Thanks to everyone who voted yesterday, and to all of you who helped me with my campaign over the last six months. I'm pleased to have won a second term on the East Penn School District board! Congratulations to Alan Earnshaw, Alisa Bowman, and Adam Smith, who also won seats on the board. Let's do great things together for public education.
Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township, an active group that promotes smart growth in the community, recently sent a number of questions to those running for the East Penn School Board for the first time. Though I am an incumbent, they asked great questions and so I thought I would answer them too:
QUESTION: By a narrow 5-4 vote East Penn supported the Hamilton Crossings TIF. If a similar issue were to come up again what would your position be?
I voted against the Hamilton Crossings TIF within the first few months of becoming a board member. The TIF takes half of the tax revenue generated by the Hamilton Crossings retail center and diverts it away from the schools in order to pay debts incurred in developing the property. I voted no because I believed that the developers would build Hamilton Crossings even without the support of the taxpayer money generated by the TIF. Hamilton Crossings now generates more than $600,000 annually in tax dollars to the school district, which is great. But I wish we could benefit from the more than $1.2 million that the district would receive annually without the TIF in place.
QUESTION: Last year, the School District ignored a formal letter from the Lower Macungie Twp. Planning Commission opposing the sale of the Lower Macungie Elementary School Property. Multiple Lower Macungie Commissioners have gone on record expressing their disappointment (Beitler, Higgins). They both claimed that if given the chance, Lower Macungie Twp. would have considered making an offer on the property to preserve it. Apparently there was a lack of communication between the township and school district administration prior to an agreement of sale. If elected how would you ensure this lack of communication is addressed moving forward?
The way this sale was handled is my single biggest regret from my four years on the school board. The district got a good deal on the property and selling it was the right thing to do (see Questions about Property Sale for details). But I was unaware at the time that the township was interested in preserving the land and might be willing to purchase it themselves. I wish we could have explored that option. The township concerns about the sale were raised only after the district had entered into a formal purchase agreement with the buyer.
I agree that there needs to be better communication between township and the school district administration, and that such communication might have led to a different outcome with the Lower Macungie Elementary School property. I now regularly ask more questions of the administration about coordination and communication with the townships and boroughs that make up the district. As a board member, I now pay greater attention to the details of township and borough business than I did in the past. Moving forward, I think two specific changes to the way of doing business would help. First, I would like to see greater transparency in school board meetings by making them available through internet streaming or local cable television. This would allow everyone in the community, including municipal officials, to be better aware of school district issues. Second, I would like to see school administration and municipal officials establish a regular schedule of meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern. Such meetings need not be lengthy nor lead to any specific cooperation. But it would increase the flow of information between these community leaders and avoid missed opportunities like this one.
QUESTION: The School District owns property off of Rt. 100. We have expressed concerns that with the proliferation of warehouses and freight traffic along Rt. 100 that this is no longer a safe or desirable location for a future school campus. Would you consider exploring other safer and more community oriented (and walkable) sites for future school construction if opportunities were to arise? Would you proactively work with municipal officials on school siting issues if additional facilities are ever needed?
My answer to this question is simple: YES! I am 100% in favor of exploring better possible sites for any future school construction that might be needed in the future. And I would happily and enthusiastically work proactively with any interested parties to do so.
Many thanks to those at "Friends LMT" for their great questions, as well as for their continued efforts to keep the community informed and involved in local affairs.
Good school boards lead to good schools. The good news is that all seven candidates for the East Penn board this year support strong public education in our community. Want more information to help you decide who to vote for? You can read what the candidates have made available at the links below. You will be able to vote for four:
The League of Women Voters of the Lehigh Valley has published a voting guide that includes very short statements by all the candidates (available here). So have both the Morning Call (available here) and the East Penn Press (available here).
Most importantly, don't forget to vote for the candidates of your choice next Tuesday, May 16th. Polls are open
from 7am to 8pm (if you aren't sure where to vote, you can check here).
Do you care about our local schools? Our local taxes?
Do you have a book club, church group, parents group, or just a group of neighbors you talk to or would like to get to know better? If so, please invite me to come join you in a ‘meet and greet’ discussion of local school district issues.
Our schools are the most important public institution in our community, yet many people don’t know very much about the current issues facing our district. Most don’t even know who is running for school board. You can help change that by hosting a meet and greet discussion at your home or a local library or coffee shop.
This is a chance to talk informally and freely about the school issues that affect all of us. A meet and greet is easy, low stress, and a great way to get involved and get to know your community better. I can learn more about your concerns. And you can learn more about me and the current issues in our district.
Time is running out before the May 16th primary elections for school board. Are you willing to host something in the next two weeks? Email me and I’ll help!
I know a lot of independent voters. People in the community who vote based on issues and candidates rather than political party, and who-- as a result-- are uncomfortable registering officially as a Democrat or Republican. In fact, I was one of those people until just a couple of years ago.
But then I learned how the Democrats and Republicans in Pennsylvania have conspired to keep independent voices out of our local school board elections. This changed my mind. And if you are an independent voter, I want to take at least one stab at changing your mind too.
Here I go...
Pennsylvania law requires that school board elections be “non-partisan.” This means that being a Republican or a Democrat or anything else isn’t supposed to matter in school board races. The problem is that this isn’t how school board elections are actually run. In practice, Pennsylvania interprets “non-partisan” to allow only that school board candidates can run as both a Republican and a Democrat at the same time in primary elections-- what is known as cross-filing. Because Pennsylvania also has closed primaries, this means that anyone who isn’t a registered Democrat or Republican is EXCLUDED from voting in these critical school board races.
I say critical because local elections are where your voice makes the most difference as a voter. Critical too because in the East Penn School District, who wins and who loses school board races is almost ALWAYS decided in the primary election.
Do you see what the major political parties have done there? By limiting voting in school board primary races to only registered Democrats and Republicans, they cut out the voice of independent voters completely. And given that primary voters of both major parties tend to be more ideological and more extreme than the general population, this means we get more ideological and more extreme school board members as a result.
Independents, we need your voice back in the process! This is why I urge you to officially register with the state as a Democrat or a Republican. This is the only way to make your vote count. Doing so doesn’t define your identity or how you vote. But under current election rules, it DOES define whether you can vote at all in the upcoming school board primaries on May 16th. This is something I’m passionate about, because I believe we need independent voices on our school board that will make careful decisions based on the facts, rather than simply repeating partisan talking points at local school board meetings.
The deadline for registering-- including officially changing your party status- is April 17th. You can do it easily online right now at: https://www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/Pages/VoterRegistrationApplication.aspx
So, did I convince you? Don’t let the major political parties use your independence to keep your voice out of our school district. Register as a Democrat or Republican today!
I am running again for school board because of my commitment to public education. Over 90% of all American children attend public schools, without which they would not have the knowledge and skills necessary to support and participate in the democratic process. Our public schools are also the foundation of the middle class, giving students the opportunities they need to be independent and contributing members of society. Public schools thus don’t just benefit those with children; they benefit everyone.
These are the principles I think are most important for supporting public education in our community right now:
Our children will live and work in a world transformed by the information revolution. Schools must adapt to the realities of this new world. They need to prepare our children for creative thinking, for work in flexible teams, for adaptation to changing technology, and for interaction with citizens around the world. This preparation must go beyond what standardized tests currently measure, particularly in science and the arts. And it requires difficult, but exciting, changes to how we approach traditional subjects such as reading and math.
I take the responsibility of school board members to be stewards of public resources very seriously. We need to cut waste in our district, reform the education bureaucracy, and get the best overall value for our tax dollars over the long term. Fiscal responsibility means getting taxpayers the best deal possible for excellent, innovative schools. It sometimes means making painful cuts in order to minimize taxes or make resources available for more pressing needs. But it also means avoiding being penny wise and pound foolish - that is, making regular investments and maintenance now to avoid much larger costs in the future. More than anything, fiscal responsibility means finding the right balance between the needs of all stakeholders in our community, including taxpayers, students, and everyone else.
Both our students and our taxpayers deserve policies and choices in our schools that are supported by facts and evidence. Quite honestly, I’ve been surprised how often important decisions are made with little research and even less data to show such decisions will be beneficial to our students or our community. Too often people want to base decisions on either empty political rhetoric or ‘how we’ve always done it.’ I think both are irresponsible ways to decide how to educate kids in a complex world, or how to spend more than $140 million of taxpayer money annually. We need school board members to be pragmatic, creative, and open to new ideas, not using ideological talking points to make decisions. We deserve members with the skills and experience to demand and understand the best research and data before making decisions.
The public has a right to know what their elected officials are doing and how they are making decisions. But just as importantly, I believe elected officials can make BETTER decisions when community members are knowledgeable about the issues and their voices are heard in the decision-making process. This is one reason I support making school board meetings available via television or online video. It is also why I continue to write about the concerns facing our district online as well as regularly meet personally with community members to discuss our schools. Over the course of the last four years, I have written dozens of articles, and posted material online hundreds of times, to help keep East Penn citizens informed about the schools, ask for their ideas and advice, and state my own point of view clearly and honestly.
I am asking for your support. I can’t promise you will agree with every vote or decision I make -- nobody can. But I can commit to you that everything I do on the board will be guided by these principles.
I don’t want to ask for money. It is, in fact, the part of running for school board that I most dislike. But I need to do it. Would you please make a donation to help my campaign? I will use it to pay for yard signs, print small cards to give to people as I go door to door in the coming weeks, and help defray the cost of my website. No donation is too small to help with these costs, whether it is $5, $20 or $50-- every little bit helps.
I do have the following requirements for all contributions, in keeping with the principles of my campaign:
I will only accept donations from individuals living within the East Penn School District. No outside money. Our community should decide the future of our schools, not outside interests.
I will only accept donations of $50 or less. This is a community campaign for all of us, not just a few big donors.
Will you do your part? You can contribute right now with a major credit card by clicking the “Donate” button below. Or, if you prefer, you can mail a check to Citizens to Elect Munson, 305 N. 2nd St., Emmaus PA 18049. If you can’t make a financial donation at this time, I need a lot of help in other ways too!
I am running for a second term on the East Penn School Board. Over the course of the last three years, I have heard from or sat down with hundreds of you to share hopes and concerns about our school district and our community. These conversations have taught me valuable lessons about how much we all share in common. Like so many of you, I understand the value of public education, the importance of both innovation and fiscal responsibility in our schools, the need for transparency and honesty, and the desire for district decisions based on facts and evidence rather than the talking points of our dysfunctional political parties.
School board members are unpaid volunteers. I am volunteering to serve a second term because these shared community principles are important to me. I find it rewarding to not simply complain about our schools, but roll up my sleeves and help find practical solutions to the challenges we face.
In my first three years, I have been involved in board decisions on debt restructuring that have saved taxpayers millions of dollars, on modifying school schedules that added more than thirty hours of instructional time to our elementary classrooms without raising costs, and on modernizing district policies that in some cases haven’t been changed in decades. As those who regularly attend school board meetings can tell you, I have been a consistent, vocal advocate for our entire community, including children, taxpayers, parents, teachers, residents, and others on a wide variety of issues.
I hope you will give me the opportunity to continue this work by voting for me in the upcoming primary election on May 16th. Please explore this website to learn more about me and the issues in our school district. You'll also find links at the bottom of each page to get more information via my blog, email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Please consider applying for the open position on the East Penn School Board. Longtime board member Francee Fuller resigned at the last meeting, leaving an open seat on the board. A (short) application is due by October 3, and board members will appoint someone after public interviews on October 10.
My chief focus in the selection process will be finding a volunteer who understands the critical role public schools play in our democracy. I hope we have applicants who can be both a strong advocate for our schools and a frank critic of policies and procedures that can be improved; someone who can make decisions transparently, based on facts and evidence rather than reactionary emotion or political ideology. It can be a tough gig, but also very rewarding! You can get more details by clicking here.
I will be voting for Ken Bacher, Chuck Ballard, Paul Champagne, Rich Mathesz, and Wally Vinovskis in our local East Penn School Board elections on Tuesday. Here is how these pro-education candidates explain their approach to school board service:
Dr. Ken Bacher is currently Vice-President of the school board and is running for his second term. He is an incredibly smart guy with a deep understanding of the complicated financial issues the board must regularly address. Mr. Chuck Ballard has served on the board longer than any of the district’s current students have been alive! He is a vocal champion for strong public schools and regularly provides valuable institutional knowledge and insight at board meetings. Reverend Wally Vinovskis was appointed to the board just two years ago and has been a reasoned voice for balance and consensus since that time.
This is the first time Mr. Paul Champagne has sought a position on the school board. I first met Paul at the League of Women Voters Candidates Night last May, where he showed an impressive command of the issues facing our community. Since then, I have found Paul to be a clear thinker and direct communicator who would be a great addition to the board. Mr. Rich Mathesz is also running in his first school board election. He has proven himself to be focused on educational, rather than political, issues over the course of his campaign. He is also a longtime security specialist, with skills and experience that might prove particularly valuable in light of the lockdown and cancelled school at Emmaus High School last week.
These five candidates are very different people who bring different experience and expertise to the board. I won’t agree with any of them on every issue facing our schools. But I know that all five are pro-education members of the community who I can trust to make independent decisions based on facts and the good of our public education system, rather than partisan political commitments.
Local elections often have the greatest and most immediate impact on our lives, so please take the time to vote on Tuesday. Good schools really do matter!
Here are some additional materials that may help you in research the candidates:
3 Reasons to Vote for Wally Vinovskis. My more detailed explanation for why I support Reverend Wally Vinovskis for school board.
Outside Money Means Less Local Control. A discussion of how outside money from partisan sources in this election could impact the local control of our schools.
3 Myths about Common Core. Every current school board candidate is a skeptic of Common Core (now known here as PA Core Standards). But not everyone is telling the truth about it.
Voter Guide from the Lehigh Valley League of Women Voters. The guide provides basic information (e.g. education, qualifications, etc.) for each candidate.