Red Lion school board
Seven candidates are running for three seats on the school board of Red Lion Area School District in the 2015 Primary election on Tuesday, May 19. Region 2 has five candidates for two seats and Region 3 has two candidates for one seat.
The York Dispatch asked them to answer three questions and provide basic bio information to help voters with their selection.
Their responses are:
James B. Clark (R)
Age/Family: James Clark 49, Wanita Clark (wife) 49, Jimmy Clark 21 graduated from Red Lion and graduates from Penn State in May, Alex Clark 18 graduated from Red Lion and attends IUP and Tori Clark 15 is a Freshman at the Red Lion Sr. High School. We lived in Brogue for 13 years when I first served on the Board (Region 3). All three of my children attended Clearview Elementary. We moved into Windsor Township where Alex and Tori attended Mazie Gable and then re-districted into LJM (yes we shared the pain of re-districting). That gives my children, and myself, experience at three different elementary schools across two different Regions in the district.
Occupation: President, Specialty Metallurgical Products Company Inc. We manufacture metallurgical additives for the aluminum and steel alloy producers.
Education: York Suburban, Penn State and Eastern College
Community organizations with which you are active: Windsor Area Recreation Commission Board Member, Red Lion Education Foundation Board Member, Tournament Director for the annual "Poker With Jimmy" fundraiser for the Four Diamonds Fund (see www.pokerwithjimmy.com), Former President White Rose Toastmasters, Former Board Member of York County School Of Technology and Former Board Member of the York County High School (now called York/Adams Academy), Former Big Brother volunteer.
Kevin Downs (R)
Age/Family: 45; I have three children. All girls Age 15 attends Red Lion High School and twins age 11 who attend LJM Elementary School in Red Lion.
Occupation: Branch Manager for Mortgage Network.
Community Organizations: Member of the Masonic Lodge 649 in Red Lion, Baltimore County Horse Show Association, Licensed by the Department of Banking in Pa and Md, Former Campaign manager of Stan Saylor, Active with York Republican Club.
Michael Rowe (R/D)
Age/Family: 44, Married with two children. One child in Locust Grove Elementary, one in Red Lion High School
Education: BSEd in Earth Space Science, BA Spanish
Community organizations with which you are active: Red Lion United Soccer President, York Shotokan Mixed Martial Arts Club Instructor
Jay Vasellas (R/D)
Age/Family: 60/wife Ronda, adult daughters Lauren and Lindsey, adult son Mark
Occupation: 38 years (retired) Red Lion Area Senior High School US History Teacher; 13 years and currently, Adjunct Professor of US History York College of PA
Education: 1975 Bachelor of Science in Social Studies Education from York College of PA; 2000 Master of Arts in History from Millersville University of PA
Community organizations with which you are active: St. Paul's United Methodist Church Red Lion; York County Historical Preservation Plan Steering Committee
Clair Weigle III (R/D)
Age/Family: 19 years old
Occupation: College Student
Education: York College Of Pennsylvania/Red Lion High School
Community organizations with which you are active: York College Republicans
Cynthia J. Herbert (R/D)
Age/Family: 55; Two girls, one in 7th grade, one in 10th grade
Occupation: Housewife, Entrepreneur
Education:4 year BS degree, West Virginia Wesleyan College; High School, West York
Community organizations with which you are active: Most of my activities revolve around my children and their many activities. Rams Rec. Girls Lacrosse, Red Lion Girls Lacrosse and Booster Club, 4H, Red Lion FFA, Invader Lacrosse, Red Lion School Board
Joseph Succop (R)
Age/Family: (55); Married: (18) years; Child: (1) attending North Hopewell Winterstown Elementary
Occupation: Self Employed Insurance Broker (14) years
Education: Penn State University Studies in Business/Law Enforcement & Corrections, Hotel Restaurant Management; Fox Chapel High School Studies in Liberal Arts
Community organizations with which you are active: Central PA Health Underwriters (CPAHU); York County Economic Alliance - Business Development Committee, & Ambassador; Buy Local Coalition - Secretary; Red Lion Elks - Member 13 years; Red Lion Youth Soccer Club; Red Lion United Soccer - Board Member
Questions and answers
1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the school district's performance at baalancing educational wants and needs, balancing the good of the students and the good of the taxpayers? Explain why you give the district that rating.
Clark: 6 out of 10. It's hard to quantify but when the District has the third highest tax rate in the county while also being the poorest district in the county it's hard to make the argument that it's well balanced. Obviously, the school could do a better job. The school offers a wide variety of education and extra-curricular activities and that is all beneficial for our students. However, after sitting on our School Board for many years (and I am currently the only Board member remaining that served during the Jr. High shootings) I have found that there is a tendency to put more emphasis on the "wants" of the students and less emphasis on the "good" of the taxpayer. I run a company that is 30 years old. I'm an "old school" fiscal conservative that believes if you can't pay for it, you don't buy it. The school doesn't always think this way and this is why we have the 3rd highest millage rate in York County.
Downs: (Rating 7) I believe the school district makes every effort to meet each students' educational needs. There are examples where administrators and the school board could have done a better job. There still seems to be a reluctance to put the students and teachers first. The shift to meet common core educational requirements and standardized testing has limited a students' ability to be exceptional. There needs to be an emphasis to meet the requirements for funding. However, an emphasis should also allow the students to acquire individualized education based on each student's needs. I am a person who meets and exceeds expectations by approaching each problem with an open mind.
Rowe: 6. There have been several glaring examples of poor fiduciary responsibility within the district over the last several years. To choose one example, let's discuss the waste of taxpayer monies in the frequency of curriculum changes, buying textbooks then abandoning them after only one year of use. Suggesting these changes are based on pursuing advancements toward goals for students is a fine aspiration but a more thorough vetting process should be expected prior to implementation. Teachers and Principals are given multiple changes to implement in order to improve state testing scores and standards each year, creating stress and confusion for parents, students and teachers as they chase an ideal. There are opportunities for developing budgetary efficiencies in curriculum refinement without having to start all over – follow highly successful school districts through consultation and networking. There are positive initiatives at work here, such as the funding of a successful music program. The arts are an essential part of a well-rounded student and a continuing commitment to the arts is a fantastic application of taxpayers' contributions.
Vasellas: There is always room for improvement, but I have attended virtually every school board meeting for the past year and I have seen the desire to provide educational improvements while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately federal government dictates and state level government mandated but unfunded programs negatively impact upon the local funding of education. Local educational needs are unique to each school district and should be addressed at the local level. Therefore I rate the district as 9 out of 10 relative to balancing student educational needs with fairness to the taxpayers who fund those needs.
Weigle: The Red Lion School District in my opinion deserves a rating of a 9.0 when it comes to performance at balancing educational wants and needs, and balancing the good of the students and the good of the taxpayers. While I attended Red Lion I saw nothing but exceptional teachers and staff and a willingness to help every student achieve his or her potential. We had the right supplies to aid students in their learning experiences. Even though school taxes are high Red Lion has not raised them over the past three years. That's not something every school district can say. I feel that our school district continues to go above and beyond whether its our sports programs, our education, or our music and theater, we are a leading example of how a great school district is run.
Herbert: I would say an 8. As far as the school district's performance at balancing educational wants and needs I believe we provide a well balanced Education. We support and encourage many diverse options for the students such as general education, AP classes, cyber school, York School of Technology, Ag programs, an excellent music program, excellent athletic programs, just to name a few. In addition for the past 4 years that I have been on the board, taxes have only been increased 1 out of 4 years at 1.5 percent with a 2.3 percent index. There is certainly always ways to improve programs etc., but the overall picture for taxpayers has been very favorable. This was during a time period when other districts raised taxes, cut programming, and furloughed teachers. Red Lion balanced the budget without having to do any of those things.
Succop: Since the question of rating balancing educational wants and needs, balancing the good of the students and the good of the taxpayers seems to have been grouped for a single rating, I will offer a rating of (7). Because of the vagueness of the question I will at this time respond that there will always be differences of opinion, and room for improvement, but never would I expect a rating of a (10), if 1 is unfavorable, and 10 is highly favorable.
2. Specify a major issue facing the school district and explain how you think the school district should address that issue.
Clark: TAXES TAXES TAXES are the major issue. There are 15 school districts in York County. There are only 2 school districts with higher school taxes than Red Lion. As long as we are leading the county in higher taxes we cannot continue to raise them. The process to address this issue is surprisingly simple. If we can't pay for something without raising taxes we don't buy it. Saying it's simple shouldn't be confused with saying it's easy. It's very hard to make cuts knowing the cuts will hurt someone. It's very hard and it should be. I am a consistent "no" vote on raising taxes (not to say that I have never voted "yes" to raise taxes but those times are extremely minimal). Replacing a Director who votes "no" to tax increases with another Director that will also vote "no" to tax increases won't get the job done. If the goal is to keep taxes low, be careful which Directors you are replacing and which ones get re-elected.
Downs: The recent downturn in the economy put the housing boom on hold. The economy is slowly starting to rebound which will increase the burden on our schools. Teacher/student ratio's and budget deficits will only get worse. There are dozens of new neighborhoods already approved and ready to be built that include high density townhouse communities. Local township administrators seem to have little concern about the impact financially or logistically for our school district when they approve these future neighborhoods. There needs to be a better dialog between the townships and the school district to plan for future growth. My daughters have attended LJM for the past 6 years, they have had 3 different principals. Elementary students need stability. This constant shuffling of our valuable teachers and administrators deflates morale and has a long lasting negative impact on our students and teachers. This budget deficit and impending housing boom are two issues for which the school district seems to have no long term plan.
Rowe: I believe the greatest challenge facing our school district is the budget deficits and where the responsibility and solutions can be found. The 4-plus million dollar shortfall we face this year didn't just appear out of nowhere. Have all the details come to light as to how such shortfalls came about? It has been pointed out that teachers are the single greatest expense for a school district in any given budget year. Are there savings opportunities here? By all means explore options. Let's not stop there. Let's consider other positions within the district, unrelated to direct supervision of our students. Let's explore energy efficiencies, supply purchasing savings opportunities, contracted labor, building and grounds savings and rentals. The business of education is not so different than the business world of which the rest of us are a part. Perhaps it should be treated more like a business with a review of accountability at all levels of the workforce.
Vasellas: Unfortunately the major issue impacting school districts today is not an issue controlled by local school boards, administrators, or teachers of our children. The single biggest issue which is impacting districts is controlled by the Pennsylvania State Legislature and Governor. That issue impacting school districts today is the pension crisis which exists statewide. Local resources from each school district are being strained due to a flawed system. It makes little sense wasting time or energy debating how we have arrived at a place in educational dialogue that educational decisions are impacted by funding issues relative to the pension system utilized by the State of Pennsylvania. What is important is for local government entities, such as school boards, to work with our elected PA legislators to address the pension system so that is both fair to employees but also sustainable to the taxpayers who help fund the system.
Weigle: The biggest issue facing our school district like so many others is the financial state that we are currently in. We are seeing high property tax rates as well as a pension system that is crumbling. What I plan to do to combat this issue is work with all of our board members to evaluate what needs to be done. At the end of the day no one wants to cut funding, so we need to see what alternative solutions are out there and if there are not any then we need to evaluate what programs can be cut but perform well enough to meet expectations.
Herbert: State budgets are one of the big issues facing the school districts. First of all, school budgets need passed before state budgets are usually passed. Pension increases are a major portion of employee benefits that the private sector of tax payers do not have or see personally, but are expected to pay in school tax. These pension increases have to be paid out of some portion of the tax revenue. The state officials put unrealistic expectations on school districts without thinking through or providing adequate information. This becomes evident in Common Core, standardized testing, teacher evaluations, and keystone requirements. Things are put in place for the districts as requirements for the district before procedures, proper software programs etc. are in place for the districts to use. This results in districts rewriting curriculum, teaching administrators to evaluate teachers, and developing benchmark testing for standardized tests which may change again in a couple years or never fully be put into place.
The school district needs to be educated on current legislature and be advocates for public education with the elected officials. As a school board representative it is important to be an advocate for public education and educate and problem solve to find the best balance for your school district with the administration while trying to balance the budget with little to no impact on the students.
Succop: A major issue with any organization or business would be budget for which it has become commonly accepted to purchase and spend monies that are not available thus the commonly excepted bailout using others money to pay for WANTS rather than the NEEDS. WANTS in any household will create debt; we should get back to the NEEDS and spending only what we can currently afford.
3. Why did you decide to run for election this year and why do you think you're one of the best candidates for a school board seat?
Clark: I am running for re-election. All of the other candidates were interviewed to fill a Board vacancy at a recent School Board meeting; these are my thoughts: All four gentlemen are successful, intelligent and articulate. Mr. Jay Vasellas is a slam-dunk to serve on the School Board and should win one of the open seats easily. Mr. Clair Weigle is a bright 18-year-old college student with a bright future in politics. However, due to his young age Mr. Weigle lacks the critical life experience necessary to manage an 80 million dollar (plus) school budget. If you are going to vote to raise school taxes you should share in the sting of those decisions. With the exception of Mr. Vasellas they all lack school experience. It will take at least a full year to settle into the position before being able to make any meaningful contribution. I am a fiscal conservative and have always fought for lower taxes. I am still fighting. No tax increase in the last 3 years and I am voting "no" to a tax increase this year. I am the only School Director remaining that was on the Board during the Jr. High shootings. Experience serving on this and other Boards along with my experience managing a multimillion-dollar budget for my own company is what I offer.
Downs: I decided to run for school board because I wanted to make a positive impact. My daughters are the 4th generation from my family to attend Red Lion School District. I am a 1987 graduate of Red Lion High School. I graduated from York College of Pennsylvania with honors and a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. I have secured over 1 billion in financing for local families to obtain home ownership. I ran for United States Congress in 2012 and was one of the few candidates endorsed by our former Congressman Todd Platts. No current board member or any other candidate running has the fiscal or financial background I can provide to the school board.
Rowe: I have lived in this school district since 2002 and I have seen significant tax increases in that time. My children have attended school in this district since Kindergarten and I have heard so much from other residents and parents about what is wrong with the district, in varying opinions. In my experiences through employment with various sales organizations and school districts, I believe I have learned a great deal about what makes an efficient and highly productive company, in this case, a school district. I know what it's like to develop and retain talent, to be an educator of children and adults and to bring opposing sides to the table to affect change and create win-win situations. Election to public office is a chance to set fresh eyes upon a problem, a fresh voice of the people he represents and it is a responsibility to those who want change to take a stand for what they believe. One man's voice can make a difference when it's one of logic, reason and fairness, combined with a passion to enact change. It's my turn to give of myself, my time and energy to bring a positive change to Red Lion Area School District.
Vasellas: I have been blessed to have my life defined by the Red Lion Area School District. My life in academia is based on the education I received as a Red Lion student. With the brief exception of my college years I have either been a student, coach, or teacher in our school district for over 50 years. With the exception of my wife, everyone in my family from my parents (Horace and Norma) to my children, have been fortunate to be educated by Red Lion Area School District. My soon to be born granddaughter will be educated in Red Lion. I have a passion for this school district and an investment in the school district which is unique in this election. But, many of my best friends are small businessmen who keep me grounded in the reality of how my decisions will impact their taxes. My mother is an 88 year old widow living on a fixed income. I understand the academic issues intimately, but I also understand the need to be fair to the taxpayers who fund our school district programs.
Weigle: Why I decided to run is that I bring a fresh perspective to the ballot. No one can say that they are 19 years old, and have just recently graduated from Red Lion. I plan on using my knowledge of what works well in the school district and what does not seem to be working well. Voters should choose me to represent them because I know what their kids are going through in school. I know what frustrations they may have or what they may enjoy. They would know that someone is representing them for their kids and that's what this position is all about.
Herbert: I began attending school board meetings two years before I ran for office with the Red Lion School Board. I was appointed by the district prior to being elected last term. This will be my second term running. I feel I am the best candidate for this position because there is a learning curve to being able to be an influence on the board, there is a lot to learn. I am a mother with two girls in the district, one in jr. high and one in senior high. I have a business background and experience with budgets and running buildings. I am also the lone democrat on the board. So being a female, mother, and democrat, I bring a different perspective to the board. My priorities are curriculum and meeting the student's academic needs first and then overall. I devote time to researching issues and sit on many committees. I am honest, fair, and not afraid to listen and express my opinion even if it is not the popular one. I am actively involved in the Red Lion School District school board and remain dedicated to the commitment, time, and energy needed to make the Red Lion School District successful.
Succop: As a member of a community I feel it is each of our responsibilities to get involved in some form or another. I feel I have never been one to throw stones and accuse others without the facts, and if you don't know all the facts you need to seek them out. There will always be change, and I will always be involved in seeking the solution rather than being part of the problem.