The West Chester School District PTOC hosted a “Meet the Candidates Night” at East High School on Wednesday where eight of the 14 candidates for school board discussed their plans for the future of the district.
Notably absent were the endorsed Republican candidates who released a statement last month saying they would not participate in debates that included candidates not on the ballot.
“I take great offense when they say we’re not worthy of their time,” said write-in candidate and current school board president Dr. Rick Swalm.
Write-in candidate Spencer Virta added, “We haven’t received any donations from a political party, committee or union. We are completely supported by the parents of this district.”
Independent Ted Diehl and Democrat Wayne Burton were also at the event Wednesday, and they tried to differentiate themselves from the West Chester VOTE write-in candidates.
“I am the only independent up here,” Diehl said. “I am an individual parent, and I don’t belong to any political party or group.”
And while most of the candidates focused on the district’s financial woes on a local level, Burton said the problem is the state.
“The school board must work to get more state money,” Burton said. “We also need to see if we can get some mandate relief.”
The rest of the evening proceeded under familiar terms: accountability, budgets and taxes.
“If we are elected we will not ignore how hard it is to pay taxes,” said write-in candidate Sue Tiernan. “But there is a social contract that exists that says we must educate our children.”
Burton added, “We have a great district, and I want to continue that opportunity for all our students. An education should bring the opportunities of this country to everybody.”
“I think the people of this district pay enough,” Diehl said. “We need to find ways to gain revenue.”
The candidates at Wednesday’s meeting also talked about concerns they have about the current school board, and how the district will look if the six endorsed candidates win the election.
“I want you to think of it in terms of critical mass,” Swalm said. “There will be nine people up there who aren’t thinking about education. They will be thinking about politics.”
“We need to take politics out of the discussion,” Virta said. “People look around the county to see how West Chester stacks up. But people should be looking at West Chester. West Chester should be the benchmark.”
“We need to restore the focus of the board,” Tiernan said. “The board now can sometimes be nit-picky and tends to micro-manage. We would refocus on education.”
“We must maintain our level of education in the West Chester School District,” said write-in candidate and current board member Jim Smith. “Financing education is a joint effort, and to not raise taxes this year was a horrible mistake.”
Smith added, “Once you lose money, you can’t get it back. Now, we have to find this year’s money and last year’s money.”
Virta also said that if his group is elected, they would change the way they govern the district.
“We would let the administration manage. The teachers teach, and we would oversee everything. The school board sets the climate for the district.”
“We have a fantastic administration,” said Swalm. “[Superintendent] Dr. [Jim] Scanlon’s insight and quality of work is second to none. But what we have right now are members of the administration asking the board for permission to do their job, and they shouldn’t have to be doing that.”
“Over the last three years the school board has cut $11 million from its budget,” Smith said. “As a district we are ranked in the top 17 percent in the nation. We are in the top 10 percent in the state. And we have the lowest tax rate in the county.”
“I’m tired of defending public education,” Smith added. “It’s the backbone of our society.”