Broad + Liberty kicked off the school director candidate spotlight series in late June to help voters learn more about the candidates running in their school district. Oftentimes, it is difficult to find information about a school director candidate because candidates don’t typically have a team to manage their campaign. Some candidates have web pages or social media sites, but others have very little public information about their platform.
In order to solicit the most robust and diverse submissions across the region, we contacted the Democratic and Republican committees in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Montgomery counties. We asked them to share the seven questions below with their school director candidates. The series was open to any school director candidate on the ballot in November, and each “interview” was printed in its entirety with minimal editing.
1. Candidate name, school district, region (if applicable), political party, and profession.
2. Why are you running for the school board?
3. What are the most important issues facing your district?
4. What is your professional background/experience? What skills would you bring to the board?
5. Have you run for political office previously? Have you been politically active?
6. Are you running with other candidates?
7. What is the most important role of the school board, in your opinion?
Broad + Liberty received a total of 50 submissions from diverse candidates across five counties and twenty-one school districts. Of the 50 candidates, 46 are registered Republicans, three are registered Democrats, and one is a registered Libertarian. School director candidates are allowed to “cross-file,” meaning they can run on both the Democratic and Republican primary ballots, and many of these candidates ran on both tickets.
Interestingly, two registered Republicans in Lehigh County won the Democratic primary and will appear on the November ballot as Democrats. Conversely, in Montgomery County, a registered Democrat won the Republican primary and will appear on the ballot as a Republican. In Chester County, a registered Libertarian appeared on both the Republican and Democratic primary ballots and won the Republican primary despite not being able to vote for herself in the primary.
Four incumbent school director candidates submitted interviews from Montgomery and Lehigh Counties. Four candidates in Chester County are naturalized immigrants from other countries, including Cuba, China, and Romania, and shared their unique perspectives.
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A majority of candidates are parents or grandparents of children in their district and are looking for change on their school board. Many are concerned about the lingering impacts of extended school closures and want to work to mitigate the issues. Most candidates have active professional careers ranging from business owners to physicians, technology experts, teachers, and a wide range of other professions. Some are retired or semi-retired and just want to give back to their community. Many of the candidates have diverse skills in budgeting, financial management, collaboration, leadership, technology, and instructional design.
When asked what the most important issues facing their district were, an overwhelming majority of candidates responded with academics. Many candidates cited academic learning loss related to shutdowns, and others discussed the need to refocus on academic outcomes in our public schools. Some shared statistics, test scores, and district ratings related to academic achievement and the number of students who are not proficient in basic reading and math skills.
The second most important issue, according to the candidates, is fiscal responsibility. The majority of candidates expressed concerns about continually rising budgets while academic outcomes decline. Some focused on fiscal transparency and the need for districts to clearly explain how taxpayer dollars are being spent. Others discussed concerns about spending funding on lower-priority items and not focusing on academic achievement.
Other important issues included school safety, bullying, and parental involvement. Multiple candidates stated that bullying and other behavioral issues are not being adequately addressed at school. Some shared that teachers are frustrated with their administrators and need more support from the school board. Other candidates discussed the need for greater parental involvement and transparency regarding curriculum and training.
When questioned about running with other candidates, the majority stated that they were running on a slate of candidates and working together on the campaign. Only seven of the 50 submissions are not running with other candidates. Many of the slates identified a website or social media page where voters could learn more about the platform of the group.
We encourage our readers to make an informed decision about who best represents their views and opinions.
While each school director candidate has a different reason for running, all expressed the desire to serve the community and to make a difference for the students in their district. We at Broad + Liberty sincerely appreciate all the candidates who took the time to answer our questions.
The general election will be held on Nov. 7, and each school district will elect four or five board members. While turnout in these off-cycle elections is often low, these races are at least as important as statewide elections.
Whether you have school-age children or not, school directors and their decisions impact all taxpayers. In Pennsylvania, the state constitution grants elected board members a great deal of power. Most importantly, they have the ability to raise your local taxes, something many citizens are unaware of. This particular authority is rather unique to Pennsylvania, as most states do not grant tax-raising authority to school directors.
School directors have many other responsibilities. One of the most crucial roles is to hire and supervise the superintendent. Each superintendent serves as the CEO of the district, implementing the plan and vision set by the board. Board members provide both support and supervision to the superintendent, and they consider differing viewpoints to ensure that they are representing all of their constituents. School directors have a variety of additional roles and responsibilities, including approval of the school calendar and the annual budget and negotiating the contract with the teachers’ union.
We applaud all the school director candidates across the region and the state for stepping up to run for office and serve our communities. These are volunteer positions that require a great deal of time and effort in order to be effective. We encourage our readers to research the candidates and make an informed decision about who best represents their views and opinions. All 50 interviews are archived here.
Broad + Liberty is a nonprofit media endeavor dedicated to sharing voices and stories that are shut out of other media outlets. @BroadAndLiberty