Do: election a referendum on balance

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Region C candidate is self-described ‘policy wonk’; served in various school-related efforts

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Kathleen Meehan-Do

Kathleen Meehan Do is, admittedly, a bit of a policy wonk.

The candidate for Unionville-Chadds Ford School board out of Region C can cite chapter and verse of the successes and failures of public education policy and she gets excited about talking curriculum and program details.

Actually, it’s a bit of an occupational hazard. A former journalist, she has worked as a communications specialist and policy adviser for some high-profile elected officials, such as former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Congressman Joe Sestak, and more recently has worked as a public policy analyst. A report she authored on reforming No Child Left Behind was cited by then-U.S Senator Hillary Clinton, during hearings on the re-authorization of the controversial education program.

But as much as she loves to dig in and talk, in detail, about education policy, she’s just as likely to be talking about the latest efforts of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Foundation, for which she serves as vice president, to raise money to add programs and equipment to the district’s schools, or about her two sons, the oldest a student at West Virginia University (and a Unionville High grad), the youngest attends Patton Middle School. She’s also worked on the high school AfterProm committee, was appointed to a committee studying the Keystone Exams and the Unionville High School Alumni Recognition Committee.

Despite her deep involvement in school issues — both professionally and personally in the Unionville-Chadds Ford schools — she wasn’t sure that running for the school board was the right move — and chose not to run 2009.

“I did think about running two years earlier,” she said. “And although I was concerned about the results of the 2009 elections, initially I thought I could do the most good continuing my work with the education foundation.

“But I recognized that the people who had been successful had a stated platform addressing the needs of non-parents above the needs of students.”

Despite that, the board seemed to be operating smoothly — and again, Do said she wasn’t sure running for a seat would be of more benefit to the community than continuing her work with the UCFEF.

After the filing deadline came and went in February, she said, there seemed to be a change, one that worried her and had people asking her about running.

“There was a general sense that things were starting to shift,” she said, citing the budget discussions and the shift in tenor in the talks with the district’s teachers. The tipping point came when Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker announced her intent to retire, Do said. The voices in the community, she said, urging her to run became louder, to an extent that she could no longer say no.

“It means a lot to me that so many parents, grandparents — and students — have expressed their support,” she said.

At that point, she and Gregg Lindner — a former board member who lost a narrow race to Frank Murphy in 2009 — decided to jointly mount a write-in campaign. That campaign worked, as both won the Democratic nomination. Timotha Trigg and Sharon Jones won the GOP nod, while Murphy won both parties’ nomination.

“We didn’t expect to win – what we wanted to do was give people a choice,” she said.

One change was required, though. Although almost universally known in the community as “Kathy Do,” she chose to run as Kathleen Meehan Do. And while the politics of the situation called for keeping the shorter and better-known name, she had a higher motivation for not: honoring her late father.

Robert Meehan served as District Attorney for Rockland County, N.Y. — a suburban county that sits just north of New York City and just north of New Jersey.

“He always told me that someday I would run for office,” Do said. “ ‘Someday’ is finally here — but he’s not here. By adding his name, I get to bring him along in a sense.”

If she wins, she said she feels there’s a need to look at more creative solutions to solving problems — and while she appreciates the need for spending reductions, she expressed concerns about whether the best options — ones likely to have the least impact on education — were even explored.

She cites the reductions in support staff as an example.

“I recognize that we needed to save money,” she said. “But I wondered if there was another way.”

She then talks about when she worked for Berkeley College in New Jersey when it was faced with budget cuts. Instead of laying off staff, it went to rotating four-day work weeks  — cutting hours for more employees, but keeping all of them on the payroll.

“Just laying them off devalued the work that they did and created a burden for teachers, who were already dealing with larger class sizes,” she said. “One or two children in a first-grade class does take additional time for a teacher, especially to give each child one-on-one time. And then we cut the support personnel. These are people who worked in the district for many years.”

And while there are innumerable specific issues Do can speak to, she suggests the biggest reason for her running and wanting to serve is to bring balance to the board — and she points to current members Keith Knauss and Jeff Hellrung — as having pushed the board to extreme positions. She notes that Knauss has endorsed Trigg, Murphy and Jones — and Rob MacPherson in Region A — and if they were to prevail, there would be majority of members embracing a what she regards as a fiscally extreme philosophy.

“I think its clear that Mr. Knauss and Mr. Hellrung share the same general value system,” she said. “And clearly, Keith would have endorsed only those he feels share those same values.”

“We are offering a different perspective,” she said. “I think it’s a referendum on balance.”

On another note, she signals her concern about how partisan the school board races have become and her disappointment in Jones and Murphy’s opposition to a bill by Sen. Andrew Dinniman to end partisan school board elections. Murphy said he takes issue with specific provisions of the bill, not the concept of non-partisan school board elections, while Jones said she was uncomfortable with the elimination of the primary election as described in the bill.

But Do suggests that the parties — and just one party, the GOP, locally — have too much influence and too much money in these local races. She and Lindner, she said, are getting their fiscal support from a wide range of people, across political lines — and no support from the Democratic Party.

“All of our money has come from local families and local individuals,” she said, saying funds came from Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

EDITORS NOTE: This is the third in a series of profiles of the Board of Education candidates. Next up: Rob MacPherson.

Previously run profiles:

Region A

Victor DuPuis

Region C

Sharon Jones

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