Spring Grove board interviews candidates vying for Jansen seat

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
  • Three candidates interviewed for an open board seat in the Spring Grove school board.
  • Matt Jansen's resignation was formally accepted Monday night.
  • Board members now move toward deciding on a new board member on Sep. 25.

Three candidates were interviewed Monday, Sept. 11, for the vacant Spring Grove school board seat left by controversial former board member Matthew Jansen.

Board members interview school board candidate Karen Baum during a director's study forum meeting on Monday, Sep. 11, 2017.

Before the interviews and deliberations, school board members at the dual voting/study meeting Monday voted on district business and formally approved Jansen’s resignation, dating back to Aug. 22.

After approving action items, the board moved toward interviewing candidates to serve the remainder of Jansen's term, which ends in December 2019.

Board president Cindy Huber thanked each candidate for seeking the public position, which she repeatedly noted was a voluntary and selfless service to the community.

The background and experience of the candidates ranged from never having attended a school board meeting to more than three decades of teaching in the district.

Two candidates are natives of Spring Grove and have children attending schools in the district, while another has lived in the area for more than 40 years.

Physician assistant Troy Hamilton is a native of Spring Grove and a graduate of Spring Grove High School. A member of the Army Reserves, Hamilton said he wanted to find a way to serve the public aside from his military involvement.

“At some point, I thought (that) I need to start at the community level,” he said.

In the interview, Hamilton admitted Monday night’s meeting was the first school board meeting he had ever attended.

Karen Baum, a retired school teacher,, interviewed for a prior vacancy and failed to secure the seat.

Although not a native of Spring Grove, Baum was with the district for 35 years and said her retirement would allow her to dedicate more time to the position.

Suzanne Hoffman, another Spring Grove native and a 2004 Spring Grove High graduate, was the third candidate to interview and noted her leadership experience working in management at WellSpan York Hospital as a strength to becoming part of the board.

Jansen brought up: There was only a brief reference to Jansen.

Jansen announced he would resign in August after deciding to move his family to Dallastown, but he had been urged to resign for months by many community members after multiple politically and racially charged incidents since last year.

In June 2016, Jansen left a voicemail to St. Paul’s United Church of Christ Pastor Christopher Rodkey criticizing him for wishing Muslims a “blessed Ramadan” on a church sign, calling Islam a “godless,” “pagan” religion.

Calls for Jansen to resign returned in February when a tweet from Jansen’s Twitter account used an ethnic slur against Hispanics. Jansen has said that his account was hacked, but he never filed a report with the police about it.

Communication: When asked by board member Brent Horschar what the board could do to effectively reach out to the community, Hamilton said the district needed to look at new forms of communication.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have seen the one (form of communication) that has gained the most attention,” Hamilton said.

“But perhaps there is a way to gain just as much attention to the positive issues. I don’t know how to do that,” he added.

“You’re referring to Mr. Jansen?” Horschar asked.

Hamilton nodded, asking rhetorically, “Looking at social media, is that the answer? ... Perhaps it is.”

Hoffman stated in her introductory statement that she would advocate for more diversity measures at the district.

She said it was difficult growing up in Spring Grove as a minority when she was younger.

"I feel that it is one area that we could definitely grow in," she said.

Special interests: One question that varied in responses came when board member David Trettel asked each candidate how they would handle special interest groups advocating before the board

“I guess it would depend on the special interest,” Hamilton said. “This is a public meeting, they certainly have the opportunity — the constitutional right, if you will — to express those concerns. I would probably welcome that, for one.”

Baum said she believes procedures such as pre-registration for public comment, as well as a five-minute limit help with public comment from both concerned citizens and special interest groups.

“I think listening to them is very important, but I also think knowing their agenda behind the scenes is very important,” she said. “You have to do your homework.”

Hoffman said she would avoid coming to conclusions before hearing someone out.

“They have a reason that they came here,” she said.

What’s next: Most of the board said any of the three were eminently qualified to take the seat.

When pressed on who they preferred, several board members stated their positive impressions of Baum, praising experience and knowledge of the district and of the education system overall.

Board members will now have two weeks to make up their mind before stating their choice in a straw vote at the next board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25.

Whichever candidate receives at least five votes outright will win the seat and immediately take a seat on the board at the same meeting, according to Huber.