West York school board election takes shape after Lunch and Learn vote

Rising junior Madge Myers, daughter of Jennifer Myers, who started a petition to stop the West York Area School District Lunch and Learn program, speaks out for her classmates on why the program won't work. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Incumbents running for reelection to the West York Area school board will be vulnerable in this November's election after last week's Lunch and Learn vote, opponents say.

The program was a point of contention among board members, who approved it June 18 by a 5-4 vote — despite hundreds of residents and taxpayers asking the district to put the brakes on its September rollout.

"This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said challenger Joseph Sacripont III.

Three incumbents are running for reelection, two of whom voted in favor of the program, which would create 80 minutes of unstructured time during the school day for lunch, extracurriculars and academics — and many took issue with safety and effectiveness.

But board member Lynn Kohler challenged the idea that it's the board's responsibility to be a vehicle for residents.

A lack of compromise from some school board members on West York’s Lunch and Learn program left some taxpayers saying the district is unwilling to listen to its constituents.

A Facebook forum representing parents and taxpayers speaking out against the program has a new name: WYASD Parents, Students, & Taxpayers UNITED FOR CHANGE.

And three of those group members are challengers in the November election: Sacripont and Brandy Shope, who are both former students in the district, and Courtney Dennis, who is a parent.

Two Lunch and Learn votes last week nearly split the board — with five members voting both for program approval and against a compromise to delay it a year. Two of them were Kohler and President Todd Gettys, who are up for reelection.

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Dennis said board members can’t claim to hear the community and then refuse to compromise. She and her fellow challengers all raised the failed delay vote as their biggest campaign issue.

Vice President Jeanne Herman, who sided with opponents of Lunch and Learn and is also up for reelection, has said that it's the responsibility of the board to be an agent of the residents.

But Kohler argued that the board and public have different roles.

It’s not the board’s job to manage the school district, and many do not always understand that, Kohler said.

The board's role is to advise the administrators, who are best informed and best suited to make policy decisions, he said.

Board member Donald Carl disagreed, saying although there are some topics — such as personnel — where the community does not have the complete picture, the democratic process requires the board to defend constituents' interests. 

In some situations, the board doesn’t have a clear barometer, and it can be helpful for the community to see a problem where the board might not, he added.

If that's ignored, "I run the risk (of not) getting reelected," he said.

Kohler rebutted that the public has the right to be heard but not to have their ideas implemented. The board must make decisions that benefit all students, not just certain groups, he said.

“I have gotten emails from parents that said, 'you keep making decisions that are beneficial to athletes, and my kid’s in band,'” he said.

As more groups come forward, “we will become a huge dumpster fire,” pitting one constituency against the other, he said.

Gettys did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

More community involvement is an important issue to Lunch and Learn opponents and school board challengers, and Dennis reiterated a previous comment from Gettys that parents can’t just come out when there’s an issue.

More:West York lunch program sparks dueling petitions

More:West York board doubles-back, will vote on Lunch and Learn

Kohler said transparency has been a continuing focus. Two years ago, there would have been no information about the program, no vote, no committee meetings and no superintendent’s report, he said. 

“To say we didn’t listen, that’s untruthful," Kohler said, as some adjustments were made to the program. And the board is committed to improving communication going forward, he said.

When asked if decisions surrounding Lunch and Learn would affect the vote for school board members come November, most acknowledged it would have some impact.

“I certainly think that voters are more aware of the school board in West York than ever before,” Shope said, adding that she respects the board members with whom she disagrees. 

Kohler said Lunch and Learn had already become a political issue long before the vote, with the teachers' union using it as a negotiation tool — calling for parent action a month ago — and Herman using the parent forum to speak about her platform.

He said he doesn’t make his decisions based on elections but that “if this one issue is an issue, well then so be it," noting that he hopes the community at large will look at his last four years.

Carl said it’s also the responsibility of citizens to pay attention, and if they are unhappy enough to want a change, then vote. Otherwise, he said, there are no consequences.

“It’s about accountability,” he said.