Upcoming Election for Boyertown School Board Directors Presents Critical Choices
Left to right: Five of the six Boyertown Forward Candidates had a great time "floating" through Boyertown at the community's Halloween parade: Region #2 Joe Piccione, Region #3 Brad Updegrove, Region #1 Michelle Sweisfort, Region #3 Matt Hook and Region #2 Lisa Hogan.
Left to right: Former school board director and Boyertown Forward volunteer Donna Usavage and candidate for Region #1 Krista Arndt at a Meet-and-Greet at Boyertown Community park.
(The article below is repeated from May 2023) In addition, a conversation, with Donna Usavage discussing her concerns about Moms4Liberty with me and my co-host Ross Yerger (Yergz) will be available in an upcoming recorded episode of the podcast "Both Sides Now." Find the podcast on Spotify or on YouTube later this week. )
by Jane Stahl
Born and raised in Boyertown and having spent over 35 years teaching thousands of students in public schools--30 in the Boyertown Area School District—I will always care deeply about education, and especially the quality of education in Boyertown—especially when I feel the narratives about education anywhere are misinformed and ill-intentioned.
I see a lot of misinformation and ill-intentioned motives in today’s politics—local AND national. And while I’d prefer to stay out of any political arena, I feel a need, given my life’s work, to support what I believe to be fair and accurate information in the face of threats and false narratives.
So…Readers, once again, please accept my apologies—not for the content of today’s article and the upcoming articles about school board candidates but apologies that the political atmosphere today is so toxic and the issues confronting us so important to our future that breaking our “promise” to stay out of politics is compromised.
Three articles in The Boyertown Area Expression will be published featuring the 6 candidates supported by Boyertown Forward. Links to the "B Inspired" podcast episodes will take you to conversations with the candidates.
Region #1 candidates will be featured in one episode and article; Region #2 candidates in another; and Region #3 in the third to allow audiences to pay special attention to candidates running in their region.
I am hopeful that these episodes and articles will be shared to provide the widest, free distribution possible. Political campaigns are expensive. Boyertown Forward candidates are funding their own campaigns and NOT supported by national political groups or funding.
Promoting them in the ways we can, at the least expense to them, is our intent. Please share however and whenever you can with those who care deeply, as we do, about the direction of education in Boyertown schools.
Donna Usavage, former Boyertown School Board director, who has lived in the district for nearly 40 years and served on Boyertown Area School District’s School Board for 10, has deep concerns today about the direction of the school district—concerns under the current Board and concerns that it could get even worse as a result of the upcoming election in which there are 6 seats—some 2-year seats, others 4-year seats—in Boyertown’s three regions.
“Watch the videos of any Board meeting, and you’ll see the current board squabbling about petty issues instead of focusing on relevant and important issues,” Donna has exclaimed. “They have spent 10 minutes over months discussing the district’s $139 million dollar budget and three times as much time arguing over the school calendar. It makes no sense!”
“The stakes have never been higher,” she continues. “The extreme positions, espoused by some of the candidates running either for re-election or first-time seats on the Board, are deeply troubling. Their extreme positions reflect membership in well-funded national political groups like Moms4 Liberty, groups intent on destroying public education. And public education is the ONLY education entity required by law to educate ALL students, regardless of learning needs, income, race, gender, etc. It is the only entity that cannot 'select' its students to enhance or maintain its reputation; it is the only entity that is not profit-motivated.
“Public schools represent the very foundation of our democracy in preparing well-informed, educated individuals who grow up and continue to improve their communities. Yet, some of the candidates simply seem to want to sow distrust and create conflict among parents and staff instead of seeking real solutions to the very real issues facing our educational community.
“The social media posts of national groups indicate that book banning and elimination of programs supporting social and emotional learning are on their agenda. The groups create false narratives surrounding parent involvement, for example, in their children’s education. They wave a flag about ‘Parents’ Rights’ as if schools are preventing the involvement of parents. Teachers have always wanted parents to be involved!”
Donna’s concerns since she retired from the Board have resulted in the emergence of a sizable group of passionate people, equally concerned and eager to help elect pro-public education candidates. The group have established “Boyertown Forward,” a political action committee that provides support to the slate of pro-public education candidates.
“It has been an amazing situation,” Donna shares. “The group formed organically from small group discussions among people with deep concerns. The members were passionate about helping to elect candidates who support public education. The group had energy, commitment, ideas and plans—but no candidates!
“However, within two weeks, we exceeded our goal of enlisting 6 candidates for the 2 open positions across the 3 regions! We can now say we have a bench for 2025! My love and respect for this community were bolstered.
“And so, at this point we decided to form Boyertown Forward, a PAC to support our candidates. Boyertown Forward is supporting six candidates with diverse skills, talents and perspectives that bring value to the Board table. They are parents of children in the district and have education backgrounds or experience. They know the issues schools are facing in a very personal way and are not depending on creating and spreading false narratives fed to them by non-local groups.
“They understand that families are the most important part of a child’s life and must include a partnership with teachers to advocate for their own child’s learning needs and their family values. It’s important to distinguish this partnership that has always existed between teachers and parents from the term ‘parental rights’ being used by some other candidates—a term straight from national political messaging which really means the right of some parents to determine what is right for other people’s children.
“Boyertown Forward candidates possess skills for strategic and responsible planning. Witnessing their dedication to supporting one another in this election campaign has been inspiring and will bring the respect, integrity and transparency that is lacking in the Board room today.
“They are aware, for example, of the declining funding support from the State. They recognize that State and Federal mandates and regulations—while often unfunded—are required for the district to manage and comprise 90% of the budget. There’s not a lot of funding they are able to control.
“They are aware that the cost of educating a student does not anywhere match the contributions that families make through their school taxes for even one regular education child, a cost that more than doubles to educate a child of special needs.
“We looked for candidates who wanted to work as a team, collaboratively, to find solutions to problems, who focused on our school—not national politics.”
Donna provides some context, in reviewing history: “The state, in forming our public school system many years ago, believed that school boards should not be political. This is why School Board candidates can cross-file, which means they run in the Primary in the Republican and Democrat tickets. Effectively what this means to the voter is that in most cases, your ballot for School Board candidates looks the same for both parties.”
While concerned, she offers confidence, saying, “We’re confident that parents know schools want their involvement; the district has always had protocols in place to involve their input. For example, parents are welcome to disallow their child from participating in particular lessons or checking out particular books from the library.
“Most families know that partnerships between parents and teachers are welcome and important. Most families trust and respect our teachers and staff and know that the teacher’s job has become more and more challenging.
“Teachers have always known that having parents as partners allows them to see things in a quiet child that they may miss or misunderstand. Teachers know that parents are the most important people in a child’s life; they value parent participation. Our schools support a parent’s rights to make decisions for their child. Just not, perhaps for everyone’s children.
“Parents know that budgets are available for parent input. Schools aren’t hiding anything. Charging schools with a lack of transparency is merely looking for a problem that isn’t there and takes time away from actually solving problems.
“They know that promoting pro-public education candidates makes sense and seems obvious in this Boyertown community. I know that most people understand that strong schools make strong communities.
“Most families know how important counselors and librarians and paraprofessionals and custodians and substitutes and bus drivers and all of our staff at our schools are. Most families see that our schools are suffering from being short-staffed. They are seeing their high school students spending time with large numbers of students in the auditorium because there is no sub for their classroom. They are seeing their elementary students missing specials because the specials teacher is subbing for a regular classroom. They KNOW we need these candidates to win the School Board election. “
But Donna is worried because the turnout for local or odd-year elections is always low. What this means is that the demographics of those who turnout do not reflect the demographics of the community as a whole.
Younger voters, the biggest stakeholders, parents of children in the schools, are not represented in the results of the elections. And so, their issues, needs, and values are often not reflected in the composition of the elected Board members and the decisions they make.
Some historical perspective provides explanation for the level of current concerns, Historically, the difference between candidates’ views has been that of fiscal responsibility – how they intend to balance the local tax burden with the financial needs of our school district.
Donna offers, “Today that issue is overshadowed by the work of national political organizations (like Moms4Liberty) to find AND FUND candidates who will forward divisive issues like book banning, challenges and attempts to eliminate social and emotional support programs provided to our most vulnerable children, pushing the false narrative of parental rights, sowing fear and distrust between parents and teachers, and limiting the educational benefits afforded to our children.”
Find Information for the pro-public education candidates backed by Boyertown Forward on the Boyertown Forward Facebook page.
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