Five seats, nine names Cast of Republicans and Democrats hope to join school board in 2012

By on November 2, 2011

By: STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

The general election is five days away, and five school board seats will be the star of the show.

All other local races on Nov. 8 are not contested, which is often the case here. The appearance of four Democrats on the ballot, however, is uncommon.

"I think most people are used to seeing only Republicans on the ballot here," said Marianne O’Keeffe, district leader for the Warwick Democrats. "I know that I was. That was really a large part of the reason for our efforts, to get a real choice, a two-party system on the ballot. There is no democracy without choice. With each campaign we are getting stronger. The last municipal election we had three candidates on the ballot, one of whom won. Now we have four. Slow progress is still progress."

O’Keeffe’s husband Patrick is one of the Democrats on the school board ballot. He is joined by George Sayles, Chris Carlton and Anne Pyle.

While local Democrats are trying to establish themselves with voters, local Republicans are trying to reestablish themselves.

Following some significant upheaval within the local committee during the spring primary, which saw a change in leadership and several members stepping down, the Warwick Area Republican Committee is now promoting itself as one of unity.

"The Warwick committee is fully united," said Republican school board candidate Nelson Peters, speaking on behalf of committee president Tom Trayer, who is out of town this week. "The people have voted (referring to the primary), and the committee has listened. That’s what primaries are about. It’s a party election."

During the primary, the Republican committee did not endorse district judge candidate Ed Tobin, Lititz Borough Council candidate Shane Weaver or Warwick Township supervisor candidate David Kramer. However, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose those candidates to be on the general election ballot. The newly unified Republican party shows full support for those candidates, as well as its five choices for school board.

Going up against the Democrats next week will be school board incumbents Darryl Miller and Todd Rucci, along with Peters, Matthew Knouse and Scott Shaub.

"We have a slate of candidates who represent a good cross-section of our community," Peters said of his fellow Republicans.

Shaub is a Warwick grad who has been serving on the district’s property committee for 10 years. He works for Armstrong and has grandchildren in the school district.

Knouse is active in the community and works in the roofing industry. He has a child at Kissel Hill Elementary School.

Peters has had children and grandchildren go through the district, he has served on the education committee and stays connected to district issues by regularly attending meetings. He is a retired Armstrong engineer.

Miller and Rucci are both incumbents and currently serve on the legal and finance committee and student services committee respectively.

Peters said the he and his fellow Republicans will focus on maintaining a balance between costs and supporting quality education. State and federal mandates, pensions and the current economic climate are all challenges in the coming years, he added, and he thinks the current board and administration has Warwick on the right track.

He also points out that running for school board is not about him.

"I don’t have to do this (run for office)," he said, "but I am committed to this community and the education of our students. Education is an investment, and we have to make sure our children are the recipients of this investment."

While Republicans traditionally dominate local elections, Democrats are not conceding.

"This I know, with no candidates on the ballot Democrats have no chance of winning," O’Keeffe said on behalf of her party. "With no choice we have no voice. Now, at least we have a chance to be heard.

"Democracy takes effort. Some people would rather just vote the "R" straight ticket and surrender their responsibilities to others. It’s easier."

With 5,000 registered Democrats in this district, the minority voice may get some attention next week.

O’Keeffe described their candidates as follows:

Carlton is new to politics, is a former Lititz business owner, has raised two children and has written editorials speaking out against the scapegoating of teachers.

Pyle is an established local Democrat and member of the local business community.

"Anne and Chris are running largely in support of George Sayles," O’Keeffe said. "George is our strongest candidate. He is a well known and well liked local businessman, volunteer and supporter of Lititz. He has served on multiple committees for the betterment of our town, including Venture Lititz, and was instrumental in getting 2nd Fridays established. He is highly intelligent, well spoken and committed to quality education."

Her description of her husband is as follows:

"Patrick O’Keeffe is an unabashed liberal and proud of it. He is the best known of our local candidates. Many people really like his views and the courage which he shows in his convictions. He is deeply dedicated to American democracy. There are others in this community who don’t care for Patrick. Among the more polite things said about him is that he is a troublemaker and a boat rocker. Ironically, he supports one of the more conservative positions of the group, being a vocal supporter of the school property tax reforms advocated by Sam Rohrer."

So, what are the main issues facing the school board, from the local Democrats perspective?

"First and foremost is the closed-off clubby environment of the school board where dissent and disagreement are discouraged," O’Keeffe said. "There are members of our community who feel their views and concerns will not get a fair hearing and consideration. The prevailing philosophy of the board appears to be ‘go along to get along’ and this attitude was a significant cause to many of the problems we have faced over the past years, including the sexual abuse and racist incidents. We need people who are willing to speak up on the school board.

"The other issues reflect on how the board went on a spending spree with new construction, including an overly expensive football stadium. Now they are asking educators to take a pay freeze and requiring students to pay for activities that have historically been free, and cutting back transportation. This does not demonstrate financial responsibility. Fancy classrooms and expensive athletic fields don’t educate our children. Teachers educate our children and they need our support. We also need to be watchful of how the tax burden continues to be shifted from the federal and state level to the local level. Local homeowners cannot continue to pay for the excesses of the Republican school board."

Meanwhile, Peters applauds the positive direction of the current board and administration, pointing out the significant student achievement statistics discussed during Tuesday night’s public education forum at the middle school (see related story, which starts on page A1).

"How do you balance cost structure and the need to educate?" he posed. "There are still lots of hurdles, but I commend the current teachers, staff, administrators and board for taking us in the right direction. I think Tuesday night’s meeting illustrates that. And I think our slate of candidates will continue to take us in the right direction."

Polls open Tuesday at 7 a.m.

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