I am writing to recommend you vote for Reverend Wally Vinovskis for the East Penn School Board next Tuesday. Choosing school board members is a tricky business because the best people for the job-- the people we most need guiding our district-- are not politicians or self-promoters and therefore often have a tough time in local elections. They are people who are generous of spirit, who listen, engage with others, and think independently. But they tend also to be the type of people who don’t spend much time tooting their own horn. Wally is one such person. And so I want to share with you some reasons you should vote for him that I suspect he is unwilling to tell you himself.
First is his approach to solving problems. Wally tackles each new issue with an open mind. His remarks during school board deliberations demonstrate that he listens carefully to others and incorporates what he learns into his own thinking. But a willingness to listen and learn doesn’t mean he can’t also be independent. Last year Wally voted against supporting a Tax Increment Financing plan for the Hamilton Crossing development despite strong pressure from both within and outside the district, and in contrast to a majority of the board members who appointed him in the first place! This independence extends to his refusal to reduce the problems of the district to partisan ideological battles between Democrats and Republicans. After two years of working together, I still have no idea what political party he generally supports in national elections. And this is how it should be on the school board.
The second reason you should vote for Wally is his approach to other people. He works with others collaboratively rather than combatively. When other members of the board express opinions over which he disagrees, I have witnessed him focus attention on whatever sliver of common ground he shares with them and work hard for the good of the district on those commonalities. He is a board member who actively looks for areas of consensus among diverse points of view, rather than a board member who tries to score points ‘winning’ an argument or insisting on having the last word. Wally’s attitude and approach to other people makes a difference in building up our community.
A third reason to vote for Wally is his demonstrated commitment to the welfare of our public schools. Here is just a partial list of school initiatives in which he has given his time, energy, and expertise over many years: the Act 1 Tax Study Commission, the Steering Committee for the recently completed district strategic plan, the Emmaus High School Middle-States Accreditation Steering Committee, the Take Back Our Children Task Force, the Superintendent’s Parents’ Advisory Committee, the Coordinated School Health Committee, and of course the East Penn School Board. What this list doesn’t include is his more personal investment in the district, including his devotion to the EHS marching band booster club, and his nearly spotless record of attendance at Eyer, LMMS, and Emmaus High School music concerts each year.
There are several other candidates that I will be voting for next Tuesday along with Wally Vinovskis: Ken Bacher, Chuck Ballard, Paul Champagne, and Rich Mathesz. They will all make excellent school board members. I have singled out Wally here because I’ve gotten to know him best over the last two years. He has been a superb board member, and it is my sincere hope our community takes advantage of his willingness to serve for four more years. Please vote.
PS: You may also want to take a look at the Voter Guide from the League of Women Voters for more information about all the candidates for school board.
The U.S. Congress has a longstanding law prohibiting American politicians from taking campaign contributions from foreign governments and citizens. The law was affirmed unanimously by the Supreme Court as recently as 2012, and for good reason: Outside powers should not be able to choose our political leaders, or control them once they’re in office.
I believe this same logic applies to our own local community as well. Local control of our schools depends on local control over our school board elections. If we don’t trust national leaders to pursue the common good while taking outside money, why should we trust local leaders to pursue our community’s best interests while taking outside money?
Unfortunately, this is an issue we all face in the upcoming East Penn School Board elections next month. According to campaign finance reports, two candidates-- Chris Donatelli and Carol Allen-- have solicited some of their most significant campaign contributions from outside donors (their campaign finance reports are available here).
Let me be clear: it is not illegal for a school board candidate to take money from outside the district. They are well within their rights to use these campaign dollars to influence the East Penn School Board race in any way they wish. But outside money in a non-partisan, community election is invariably targeted at scoring partisan political points that make up the ongoing dysfunction of Washington DC and Harrisburg, not the good of our community. Even more importantly, using outside money in a school board election is inconsistent with the principle of local control of schools, a principle that both Mr. Donatelli and Ms. Allen have repeatedly said is at the core of their campaign.
I agree with Mr. Donatelli and Ms. Allen that local control is a principle worth defending. I therefore call on them to return the money they have received from outside our community, particularly the money received from outside politicians. Let’s let the people of East Penn decide who will best represent them on the school board, not outside funders.
Following the money can’t tell you everything about a candidate. But it certainly can tell you something! I urge Ms. Allen and Mr. Donatelli to join the other five candidates in the local school board race-- Wally Vinovskis, Rich Mathesz, Paul Champagne, Ken Bacher and Chuck Ballard-- in refusing to take money from outside the district.
I’m sad to report that there was lots of hate and vitriol on display at the East Penn school board meeting last night. Board members were accused of conspiracies, cover-ups, and conflicts of interest. They were called Stalinists, bullies, fascists and mentally unfit. They were threatened with personal lawsuits.
Why All the Insults?
People were reacting to a proposal on the meeting agenda to censure-- formally reprimand-- board member Lynn Donches for “material misstatements of fact.” I believe the proposal for censure arose because of allegations Mrs. Donches made at our previous board meeting against longtime district employee Debra Surdoval. Donches publicly accused Surdoval of participating in a “coverup” and implied (though didn’t explicitly state) she might be involved in criminal activity.
I say I believe this is the reason for the agenda item, because I actually don’t know for sure: the motion was ultimately not discussed by the board at all. No board member-- myself included-- seconded the proposal. So all that emerged from the motion was poisonous name-calling and unsubstantiated innuendos about possible hidden motivations of board members and district employees, all made merely in anticipation that such a censure vote might be taken.
The tragedy in this episode lies in its example of the continued ability of a small but vocal minority in our community to hijack substantive discussion of both educational needs and fiscal responsibility in our district. The board, made up entirely of volunteers, is forever forced away from the real needs of students and taxpayers by personal insults, politically motivated threats, and fantastic conspiracy theories. Because of this, such nonsense represents more than an attack on board members; it is an attack on all of us. And we all lose.
What Can Be Done?
Simple: show up. I mean what kind of community do you want? Don’t let a hateful minority of voices define our larger community voice at school board meetings. Come and speak about something you appreciate about our public schools. Or come and voice a complaint you have. Or an idea for making the schools better. There are no shortage of problems in our district that need solving (though I’m reasonably sure Stalinism is not one of them). The point is not that everything is perfect or that we will all agree on every issue, but that public education is a community good that can only be preserved-- and improved-- through engaging everyone in civil discussion and debate.
The beginning of every meeting is set aside for public comment, and even a single thought expressed in just a few seconds is useful. The agenda is organized so that you can leave in less than a half hour if you like. Our next board meeting is June 22nd, 7:30pm, at 800 Pine St. in Emmaus, and future meetings are listed on the district website. I will be there. I hope you will too.
NB: This post is a more formalized version of comments I made on Facebook the night of the meeting. I address different, but related, issues in two previous posts: “The Problem with Partisanship” and “Censorship in Our School District".
Next Tuesday (May 19th) is election day for five of the nine seats on the East Penn School Board. Here is who I will be voting for:
All five of these candidates have demonstrated their commitment to public education as centrally important to a democratic society. All five have made clear their vision of school board work as volunteer service for the good of the community, not a platform to advance ideological agendas. I have served for over a year now on the board with incumbents Bacher, Ballard, and Vinovskis. I have not agreed with any of them on all of the issues, but I’m confident all three share my pro-education principles. They have earned my respect for the arguments they make, the questions they ask, and the seriousness with which they take their responsibility to students and taxpayers. Of the four new candidates, only Champagne and Mathesz made themselves available to answer questions from the public at the League of Women Voters forum two weeks ago. Both expressed strong support for our schools and both possess the professional qualifications and community involvement to make valued contributions to the board.
School board races in Pennsylvania are decided in the primary election. No matter which candidates you prefer, please be sure to make your voice heard by voting Tuesday, May 19th. Polls are open from 7am until 8pm.
Want to Learn More?
Check out the League of Women Voters non-partisan election guide for all the candidates, which I’ve reproduced below for your convenience. I’ve also included all literature provided by the candidates at the League of Women Voters forum.
League of Women Voters’ Guide
EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT
Alburtis, Emmaus & Macungie Boroughs;
Lower Macungie & Upper Milford Townships
4-year term. Vote for five
EDUCATION: M.Ed. Lehigh, 1977, K - 8 Reading Specialist; B.A. Wilkes, 1972, Elementary Education and German Foreign Language; Graduate, Wyoming Valley West High School 1968
OCCUPATION: Retired Educator and Businesswoman with 37 years work experience
QUALIFICATIONS: 26 yrs. in Public Education – Allentown School District and Livingston School District, NJ; 5 yrs. Manager of Training, TIAA-CREF, pension company///
RESPONSE: As a teacher, I understand the challenges facing our district. I believe the education of our children is paramount and problems are not solved with money. I will work to maximize every dollar spent so that our children receive the best education possible. My goal is to provide a safe and effective learning environment that allows children, as individuals, to become free thinkers that love learning not only now, but in college and beyond.
WALLY R. VINOVSKIS
EDUCATION: Benson High School, Omaha, NE 1982; B.A. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1987; M.Div. Concordia Seminary-St. Louis, 1992
QUALIFICATIONS: Lehigh Valley Community Broadcaster’s Assn. – BoD (4); The Lutheran Haven, Oviedo, FL – BoD (13); EPSD: School Director (2), Act 1 Tax Study Commission, Steering Committee 2008-2014 Strategic Plan, EHS Middle-States Accreditation Steering Committee, Take Back Our Children Task Force, Superintendent’s Parents’ Advisory Committee (5), Coordinated School Health Committee.
RESPONSE: The major issue facing school boards today is the economy. Schools are being challenged to focus on student achievement and improve test scores with far fewer resources. The School District needs to seriously evaluate what serves the core educational mission of our schools and look for reductions and efficiencies wherever possible. We simply cannot continue to raise local taxes. We need to run a tight ship while maintaining our legacy of high achievement in education.
CHARLES H. BALLARD
Upper Milford Township
EDUCATION: B.S. Nuclear Engineering, Michigan, 1968. M.S. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Berkeley, 1974. Retired Professional Engineer, Pennsylvania/California
OCCUPATION: Retired Professional Engineer
QUALIFICATIONS: Approaching 20 years of service on East Penn School Board. Pennsylvania School Board Association Vice President 2014. Have served as President and Vice-President of the East Penn School Board
RESPONSE: Will we continue to have public schools, supporting public supervision and input, in the future? Public education is the great "leveler" in American society and provides the means for providing all of our citizens the opportunity to get along with others and responsible citizenship. There are people out there, some running for school board, who have agendas that have nothing to do with education children and have all to do with weakening or eliminating public education. I am running to preserve public education.
EDUCATION: B.S., Chemical Engineering, University of Illinois, 1981
OCCUPATION: Electric Utility Consultant
QUALIFICATIONS: Father of three EPSD students (one a 2014 graduate of EHS); over 30 years of business and management experience, including 14 years as an executive at PPL corporation; former director at the Da Vinci Science Center; EPLC School Board Candidate Workshop.
RESPONSE: EPSD has demonstrated a commitment to excellence in public education. I believe that a strong district should not only challenge students academically, but provide a well rounded educational experience. This includes opportunities to participate in the arts, athletics, or a technical education. To continue this success it takes board members who can appropriately balance the best interest of our schools with fiscal responsibility to tax-payers. Strong public schools are the foundation for growing and prosperous communities.
RICHARD J. MATHESZ
EDUCATION: Northampton High School 1979
OCCUPATION: Corporate Security Operations Manager
QUALIFICATIONS: Past President of Lehigh Valley Crime Stoppers, 4 years; Current Board Member Lehigh Valley Crime Stoppers, 16 years; Member of American Society of Industrial Security, 16 years. Subject matter expert – Security, 36 years. Versed in contract negotiation and process improvement
RESPONSE: It is important to be engaged in maintaining a community that continues to thrive through the nurturing and development of future generations. My life and professional experiences enable me to be a resource to the school district in preserving the high academic standards we in the East Penn School District expect for our children.
EDUCATION: M.S. / Ph.D., Electric Engineering, Stanford University, 1989 / 1995; B.S., Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California, Valedictorian, 1988
OCCUPATION: Engineering Manager, Avago Technologies, Breinigsville
QUALIFICATIONS: EPSD Parent. EPSD Board Member since 2011, VP since 2013. 17 years Management Experience. Attended School Board Workshops: Budgeting, Data Analysis, Collective Bargaining, Child Development
RESPONSE: The school board’s duty and challenge is to provide a well-rounded education—one that includes rigorous academics along with music, art and athletic opportunities—to every student in the district without placing undue burden on taxpayers. Good schools are made possible by responsible fiscal policy and benefit the entire community through increased property values and the economic opportunity that stems from an educated workforce.
Do you have questions for this year's school board candidates? Do you want to meet the candidates and hear their views on the issues facing our schools and our community? Then join me in attending the Meet the Candidates night this coming Monday, 7pm!
The results are in, and I'm pleased to say I've been elected to the East Penn School Board! I will work hard to represent the best interests of everyone in our community, both those who voted for me and those that did not. Congratulations too to Mr. Earnshaw, Ms. Heid, and Mrs. Fuller, who also won seats on the board. I look forward to working with the other school directors to building on the tradition of excellence in our district.
I've learned an enormous amount over the course of this campaign. First and foremost, I've learned how much time, effort, and energy of others is required to run a successful campaign. I've received untold amounts of that help from many of you, some who I've known for many years and others who I've only recently met. Your tireless efforts, your insights, and your steady stream of encouragement are what made the difference in this election. This truly was a team effort.
This is it! I've knocked on over a thousand doors and written dozens of articles as part of this campaign. I've sent postcards, made phone calls, given public speeches, put up yard signs, and done all the work I've learned is part of this process. In short, I've done my level best to let our community know about the issues I believe are most important to our school district, and the ways I would approach those issues as a school board member. Not only that, many volunteers throughout the district have given hundreds of hours of their time and energy to help in the effort.
Now It's Your Turn
It is now up to the community to decide who would best represent them as school board members. Polls are open tomorrow (Tuesday, November 5th) from 7am until 8pm. If you are unsure of your polling location, you can find it here.
Please vote for me, Z.W. Munson, for school board. Please also vote for the other pro-education candidates in this race: Francee Fuller, Alan Earnshaw, and Rebecca Heid. We have not run as a unified "team" and may not agree on every issue. But we do share a common commitment to putting our community ahead of political party, letting the facts guide our decisions rather than the other way around, and doing what is right for the school district and taxpayers.
Have an Even Greater Impact
Want to multiply your voice in this important local election? Call a friend or family member, or someone at your church or workplace, and ask them to go vote with you. If every pro-education voter brings one other person who might not otherwise vote to the polls, we will win by a landslide.
Good schools really do matter!
As anyone following the fiasco in Washington DC knows, bitter partisanship is costing taxpayers money, damaging the economy, bringing hardship to ordinary Americans, and threatening the full faith and credit of our country. Yet even amidst this partisan meltdown, some local candidates for office here in the Lehigh Valley continue to lean on empty partisan talking points and political ideology rather than engage with the practical needs of the local community. Why?
Studies Show: Partisanship Clouds Judgment
There has been a flurry of recent scientific studies that help explain this puzzle. They point out truth and good judgment are the first casualties of partisanship. For example, a Princeton University study showed that people tend to give the partisan answer to factual questions about the economy instead of the correct answer, even when they know the truth. Perhaps even most interesting, a recent experiment compared how self-described Democrats and Republicans interpreted new facts under conditions of low and high partisan polarization. The results of the experiment show that people use new knowledge in forming their views when partisan polarization is low, but ignore new facts and simply repeat their party’s slogans when partisan polarization is high. Worse, high polarization made people more confident in their (less grounded) views!
Put simply, partisanship reduces our ability to learn new facts and make the best possible choices for ourselves and our community. Dare I say it? Yes, partisanship can make us stupid! At a moment in our nation's history when partisan polarization is greater than at any time in more than a century, we need to break out of partisan bickering wherever we can.
Keep Partisan Politics Out of Community Government
And the place to start is our local community. We need energetic and dynamic people we can trust to make careful decisions based on accurate facts and the needs of the community. We need consensus builders whose first instinct is to solicit the knowledge, advice, and experience of others, rather than making snap judgments based on the tired rhetoric of national politicians and wild-eyed talk show hosts.
The political spectacle in Washington is at once frightening, maddening, and comic. It represents vicious partisanship gone awry. And it hurts all of us. But we don't have to run our own local communities in the same way. We all will have the opportunity to prove this on November 5th.
The League of Women Voters and the East Penn Invested Citizens (EPIC) have teamed up to sponsor a special school board candidate's night where you can hear from all the candidates about their qualifications and vision for our community's school district. This important forum will be held on Tuesday, October 22nd, at 7pm in the Macungie Institute (510 Main St. in Macungie).
I hope you will join me at this event to learn more about education and the direction of our school district.
Unfortunately, the previously announced EPIC presentation on class size scheduled for 10/17 has been cancelled. More information here.
I'll be working hard over the coming month to introduce myself to as many people in the community as possible. No matter how much time I devote to going door-to-door, however, I won't be able to meet everyone personally. That's why I've put together the short video below to introduce myself "virtually" to others. The clip is a little goofy, but it lets people know why I'm running and some of the issues that are important. Please forward it along to those who have not met me before!