Candidates air differences at forum

With the election close at hand, event proves more heated than May event

By Mike McGann, Editor,
PENNSBURY — At times contentious, Wednesday night’s Board of Education candidates forum was a somewhat more intense event than May’s more collegial evening of discussion.

Much of the sparring at the event, sponsored by The League of Women Voters and the PTOs of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, was between Kathleen Meehan Do and Frank Murphy, among five competing for three board seats in Region C (Chadds Ford and Pennsbury) — and a lot of that back and forth centered on the nature of the departure of former Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker.

Each candidate got to make a brief opening statement and then each answered questions in turn as submitted by audience members — on subjects ranging from the recent teachers’ contract negotiation, pending legislation, the role of school board members and of course, taxes.

Still, despite the moments of heat, a great deal of the conversation was not contentious — and there were a number of areas of agreement, including that the district needs to take a hard look at ways to generate revenue beyond taxation.

Murphy hammered Do over her references to Parker’s having “resigned” rather than “retired” — taken by some as a suggestion that the former superintendent left the district for reasons other than wanting to spend time with her children and grandchildren. Do said that the “resigned” reference — in an email from May — was inadvertent and that she regretted it.

“I take extreme exception to the idea that I questioned Sharon’s veracity. She (Parker) said she was leaving to spend time with her children,” Do said. “And to reduce stress in her life. I felt her life was too stressful, that the board made her life difficult.”

Murphy and board president Timotha Trigg — another Region C candidate — also publicly took issue with reports in The Unionville Times that a a presentation at a March 21 board executive session may have violated the state Sunshine Act.

“The Sunshine law is not a particularly settled law,” Trigg said. “My understanding is that our solicitor does not agree with the opinions (in the news story).” She noted she felt there was nothing “improper” about the executive session.

Beyond those fireworks, much of the talk revolved around lower-key discussions about non-tax methods for enhancing revenue, the role of school board members, the district’s relationship with its teachers, legislation to make school board elections non-partisan.

Sharon Jones, a candidate from Region C, spoke about the limits of taxation and that other methods must be looked for to add to the district’s bottom line.

“I’d like to help define other ways to generate revenue,” she said. She noted that she would welcome public input on the matter.

Gregg Lindner, a former board member seeking to regain a seat from Region C, noted that had been something he was working on during his brief tenure on the board in 2009.

“We need to put together a program to get the district additional dollars,” he said. “This is something that started to be looked at two years ago when I was on the board. But the board has not come up with a policy, and there’s been little movement on the issue.”

Rob MacPherson, a candidate from Region A (East Marlborough and West Marlborough), addressed some resistance from parents and others when it comes to commercialism in the schools, whether it be from naming rights for facilities or some sort of carefully-vetted advertising, by noting that their kids were already walking marketing messages.

“Folks, your kids are advertising billboards when they go to school,” he said and then proceeded to list a number of well-known brands commonly worn by students.

Murphy suggested such methods, while worth considering, would not be a “panacea” or a solution to the general fiscal challenges the district faces.

There were some differing view about the recently concluded teacher negotiations — with some criticism of the tone of the talks and the impact on the relationship with the district’s teachers. Lindner suggested that the previous talks, when he was serving, were more collegial and less contentious. Murphy, who chaired the negotiating committee, noted that those talks were for a one-year extension, not a multi-year deal.

All six were asked to answer yes or no as to whether they support a bill by state Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-19, who represents West Marlborough and Newlin in the Unionville area) to make school board elections non-partisan as they are currently in 47 states. Lindner, MacPherson and Do said yes, while Jones and Murphy said no. Trigg said she wasn’t familiar with the legislation.

Eileen Bushelow, the lone candidate from Region B (Pocopson, Birmingham and Newlin), was in attendance, but chose not to participate so as to give those candidates in contested races to have more time to speak.

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  1. Anne Thomas says:

    Another election season, another tumultuous school board election for UCFSD. As a parent who has had three children graduate from this school system, I do feel a responsibility to become educated and to vote for my school board director. However, in the current climate of heated rhetoric, I simply couldn’t decide what or who to believe. I see value in investing in our school system, but certainly have no desire to elect a spendthrift board who will throw tax dollars around with no regard to actual improvement. I decided to ask those whom I know to be most familiar with what is happening in the schools today. I asked current staff members who live in my area, retired staff members and, mostly, the volunteers who spend time in the schools every day, donating time and money to the communal cause of education. I expected some degree of variability in the responses, but I was AMAZED that there was not a single vote of support for an incumbent in a contested race. The feeling I got was that there is an adversarial relationship between those “in the trenches” and the Board members. This is not a recipe for success. Deserved or not, this type of reputation will not help our community or our children. We all want the most efficient use of our tax dollars, but if the Board members cannot get the support of the parents and staff, efficiency will remain a pipe dream. I believe it is time to end the acrimony, and to move our district forward in this new economy, with respect for both the sacrifices of the taxpayers and the efforts of our teachers and children. I will vote for a change this fall, with the hope that new blood will foster new ideas.

    • Observing says:

      While neither Ms. Do nor Mr. Lindner served on the Board that voted to fund the H.S. construction project the way it was done, both were vocal supporters of this plan. They are hardly “new blood” in this regard. Further, every Board Member who voted for that disaster (twice rejected in referendums, mind you) either declined to run for re-election or was soundly defeated.

      As to the statement for staff and volunteers, suffice it to say that I hear little in the way of complaints about our district and I have children attending the shools. Pocopson was just named a Blue Ribbon School, the hiring of Dr. Sanville was greeted with rousing ovations and the test scores remain top-shelf.

  2. Observing says:

    Ms. Hoover: it appears from my Google search that the Chadds Ford Democratic party did endorse the Do/Lindner campaign. It appears they have also endorsed Mr. Lindner’s past runs for office.

  3. Keith Knauss says:

    I understand the positives of a SB327 (non-partisan affiliation) – minimization of lame duck legislation and the possibility of encouraging voters to look at the issues rather than party affiliation. The question I would ask is, “If it’s so good for school board elections wouldn’t it also be good for local supervisors, county officials, judges, state legislators, national legislators and the president?” Currently, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other in regards to SB327.

  4. Kathy Do says:

    In response to Unionville Native’s mention that my degree is unknown, I am a proud graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton with a B.A. in Political Science.

  5. Observing says:

    Moe said: “the lead negotiator of the teacher contract making derogatory statements about teachers not being adults, being “greedy” and then expecting the children to go to school and respect these teachers.”

    “Moe”: can you please cite the source of the SB’s lead negotiator, Mr. Murphy, making such a statement? Thanks.

    • Observing says:

      “Moe”: while you are at it, could you also please tell me which SB candidate has not been endorsed by a political party?

      • Kristin Hoover says:

        Eileen Bushelow has not been endorsed by a political party to my knowledge.

        • Observing says:

          Is that the only one?

          • Kristin Hoover says:

            My understanding is that the County Democrats did not do endorsements for School Board candidates. They did put a link to the Do/Lindner’s website. I don’t think a link is an “endorsement” and no money was provided to candidates by the County Party.

            This is quite different than the way the Republican Party operates in Chester County. School Boards tend to be the “farm team” of the Republican Party. They are a kind of “starter position” for Republicans so that they can develop their talent and experience so that when a State Rep or State Senator, judge or County Commissioner slot comes open, they have somebody to move up and into the slot. People think these jobs are not that important and they generally are elected by very few voters.

            Running as a Democrat in Chester County is a tough effort and hard to win as there is no political machine to help push your candidacy. There is no money coming from the County Party and not much help in terms of strategy or people to work the polls or help to get your name out. In contrast, if you are a Republican, there is support like the big fundraiser that was held at Carraba’s a week or so ago for Trigg/Jones/Murphy. I have no way of knowing if it is true, but the rumor going around the community is that they are spending $30,000. That seems like a lot of money, but even if it is exaggerated by 2/3rds, it shows how important these local school board races are to the County Party (for a position that has no salary).

  6. Moe Integrity says:

    I have always been proud of being an active member and parent in what I felt was a special community. Not only were our students well educated, but they had an opportunity to grow up in a place where they learned by example how to be part of a community. They saw what leadership and integrity were. Now, UCFSD has become a microcosm of our dysfunctional national and state government. Even on this small local scene, we have candidates running as a “block,” (being funded by a political party), local and school officials being seen on major news shows disputing whether their new high school is 37 or 65 feet tall, time being spent at a meet the candidates forum arguing over the semantics of resign vs. retire, candidates offering communication skills as the reason they should be elected and then bickering, candidates questioning where a question came from rather than responding to it (why does it matter who asked?), people suing the school board and then running for it and being elected based on cutting costs, the same school board member who sued for sunshine laws being accused of breaking them, and the lead negotiator of the teacher contract making derogatory statements about teachers not being adults, being “greedy” and then expecting the children to go to school and respect these teachers. Really??

    A new building, lower taxes, higher test scores – none of it matters if we teach our children that “leading” is only about politicing, winning or proving our opinion to the point of ridiculousness. As we all state that we care about the kids’ education, we should all remember that our examples teacher them lessons that will not be forgotten.

  7. Kristin Hoover says:

    Some of these comments seem a bit cynical and harsh. I think everybody should vote and I vote in every election. My grandmother voted in every election since women got the vote until she died at the age of 97 (with the exception of two primary votes when she was giving birth and when she went to New York State for her brother’s funeral). As a long time Democrat, machine politics is always hard to take. I believe this election will be decided by less than 20% of the voters. If you care about a candidate, then make sure you get to the polls.

    I believe that candidates need to work for the votes and not take voters for granted. Politics is a tough business. You have to have the “stomach” for it. That being said, I’m glad I live in Region B. I think Jeff Leiser, Holly Manzone and Eileen Bushelow have served us well.

    Susan B. Anthony never got to vote. Don’t take it for granted and make sure you get to the polls!

  8. Unionville Native says:

    I read all this stuff and I just don’t get it in Region C. I don’t know who to vote for but it probably doesn’t matter anyway. The same old R people will probably show up again and do as they’re told.

    These candidates love their kids, my kids and everybody’s kids. How does loving kids make you good for the school board? Kids don’t vote or pay taxes. Does that mean the heck with everybody else? Are they going to give the kids anything they want?

    I’m an active volunteer. I know who I see and who I don’t. I’ve seen Mrs. Do at PTO activities and Mr. Lindner at some athletic events, but I never remember seeing the rest of them. I don’t think volunteering makes you a good school board candidate anyway.

    Your kid’s accomplishments have nothing to do with your ability to be a good school board member. I’m glad they all have a lot of great kids, but I don’t understand how it has a thing to do with them being on the board.

    Jones — accounting degree; employed full-time; Republican committee member; single mom who admits in Unionville Times that she can’t find enough time to even attend board meetings so how’s she going to have time to serve on the board? Opposes non-partisan bill for school board because she doesn’t want to campaign past the Primary where it should all be decided.

    Do — unknown degree; volunteered a lot in the school; has written speeches and other things; apparently wasn’t interested in school board until Sharon Parker said she would leave; has a lot of opinions about curriculum and how things should be taught, but isn’t a teacher. Endorses non-partisan bill because of “politics” and can’t bother with it so she runs as a write-in.

    Trigg — unknown degree; served 8 years on school board; points to kid’s accomplishments even though she says school board has been a full time job; voted against the high school renovation and against hiring Sharon Parker; doesn’t know about non-partisan bill even though she is legislative person for board and PTO’s have been involved in pushing for it with Andy Dinniman

    Murphy — law and engineering degrees; full-time job in Philadelphia; went from living in Aston serving as a commissioner to being VP of UCFSD board in less than a year and a half; two years on board; makes unkind comments at public meetings; knew the Sunshine Law and still conducted board business anyway; takes credit for hiring Sanville. Flip flops on school board bill.

    Lindner — Math degrees; full-time job in New York City; served on school board for four months and not re-elected. Volunteers time for school athletics. Management experience. Spent ten years going to things at Chadd Ford Elementary for his three kids. Supports school board bill.

    I think that there must be a better alternative somewhere. I just wish I could think who those three people would be.

    Disgusted with it all.

  9. Frank Murphy says:

    I answered the yes/no question on Sen. Dinniman’s proposed legislation “no” for several reasons. As a general matter I fully support the concept of removing partisanship from School Board matters. The question asked, however, was whether I support a certain piece of proposed legislation which contains a number of elements. I answered “no” for the following reasons, based upon my recollection of the legislation: First, I think eliminating the primary system is a very bad idea. While imperfect, the primary allows voters to narrow the field as they choose. I do not think that right should be taken away from voters. Perhaps a needed improvement, and one I would support, is to permit registered independents or other registered voters who are not Republicans or Democrats to vote in School Board primary races thus ending the disenfranchising that occurs due to the two party system. Second, I know from serving on the Board for the past two years, once you are on a School Board you are not and cannot be a Republican Board member or a Democrat Board member, but must be a UCF Board member that serves all residents free of the dictates of any other organization including political party. Third, even if the proposed legislation passes, Republicans and Democrats will still run for School Board, will still be registered to vote thus disclosing their party, can be supported by a political party, and can hand out literature that says “Democrats support Mr. X” or “Republicans support Ms. Y.” Candidates just won’t need to have only D’s or R’s sign petitions and the voting machine just won’t identify people by party. While Senator Dinniman’s proposal has some very good ideas in my opinion, such as limiting the power of “lame duck” School Boards, I don’t agree with the entirety of the legislation for the reasons set forth above. I know Senator Dinniman has worked hard on many issues impacting education, and I hope we will see other issues, such as the ongoing PSERS crisis, increasing funding for our school district, reducing the burden on senior citizens (and all residents) via further property tax reform, etc., addressed in the near future as well. Thank you

    • Gregg Lindner says:

      The legislation on non-partisan school board elections is Senate Bill 327. The legislation as proposed and if passed would begin the process of non-partisan elections beginning with the 2013 general election.

      It was voted out of the senate education committee unanimously, with seven republicans and four democrats all voting yes. Imagine, a bi-partsian effort for a non-partisan election. Hopefully, this bill will eventually become the law of the commonwealth although passage will certainly be an uphill battle.

      While there would not be a primary, to get on the ballot would require significantly more registered voters (no party ID necessary) filling out petitions as opposed to the current cross-filing process used today that requires only a handful of party identified registered voters on separate petitions.

      I am very familiar with the party politics of this process as i was unsuccessfully taken to court to try and block my petitions four years ago. I defended myself in court against a law firm representing a political party and retired from being an amateur lawyer with a record of 2-0.

      It improves the process of today in many ways:

      1) Eliminates from the outset a party designation on a school board election
      2) Ensures that candidates have mass appeal initially by gathering significant numbers of signatures in order to be placed on the November ballot
      3) Would eliminate a straight party ticket vote from counting (someone who hits a D or an R) towards a school board candidate. A voter would need to select the school board candidate outside of a party ID and I believe that it would require candidates to be even be more specific when identifying their viewpoints

      Processes similar to this are the law of 47 states. We stand with Mississippi and Massachusetts as the only states to run party identified school board elections.

      I respectfully disagree with Frank and Sharon and am interested in Timotha taking a position on the matter as it has been a topic previously discussed in the district. The other two candidates, Kathy Do and Rob MacPherson supported this legislation.

      I believe school boards and communities would benefit from this legislation.

      Thank you

      Gregg Lindner

      • Joanne Bates says:

        Regarding School Board candidates response to whether or not they support of Senate Bill 327:

        While I did not ask this question at the Meet the School Board Candidates Night, it is one that is very important to me and many others in our community. I was surprised to hear that Frank Murphy reversed his opinion on this issue from his response to a similar question at the Meet the School Board Candidates Night in May, 2009 when he first ran for the Board. I was also surprised that Timotha Trigg, Chair
        of the Chester County Legislative Council, stated she was not familiar with the legislation and could not give her opinion.

        As many may know, the PTO’s not only in UCFSD , but in the surrounding districts, are joining together to lobby for support of Senate Bill 327 (formerly known as Bill 1086). The intent of this Bill is to put the power back in the hands of the voters, and not in the hands of local political committees. Like in the other 47 states in this country, School Board candidates would then appear on ballots without notation of party affiliation. The elimination of a political primary is a crucial piece of this legislation as it will eliminate some of the issues we have seen in recent years with the power exerted by “lame duck boards” .

        To give you a little history on this, the involvement of the PTO’s in this issue started in the spring of 2009 when UCF PTO representatives, including myself, met with Senator Andy Dinniman who is the Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee. We discussed various issues effecting public education including the practice in Pennsylvania of School Board Candidates running on party lines. Senator Dinniman informed us that he has heard this concern from several other school districts as well. As a result of this meeting, Senator Dinniman was invited by the UCF PTO to be a guest at the May, 2009 UCFSD School Board meeting . It was at this Board meeting that a resident made a statement about the party politics in school board races in Pennsylvania and asked what the Senator could do about eliminating school board candidates running on party lines. For the first time publically, Senator Dinniman said “maybe he could put a bill together to do just that”. He asked the audience if they would support such legislation, and most applauded. Superintend Parker said she would support such a Bill and board member Ed Wandersee made a point of saying he wanted to go on record as saying he too would support such a Bill. Senator Dinniman was true to his word and 4 months later in Sept., 2009, Senate Bill 1086, School Election Reform BillBoard was introduced. Three months later it was unanimously approved by both parties and has moved to the Senate floor for action. The representatives from the UCF PTO who helped to frame this discussion feel proud of this accomplishment.

        I have been quite involved as a volunteer in UCFSD since we moved here 5 years ago as well as in my previous school district in NY. I have often campaigned for School Board candidates whom I believe will serve our children and our community the best (and sometimes candidates with a political affiliation different than my own). What I found disheartening is that most voters I have encountered at the polling places in UCFSD asked me what the party affiliation is of the candidate I was supporting; while back in NY, where the political party is not mentioned, the questions posed by voters at the polls were something like, “how does your candidate feel about full day kindergarten”, or “what is their position on bringing new honors classes to the Middle School”, or “how did your candidate vote on the elimination of several AP classes” You get the idea. While Mr. Murphy is correct in saying that parties can still endorse specific candidates (and spend thousands of dollars on a campaign for their candidate(s)), I strongly support the eliminating the “D” or “R” designation in the voting booth as it is the best way to make school board elections about issues affecting education and not about the issues affecting a political party.

        Joanne Bates

  10. Sharon Jones says:

    Although I pride myself in being more of a “good listener” than an “outspoken critic”, I feel compelled to clarify one small matter. The question posed to each of the candidates regarding support of state Senator Andrew Dinniman’s bill to make school board elections non-partisan was, in my opinion, inappropriately presented. It is not a “yes” / “no” question. Anyone who is familiar with the bill knows that it proposes to do away with the “spring primary” election of the board and instead has school board members elected in the November general election only. Although I agree that people should judge a school board candidate for the person that they are and not by their political affiliation, I do not believe that it is a good idea to leave the determination “up in the air” until the general election. I strongly believe that in light of the fact that it is not easy to find good and qualified people to agree to open themselves up to the scrutiny and criticism associated with being a school board member, it is dangerous to wait until the “nth” hour.

    • Mike McGann says:

      Sharon —

      I agree that the yes/no questions in that format leave some thing to be desired. Thank you for your thoughtful clarification on the matter.

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