Unionville board candidate points to contract, HS renovation management as highlights of his term
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
In just two years, a lot has happened and often, Frank Murphy has found himself in the middle of it.
Murphy, one of five candidates seeking a Region C seat for the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, found out he had a very short time to get his sea legs, as multiple storms kept rolling in on the school district in his first two years on the board. Murphy, incumbent Timotha Trigg and Sharon Jones, all Republicans, are running as one slate against Democrats Kathleen Meehan Do and Gregg Lindner in the Nov. 8 election.
After winning a tight election race over Lindner in 2009, Murphy, of Chadds Ford, found himself at the center of two potentially controversial situations: as the new chair of the board’s facilities committee. That meant he had to keep tabs on the renovation project underway at Unionville High School. Shortly thereafter, he was tabbed as the board’s lead in negotiations for a new teachers’ contract.
“It’s been a challenging two years,” Murphy said. “But I think we’ve accomplished a lot.”
Although new to the board — and somewhat new to the community — his unique background as both an engineer and attorney gave him an unusual skill set his colleagues wanted to take advantage of in short order.
Plus, having only recently moved to the community from neighboring Aston, where he served on the township’s board of commissioners, Murphy hadn’t been publicly involved, pro or con, on the renovation project, allowing him to come at overseeing it for the board with something of a fresh perspective.
With the project being so controversial, Murphy said he knew that it needed to be tightly managed and remain as far off the radar as possible — headlines about the project running late or over budget would heighten tensions in the community.
“With the state of division in the community over the high school renovation, we proceeded with the understanding that it had to be done right,” he said. Currently, the project has gone smoothly and is ahead of schedule and under budget, although Murphy is quick to credit members of the school administration — specifically Rick Hostetler, the district’s director of buildings and grounds, high school principal Paula Massanari, among others — with how well the process has proceeded.
The smoothness, cost-containment and timeliness of the high school project stand out in stark relief to some of the district’s other building projects such as Pocopson Elementary School, which was both late and over budget.
The teachers’ contract proved to be somewhat more acrimonious — and Murphy did find himself in the middle of some of the public back and forth as the talks got stormy at times. Ultimately, though, the two sides reached a deal, just before the start of the school year — and while he says he didn’t enjoy the process, calling it “difficult,” Murphy said he is pleased with the result.
“I believe our contract is the envy of most of our neighboring districts,” he said.
Despite working through those issues, Murphy anticipates additional challenges — especially on the fiscal front, as the district continues to look at dwindling revenues both from taxes and state and federal funding.
Although he identifies himself as fiscally conservative, he makes it clear that his spending opinions are tied to educational quality — not dogma.
He has often stated his goal is to provide the “most efficient education, not the least expensive one.”
That having been said, he doesn’t think the district should tax just because it can.
“Unlike my opponents, I don’t think we should tax to the max just because we can,” Murphy said. “I will vote to support education — and I have.”
But if money can be saved without hurting educational quality, then he said he feels the board has a responsibility keep tax hikes to a bare minimum, to reduce the burden on the community as a whole.
He thinks that is where he and his running mates have a different take than the opposition — an issue that has at times, divided the community, even prior the high school renovation project. Murphy suggests his opponents are more willing to spend money without considering the overall impact on the community versus the educational value.
“I think it’s a real philosophical difference,” he said.
And while he thinks the board has done a good job in these stormy times, he allows that he sees room for improvement.
Although he feels it has improved, he thinks the district still doesn’t do a good enough job in communicating with the community at large.
“I think we’ve done a better job than previous boards,” he said. “But some of the problem is that one message doesn’t fit all — we need to do a better job of reaching out in different ways.”
Although the last number of years have seen divisions in the community — some of which have played out in the rhetoric of this campaign season — Murphy said he hopes that once the election is over, people can find a way to come together again as a community.
“Regardless of who wins, everyone should realize that we should all be pulling in the same direction,” he said. “We can’t afford, as a district, to fail. The district has to win.”
Murphy graduated from Temple Law School, Magna Cum Laude and practices law with the Philadelphia firm Deeb, Blum, Murphy, Frishberg & Markovich. He also has an Engineering Degree from Temple University and a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Penn State University.
EDITORS NOTE: This is the seventh and final story in a series of profiles of the Board of Education candidates.
Previously run profiles: