MacPherson seeks to find balance on Unionville school board

Seeking contested Region A seat, E. Marlborough resident says he hopes to improve board’s move toward transparent operations

By Mike McGann, Editor,

Robert MacPherson of East Marlborough is seeking the Region A Unionville-Chadds Ford board of Education seat.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — In the only contested race for the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, in Region A, Robert MacPherson is touting his low-key, common sense approach to education in his contest against Victor DuPuis to replaced retiring board member Corrine Sweeney.

A retired federal worker, who oversaw employee training for the U.S. Secret Service and the Justice Department, he’s spent much of his professional career in a teaching environment.

As a result, the father of two — both graduates of Unionville High School — stresses what he calls the “three Rs” Responsible, Reasonable and Realistic as what defines his approach, should he win election this year.

He became more publicly involved in school affairs during the bond referendum to renovate Unionville High School, something he said previously couldn’t do because of his career as a federal employee. Although he opposed the bond referendum, he says he remains a strong supporter of public schools.

“I’m a complete and total product of public education,” he said. “I appreciate the education I got in public schools.”

But, like many in the community, MacPherson was frustrated by the bond issue and how the board of education chose to handle it.

“It was a betrayal of trust,” he said. “I felt like the board decided ‘we know better’ and ignored what the community was saying.”

He notes some worry about the long-term implications of the renovation project — paying for it out of operating budget and having the debt be back-loaded — and whether it will ultimately hurt education in Unionville.

“I’d like to be part of a board that does good things and does them transparently,” he said, although he said he thinks the current board is doing a better job to be much more transparent than previous boards.

“I think they know they have to win back the trust of the voters,” he said.

He applauds efforts to “leave no stone unturned” looking for costs savings, or just better ways to run the district, he said, saying he has no issues with the current studies to look at outsourcing busing and groundskeeping and janitorial services. He adds that the savings will have to be evident, though, before he’d support such a move for two reasons: first, there are people, many of whom live in the district, involved as employees, and second, any such decision is virtually impossible to undo once made.

Although friendly and garnering support of two current board members, Keith Knauss and Jeff Hellrung, MacPherson suggests he’s probably more philosophically aligned with Hellrung, who has proven to be less a bit less of a fiscal hawk than Knauss during both’s second tenure on the board.

That having been said, with the current fiscal situation likely to get worse for the district before it gets better, the board is going to need to have an ability to look at creative solutions to problems, he allows.

As the project student growth used in part to justify the renovation project hasn’t materialized with the freeze in local home building, MacPherson suggests that there might well be unused space available to lease to other parties, potentially a charter school or some other symbiotic use as an option to improve the bottom line. Even if after examination, it proves to be a poor fit, every option should be explored, he said.

“Can we at least talk about it?” he said.

Another area: with the new Large Group Instruction classrooms in the high school, MacPherson said he thinks that it makes sense for the school to offer larger — 60 to 90 students — lecture-style classes in some subjects for juniors and seniors, similar to what they might expect to see in college. In addition to offering something of a cost savings, it also would serve as good preparation for college-bound upper class students.

MacPherson said he wants to find balance between the needs of students and the taxpaying community as a whole — and that every expenditure has to be carefully weighed and looked at.

“We are up against a fiscal wall,” he said. “We have to decide if we can afford it.”

EDITORS NOTE: We will be featuring the views of Victor DuPuis in an upcoming story — before the election, as well as speaking with the other candidates who are running unopposed.

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