Former Democratic state representative and mayor of West Chester Dianne Herrin wrote in 2022 about the need to take politics out of public education. She expressed outrage at parents speaking out at meetings, spewing “vitriol at our board members.” Herrin said that no one should be following a “political playbook when it comes to our children’s education.” She concluded with, “…..this is indeed an adult battle over adult partisanship playing out right here in West Chester – at the great expense of our public education system.”
On Monday, the West Chester Area School District board engaged in the exact behavior that Herrin called out in 2022 as an elected official. With the resignation of Kate Shaw, the remaining board had 30 days to fill the vacancy.
Monday’s special meeting resulted in a new board director appointment, and at the same time raised questions about the process.
The board announced the appointment process on March 3, and ten candidates completed the application that included answering questions and submitting a resume. Applicants were led to believe that the process would be public on Friday before the meeting. This wound up not to be the case, signaling the lack of transparency to come.
I was one of the ten candidates who applied and knew that I would not be selected for the position or even receive consideration for an interview. I did not apply with the intention of being appointed. Rather, I wanted to participate in the process to determine if it was fair and transparent.
As I suspected, it was not.
West Chester School District is routinely criticized for its lack of transparency, and this process was yet another example of the board’s unfettered commitment to party politics. While the board talks about their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, their actions represent a commitment to party purity. In past years, the board has been more balanced with a blend of Republicans and Democrats; however, two board members recently changed their party registration, resulting in an eight to one board, in favor of the Democrats.
Of the ten diverse candidates that applied, the board, with a 7-1 vote, appointed the endorsed Democratic Party candidate who is on the ballot for the same seat in the May 16th primary election. The board basically fast-tracked his candidacy to give him a leg up in May and the November general election. The seven board members predictably followed the party playbook in selecting the newest board member.
Of the ten applicants, there were a range of experiences and qualifications, including Democrats, Republicans, and a Libertarian (me). The board refused to share the applications or resumes with the public, but I subsequently obtained them through a Right To Know request. One applicant is a West Chester University professor, another is a school psychologist, yet another is a retired special education director. Unfortunately, the community was denied information about each of the candidates prior to the board vote.
While their actions are not illegal, as with the recent audit findings, it certainly does not create an atmosphere of transparency or trust. Several candidates questioned the board secretary in advance of the Monday meeting requesting clarification of the process. They were told that it would be announced at the meeting. Additionally, one resident pointed out during public comments in advance of the appointment process that there were three current candidates applying for the vacancy. The board should have interviewed all three candidates or none, yet they only selected the candidate endorsed by the local Democratic committee.
Monday evening, the board president announced that each board member would receive a ballot and select their top three candidates. The secretary read each board member’s vote and tallied the scores. The selected candidate received seven votes in the initial round. At this point, it was painfully obvious that the tail was wagging the dog.
There were three finalists who had the opportunity to speak for five minutes about their qualifications. The two finalists not selected had stronger resumes and experiences than Alex Christy, the appointed candidate.
Christy is the only candidate who listed political experience on his resume. He is currently the District Office Director for Democratic state senator Tim Kearney. Christy also volunteers for the local Democratic party, serving as a committee person. He was formerly a member of the Chester County Young Democrats.
At a time when we are trying to get politics out of our schools, the West Chester Area School Board appointed the only political candidate who applied for the position. Furthermore, Christy is not only politically active, he is also running for the position as the endorsed Democratic candidate. The other endorsed Democratic candidate, Katy Frey, did not apply for the vacancy.
If the school board is really committed to their stated values, why would they appoint Christy, a 37-year-old white man with no children? In his interview, he said that he loves public education and is a product of the West Chester Area School District. Two of the other candidates with much more experience, including a former special education teacher, also graduated from the district but only received votes from the Republican board member.
For those who attended the meeting and even those watching the live-stream, it was abundantly clear that the seven Democrats on the board were committed to Christy’s appointment to give him a strategic advantage in the election.
Some of those who read this column may be inclined to say that this is all just sour grapes. I want to be clear that I never expected the position. This is about transparency and putting our kids first. This school board repeatedly shows that party politics are more important to them than our children and teachers. Their actions imply that the Democratic Party is running the district, and unless there are significant changes in November, the lack of transparency will continue.
If Herrin and the Democratic Party are truly concerned about the “political playbook” being used in our district, they are the ones who need to stand down. In the end, our students pay the price for partisan politics.
Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty.
Editor’s Note: Beth Ann Rosica is a volunteer campaign manager for five candidates running for School Director in the West Chester Area School District, two of whom applied for the vacancy discussed in this article.