Departing Suburban board members reflect on public office

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

Among the changes occurring at the York Suburban School district are changes to the district’s school board.

Three longtime members — President Lynne Leopold-Sharp, Vice President Cathy Shaffer and Emily Bates — attended their final school board meeting Monday, Nov. 20, at the Ronald H. Provard Education Center.

With their departures came many questions regarding the exit of former district superintendent Michele Merkle, who resigned Sept. 25, 11 days after she took a medical leave of absence.

More:Released emails shed new light on York Suburban superintendent’s departure

More:Police, York Suburban school board quiet on 'ongoing criminal investigation'

More:Former York Suburban assistant superintendent hired at Dover

The York Suburban school board met for its regular meeting on Monday, September 25, 2017. Items voted on included the letters of resignation from former district superintendent Michele Merkle and former board member Scott Eden.

While repeated requests for comment from board members have not been returned or were deferred to a district administrator, the three departing members accepted a request for questions asking them to reflect on their nearly 60 years of collective experience on the York Suburban school board.

The following responses were delivered by email. Leopold-Sharp cited scheduling issues as the reason for not answering the questions in person.

State of education: Leopold-Sharp, Shaffer and Bates all stated they believe the state of education at York Suburban is “exceptionally strong.”

Shaffer, in her 20th year on the board, stated she learned just how fortunate York Suburban students are when she attended National School Board Association (NSBA) conferences and saw the state of education at the national level.

She added the York Suburban community “truly cares about education,” as evidenced by a 37 percent voter turnout rate in the 2013 municipal elections.

Before their formal roles, all three departing board members were involved with the district as parent volunteers, and all say they decided to run because of the value they see in public education.

“Serving in this capacity has been extremely rewarding in the larger sense of being part of something much bigger — public education in our country,” Shaffer said. “Knowing that we touch so many lives and futures is humbling.”

Bates, who has served more than 16 years on the York Suburban board, suggested public education is underappreciated.

“Do you know that public schools provide health services to all students, even those that attend private schools? Do you know that good public education provides the skills needed to reason and problem solve, and not just math problems(?) Do you know that elementary teachers help students learn to tie their shoes and brush their teeth?” Bates said.

“It is difficult to realize how important public education is to the lives of everyone in our society. We need strong local public schools to make a strong society.”

‘Do more with less’: In addition to their staunch view of what they see as the value of public education, the departing board members stated the institution is under attack on the local and federal levels.

On the local side, Shaffer suggested many people overestimate the control school boards have on many issues.

“It’s easy to say you won’t raise taxes,” she said. “The reality is, that is much easier said than done.”

Shaffer explained the reason for its complexity is because of “the current expectation for public education ... to do more with less.”

Leopold-Sharp, who is ending her tenure on the York Suburban board after 22 years, said differing philosophies, lax community involvement and limited resources have threatened public education in recent years.

“The notion of public education as a central building block of a community is no longer universal,” she said.

Bates pinned the threat to public education on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a well-known supporter of alternatives to public education.

More:Study: Most student loan fraud claims involve for-profits

Public schools in York County and districts across the Pennsylvania have seen students flock to charter schools' cyber learning programs in recent years, taking federal and state funds with them.

“The recognition of (the value of public education) at the local community level is of more importance than ever at a time when the leader of the federal Department of Education is not fully supportive of local public schools and their efforts,” Bates wrote.

What’s next? With their formal commitment to the York Suburban School District coming to an end, the board members are looking to spend more time with their families.

Shaffer will spend more time with her two young granddaughters, while Leopold-Sharp looks forward to spending more time with her husband, Dan Sharp, as well as reading, stitching and knitting.

Bates had a simpler answer.

“I’m looking forward to free Monday evenings!”

Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez via email at and on Twitter @EducationYD.