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Seven seek two Washington Township seats on Waynesboro Area School Board

May 03, 2011

Editor’s note: Pennsylvania’s primary election is May 17, when voters will choose representatives from their own parties to advance to the municipal election in November.

For the Waynesboro Area School Board, a total of six seats are up for grabs. Voters in that school district elect by regions based on where they live. The three regions are Waynesboro borough, Washington Township and the North End, which includes Quincy Township, Mont Alto and a portion of Guilford Township.

The Herald-Mail asked the school board candidates appearing on ballots to answer several questions. Candidates were asked to be as succinct as possible. Their responses have been edited for style.

Below are the answers from the Washington Township candidates for the Waynesboro Area School Board. The top vote-getters on the Republican and Democratic sides will advance. Two seats are open.

In Pennsylvania, school board candidates can choose to cross-file to appear on Republican and Democratic ballots.




Emilee Eckels Bakner

Age: 34

Address: 179 Briar Ridge Drive, Waynesboro

Political party: Democrat (cross-filed)



Why did you decide to run for office?

I decided to run for office because there is nothing more important to me than my children’s educational needs and I feel that presently their needs are being overlooked. I also feel that the board needs to be more creative in finding ways to tackle the current budget without making detrimental decisions that will effect our children in an adverse way.

What in your background prepares you for this position?

I grew up in a household that held the highest respect for educational values. I myself grew up and attended school in this district, and I am also the mother of three children who attend school in this district, which I feel is very important because the best interest of our children will always be taken into consideration when you have parents on the board ... and that is what it should be about. I also hold a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from Penn State, where I work as a therapeutic support specialist for Manito/Laurel Life with children of all different kinds of needs.

What do you perceive as the biggest issues for the board?

I believe one of the biggest issues, currently, has been created among themselves. This happens to be their lack of cohesiveness and respect for community members, teachers, children and their fellow board members. I feel that they should be role models to our children, as well as our community. I also believe they could find more creative ways to tackle the budget and make more cost-effective decisions that would not only benefit our children, but our community as well.

How would you tackle budget problems?

I feel that there needs to be more of a balance of give and take, as well as prioritizing the needs of our children and this community. I feel if there was more community involvement including parents, teachers and taxpayers alike, together we could find the best solutions and essentials for our children.

Why should people vote for you?

Because a vote for me is a vote for your children ... the children are our future and if we don’t take care of their educational needs and allow them to experience cultural and enriching activities, then we are letting them down and essentially our community down as well. The most important thing we can do is give our children every opportunity to succeed and not allow them to slip through the educational cracks that our society and economy have created.

 

Amy Churchman

Age: 40

Address: 12124 Forest Hill Road, Waynesboro

Political Party: Republican (cross-filed)



Why did you decide to run for office?

I decided to run for school board director because I have a passion for kids. I want to bring diverse groups (community, taxpayers, teachers and administrators) together to work for the common good of the students. Directors should lead by example by being open-minded and model citizens of character.

What in your background prepares you for this position?

Over the last 11 years, I have been intimately involved in the school system. I provide leadership and organizational skills as the PTO president and coordinator for the Bible Released Time Program at Summitview Elementary School. I volunteer where I am needed at Summitview, as well as with the WASHS band and Maidens soccer program.  

What do you perceive as the biggest issues for the board?

Budget issues in general. Contract with the teachers union.

How would you tackle budget problems?

The current budget issues need an immediate, short-term solution. The education system has been hit by the perfect storm of federal and state cuts, the recession and lower real estate values. I believe through a combination of common-sense cost savings and possibly a modest tax increase, an equitable solution to the short-term budget issues is viable.

As federal and state support continue to constrict, a new approach needs to be enacted to provide long-term financial stability. We need to engage our state representatives to develop educational funding streams that are fair and predictable.  

Why should people vote for you?

I am open-minded, can think outside the box and I want to bridge the gap between the community, taxpayers, teachers and administrators. I can provide the leadership and organizational skills to fulfill the mission of the school district.

 

Rita Daywalt

Age: 43

Address: 11100 Prices Church Road, Waynesboro

Political party: Democrat (cross-filed)



Why did you decide to run for office?

In order to give our children the best possible chance at a successful future, we have to have an education system and a community that works together to provide not just “satisfactory” performance from our students and educators, but “outstanding” performance from both. I also believe for that to happen in the economic position we’re in today, both the community and the educators have to make a commitment to fiscal responsibility. I don’t see that happening in Waynesboro. You can’t continue to spend money on nonessential educational programs and salary/benefit packages when you no longer have the revenue to support them. We have to face the reality that sacrifices must be made by everyone, not just the taxpayers, if our education system here in Waynesboro is going to improve.

What in your background prepares you for this position?

I’ve consistently been active as an advocate in the education system in Michigan for more than 10 years and will transfer this experience to Waynesboro schools. I’ve served on the Parent Advisory Council for my district, which works together with educators to develop program standards for both general-education and special-education students. I’ve also volunteered as an advocate for parents with special-needs children within the district and participated in individual education planning for over 20 special-needs students.

While living in Michigan, I also served as district representative for our county Regional Education Service Agency, whose responsibilities include oversight for approximately 34 school districts within my county. It was the largest RESA in Michigan and one of the largest in the country. My work there focused on improving student achievement while maximizing economies of scale in staffing, purchasing and administrative services.

What do you perceive as the biggest issues for the board?

The two biggest issues I see facing the current school board are finding a way to balance the budget with the services/programs that are essential to the success of our students, and raising the standards of both student and teacher performance to a level that’s better than ”satisfactory.” Our children deserve better than a satisfactory education.

How would you tackle budget problems?

Balancing budgets and expectations of educators without placing an undue tax burden on community is always a challenge. The deficit problems facing our district currently are really not much different than the crisis American automakers faced over the last five years. The primary difference is that as a school district, we just don’t have a bailout package waiting in the background. We must face financial problems as they occur and not wait for the government to bail us out.

We must take a close look at the mistakes companies/labor unions have made and learn from them. We can’t possibly continue to finance programs, salaries and benefit packages that are not in line with the way the rest of the country has restructured and expect to have our school district succeed.

Why should people vote for you?

The majority of the people in our community have been hit hard financially in the last five years. While costs keep increasing, many in our community have been living with frozen salaries or faced with salary cuts. The average person in our community just can’t afford to continue to pay for increased taxes as the standard solution to the education deficit. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not a politician. I’m a parent and a taxpayer, and I’m gravely concerned about the state of WASD’s program and standards, and I believe that the average member of our community needs a voice on the school board. I’d like to be that voice.

 

Pat Heefner

Age: 67

Address: 10591 Buena Vista Drive, Waynesboro

Political party: Republican (cross-filed), incumbent



Why did you decide to run for office?

In my three-plus years on the board, I have learned much, but still have much to learn. Belief in this community, this school district and public education has been the driving force behind my decision to run for re-election.

What in your background prepares you for this position?

Nothing prepares you for this! That said, my upbringing (I attended 19 different schools while traveling around the world with my military family) has given me an appreciation of the diversity of our nation. Although I only have three years of formal post-secondary education, I have been a lifelong learner. I was a secretary in the district for 25 years, all but two spent in the Waynesboro Area Senior High School library. Being a board member of the Antietam Watershed Association and Renfrew Institute for Cultural and Environmental Studies has helped in my desire to be a team player and efforts to respect another’s point of view.

What do you perceive as the biggest issues for the board?

 Providing the best possible education for our children with dwindling state and federal monies, and reduced local revenue because of the economic downturn.

Negotiations with the teachers’ bargaining unit that have been ongoing since January 2010.

How would you tackle budget problems?

Balancing our budget should be a combination of reduced spending that is the least harmful to the educational process, possible transfer from the general fund, and, as a last resort, an increase in the millage rate. My goal is to offer a well-rounded education that stubbornly refuses to knuckle under to the federal and state educrats who have turned our public schools into testing machines.

Why should people vote for you?

In the last 3 1/2 years, I have voted my conscience, and in what I felt was in the best interest of the children in our district. In some decisions, the board had to abide by the rule of law. My actions of the last years are a matter of public record, and I will never vote on anything because it would affect my re-election. I feel I am honest, forthright and approachable. If you call or email, I will reply.

Those who know me, know I love quotes. One of my favorites has been by playwright Oscar Wilde: A cynic is a man who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I hope I will never be thought of as a cynic.

 

Ashley M. Newcomer

Age: 26

Address: 8 Eastland Circle, Waynesboro

Political party: Republican (cross-filed)



Why did you decide to run for office?

Having grown up in this community, I understand the values and concerns of our residents. The issues affecting our school system and the potential impact to our citizens were my impetus for running for office. Spending more money, raising more taxes or incurring more debt will not guarantee that our schools will be better. It is more important that we spend money wisely. We need school directors with a combination of financial expertise, common sense and a commitment to educational excellence.  

What in your background prepares you for this position?

As a manager of over 25 employees at Citigroup, I have to address many of the same issues that exist in the operation of our school system. On a daily basis, I have to make decisions that are fiscally responsible, strategically sound and fair.

Because I am the most recent graduate of Waynesboro schools among the candidates, I feel I am particularly well-qualified to have the freshest insight into many of the educational issues facing our local schools. Having graduated with a business degree from American University, I have the financial background needed to fully understand the intricacies of the school budget.

What do you perceive as the biggest issues for the board?

It is the responsibility of the school board to ensure first and foremost that the students receive a quality education. Due to the new economic realities facing most governmental entities, we no longer have the luxury of being all things to all people. The Waynesboro school board is suffering from a significant reduction in revenue and funds are not available at the same level as in the past several decades. As a result, critical analysis is required to determine how to optimally allocate funds to fairly balance the requirements of maintaining quality professional staffing at a price the residents can afford.  

How would you tackle budget problems?

The budget problems are exacerbated by the fact the cost of maintaining even existing compensation packages for the professional staff is challenged by the disproportionate increase in the cost of benefits such as health care. The revenue side of the ledger is greatly weakened by the joint issues of reduced state funding and district residents who can ill-afford significant tax increases. There are many senior citizens who depend almost exclusively on Social Security and they have not seen a cost-of-living increase since 2008. If elected, I understand that the status quo is not viable. Barring a dramatic change in the economic climate, the school system must, out of necessity, restructure itself so it can continue to successfully meet the needs of our students. The elimination or modification of programs, the possibility of outsourcing or sharing some services with other school districts and zero-based budgeting should all be on the table for consideration. I will always welcome the input of students, the professional staff and the public in this process.  

Why should people vote for you?

A vote for me would be a vote for an educationally effective and fiscally responsible school system in these very challenging times. I have an open mind, I gather facts and use those findings to make an objective decision. I care about this community and want the best for all our citizens.  

 

Gregory S. Ochoa

Age: 44

Address: 8461 Oxford Circle, Waynesboro

Political party: Democrat (cross-filed); former board member

    

Why did you decide to run for office?

I am a parent of children in the Waynesboro School District and a middle-class local taxpayer running for Waynesboro School Board. Everyone is aware of the current financial situation for our school district, towns, states and the entire country, but especially on the individual taxpayer. We need a board willing to support the district and find ways to provide our children with the best educational system possible while managing the resources in the most effective and efficient means possible. We need a board who will partner with the administration, teachers and taxpayers to face current challenges. We need a board who models professional behavior in public meetings. I am prepared to face these challenges representing the community.

What in your background prepares me for this position?

I have experience successfully managing large academic budgets during times of cuts at the university level. I have experience thinking outside the box, providing effective and efficient academic programs for students. I am the only candidate with the unique combination of academic budget experience, training and education to support the tough decisions still ahead, utilizing local data and educational research to ensure all board members understand the academic implications of decisions.  

What do you perceive as the biggest issues for the board?

The biggest issue currently facing the board is how to continue providing a quality education for the students in Waynesboro while addressing decreased district revenue. The district will continue to face increased costs related to personnel, utilities and buildings while revenue sources remain stagnate or reduced.

How would you tackle budget problems?

As an elected board member, I will strive to work with community members, administrators, teachers and students to address current budget deficits and ensure our students receive the best education possible. I am equally focused on keeping taxes low and providing our students with a quality education. It is crucial that the board work cooperatively with all stakeholders to think creatively to address budget issues.

I have the skills to assist the board review all financial aspects of the district, while balancing the educational value of expenses to address budget deficiencies. The issue that needs to be addressed as we move forward is working with the board and the administration to systematically assess all educational programs in the district. It is through this effort that we will determine what is working and recommend cost-effective solutions.

Why should people vote for you?

The current board has presented an adversarial relationship with administrators, other governmental bodies, teachers, community members and each other. If elected, I will work to set aside petty differences and personal agendas on the board and address the issues facing our community, such as increasing state test scores and addressing budget shortfalls in a fiscally responsible manner to local taxpayers. I have the experience, education and knowledge to best represent the constituents, while never forgetting the main focus of providing a quality education to all students in the district.  

 

K. Marilyn Smith

Age: 75

Address: 12365 Wedgewood Drive, Waynesboro

Political party: Republican (cross-filed), incumbent



Why did you decide to run for office?

I decided to run for the board again because I think that the voters need choices in this election.

I have been on the board long enough to know what the district can do and what they can’t because of school law. I think I have shown the community that my first priority is the education and well-being of all of our students.

What in your background prepares you for this position?

I served as the community health nurse for 29 years, which got me into all kinds of family situations. I also have taken advantage of all of the training that PSBA offered to board members. I have been a resident of Waynesboro for over 50 years and raised three children in this district. One of them went to the VoTech. Over the last 11 years, I have been involved with Communities That Care and brought programming dealing with substance abuse to our schools. I have served on the Franklin Learning Center’s board for many years. I am very involved in the community, especially in organizations that deal with children.

What do you perceive as the biggest issues for the board?

The biggest issues the board is facing are financial. With the state and federal government decreasing funding to public schools, we have to make difficult choices that will impact everyone. It is my hope that the board will keep in mind that our first priority should be the education of all of our students so they will be able to go out and have a productive life.

How would you tackle budget problems?

I think that we must tackle our budget problems by deciding what decisions will do the least harm to our students and taxpaying residents. Some decisions will not be popular with some people, but I think we have to keep the education of the students at the top of the list.

Why should people vote for you?

I am asking for the voters to support me because of my dedication to the children and their families in this community. I think that my longevity on the board is an asset. As a taxpayer on a fixed income, I also understand how raising taxes can be a hardship on homeowners. If elected again, I will do everything in my power to do what is best for our school district and the citizens of our community.

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