Former Pa. House candidate Sears appointed to York Suburban school board

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

After 20 introductory and closing statements, 70 questions and three rounds of voting, the York Suburban school board returned to a nine-director membership at a special board meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, held at Valley View Elementary School.

Joel Sears, a former York Suburban director and the Republican candidate for the 95th House District race in 2016, won after three rounds with unanimous “yes” votes from the York Suburban board, all of whom were in attendance at the three-hour meeting.

Reached after the vote, Sears said he was “humbled” by the decision.

Joel Sears gives his concession speech during the Republican Committee election watch in the White Rose Room at Peoples Bank Park, Tuesday, November 7, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

Sears was among 10 candidates and one of three former board members fielding questions from school board members as they vied for a board seat vacated by York businessman Scott Eden.

The other former directors were John DeHaas and Charles Stein, who served 12 years and 14 years on the board, respectively.

Candidates were asked a range of questions, including whether they had ever attended board meetings, what they would do to increase community engagement and whether they would pursue a full term upon the completion of Eden’s term in November 2019.

After six initial nominations, three candidates — Sears, local pastor Tanya Brubaker and Grit Marketing group founder and President Julie Lando — each garnered five or more votes.

The second round slimmed the vote down to Lando and Sears, and after a third round, Sears received all eight board votes to return to the York Suburban school board.

Joel Sears, right, is sworn in by York Suburban Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent Wendy Erwine at a special board meeting on Monday, October 17, 2017.

Sears said he was unsure whether he’d run for a full term in 2019, although he did not rule it out.

Sears had served on the board from 2011 to 2015, leaving to run for the 95th District seat held by Carol Hill-Evans, which he lost in last year’s election.

“It took a lot of energy and focus to do that,” he said, adding it was unlikely he would run for state office again.

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The main reason Sears stated he wanted to return to the school board was to be an anchor of stability at a time of change for the district.

“I’m very interested in the success of the district,” he said during his interview.

Sears and other candidates did not spend much time on education policy during their interviews, but Sears mentioned his displeasure with the state funding formula for school districts, including the use of property taxes as a main source of funding.

“It solidifies the inequities in the system,” he said, adding he is in favor of Senate Bill 76, which would eliminate school property taxes in Pennsylvania.

The Merkle layer: After his swearing in, Sears said he ran because of “the superintendent layer” as well as the upcoming change to the school board after the November election, which will bring three new members.

Former district Superintendent Michele Merkle suddenly resigned on Sept. 25, less than two weeks after taking a medical leave of absence at the district.

The board last week unanimously approved Larry Redding, the former superintendent of the Gettysburg Area School District, as interim superintendent.

Sears called Merkle’s resignation “a big challenge,” though he said he wanted to move forward with the board’s search to find a permanent replacement.

“I think it’s an important concern but I don’t think it’s the most important concern,” he said. “We’ve been without an assistant superintendent and a superintendent now for several weeks and the sky isn’t falling.”

York Suburban board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp said she was “overwhelmed” by the response the board received from candidates and said she hoped many would formally run for a board seat in 2019.

Leopold-Sharp, board vice president Cathy Shaffer and board member Emily Bates will all leave the school board at the end of November.

Election day is Nov. 7.