much more complicated job that it might appear from the outside.
“I think there are a lot more issues then what I had been exposed to as a resident,” said the Pennsbury resident now seeking to win election to keep her seat in Region C. “There’s contracts. the policy documents that we have to review. There’s a whole lot of stuff and it’s actually more interesting than I would have expected.”
In the lone contested UCFSD Board of Education race, Flores DeWilde is running against Carolyn Daniels from Chadds Ford. Elsewhere, in Region A, incumbents Keith Knauss and Jeff Hellrung, both of East Marlborough, are running unopposed, and in Region B, newcomers Michael Rock of Newlin and Steve Simonson of Pocopson are running unopposed.
Trained as an attorney, and the mother of two sons who attend Hillendale Elementary, Flores DeWilde said she had some inkling of the dimensions of the job when she sought to be appointed to complete Frank Murphy’s term on the board this past summer, but, she said, it’s turned out to be an even better experience than she expected and more wide-ranging.
“I expected it to be challenging but it has turned out to be more rewarding in the sense that there’s a number of different kinds of issues that we cover, so that’s been really nice,” she said.
She cited as an example, the discussions at the Oct. 21 board meeting about a pilot program to use a staffing agency to hire some support staff for the district, and how during that discussion it became apparent not all of the details of the program had been as thoroughly, or publicly, discussed as could be. The board failed to get the five votes needed to approve the program, although it is expected to be further deliberated — and likely put to a vote again — in November.
“I think we need to have more input from the community, from the residents, on this,” she said.
While she’s been fascinated by some of the less-headline grabbing issues, she acknowledges that money — and specifically how the school district copes with the increasing costs of the Public Schools Employment Retirement System (PSERS) will drive much of the decision making process in the coming years.
After 2001 changes to state law allowed both the state and local school districts to cut back on their contributions to the pension fund, the economic downturn that started in 2007 left the fund underfunded, leading to a spike — roughly an increase of 1.5% of total salary (the state covers half of pension costs) yearly, on top of salary hikes as specified in labor contracts.
At the same time, the district has actually seen revenue from real estate taxes decline, as property valuations (in part because of the weakened market, in part because of tax assessment appeals), and transfer and interim taxes all have seen declines in recent years. Although tax revenue appears to have stabilized — and may even be poised for modest gains in the coming years — it appears the district’s costs are likely to increase at a greater rate, in part because of the PSERS issue.
“I’d say that it’s no doubt that’s the biggest challenge the board is going to face is the budget and that’s what they’ve been facing because of all these increasing costs,” she said. “There’s different ways that you can approach that to try to balance it.”
She said her hope is to look for efficiencies and other options before making cuts to staff and programs, that should be the last option, in her opinion, although she knows not everyone on the board will have the same thought process.
“I think that some people would go automatically to cutting programs’ funding, maybe even layoffs,” she said. “I think there’s different ways people use to approach balancing the budget. I tend to try to find other ways to figure out how we can balance the budget before going to try to cut costs. We all care about the schools and education it’s just which, if you had to make a choice, which is what you have to do, I would rather not have to cut people’s jobs.”
Flores DeWilde said she thinks her biography gives her some different perspective on some of the issues in the district, a good thing in terms of having a diverse set of experiences and opinions on the board.
She proudly notes that she comes comes from a family of nine, all of whom immigrated from Mexico. Her father worked nights as a machinist in a factory and her mother did garment work out of their garage. She said she learned early on to work hard and do well in school.
Before deciding to stay home with her children, she made a living as an attorney and a policy analyst. Flores DeWilde worked as a Staff Attorney in the Office of the General Counsel for the Medicare and Medicaid Programs. She has also worked for the American Cancer Society in its Government Relations Department in Washington, DC as a Senior Policy Analyst focusing on Medicare and private health insurance issues.
She is a graduate of Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
She invites those interested in more information about her to visit her Website: www.leticia4schoolboard.com.