Scott Overland thinks school board members should stay out of partisan politics.
But the first-year Phoenixville School Board member also believes that when someone sees something happening they believe is wrong, they shouldn’t stay silent.
Recently those two mindsets have come into conflict. And Overland has chosen to stay true to the latter.
The issue that pushed Overland into the partisan fray is the race to become Pennsylvania’s next governor, a contest between state Sen. Doug Mastriano and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. In particular, the plan that Mastriano, the Republican candidate, has for education.
Mastriano has said that as governor he would slash state funding for public school districts and eliminate school property taxes, the main local funding source for schools.
While Mastriano has not unveiled a detailed plan — his campaign website and his public comments contain generalized ideas — he stated in March that he wants to cut state spending per student nearly in half. He revised that in August to cutting from $19,000 per student to $15,000.
Regardless of the amount, Mastriano has said he wants that money to follow students instead of going directly to public schools. He has proposed a voucher program that would allow state dollars to flow to private or religious schools.
Overland, who serves as vice president of the Phoenixville board, said Mastriano’s rhetoric poses a dire threat to education in Pennsylvania.
“All of a sudden I became very worried about what would happen to our community if he was elected and actually put these plans in place,” he said. “I couldn’t, as a steward of public education, sit by and live with myself if I did nothing.”
So, just about two weeks ago Overland sat down and put together some of his thoughts on the matter. He crafted a letter that he circulated to other school board members in the southeast part of the state.
“It has just really grown in an organic, grassroots way from there,” he said.
As of Monday, a total of 89 school board members from 36 school districts across the state, including some in Berks County, have signed onto the open letter that opposes the potential election of Mastriano. And the number is growing each day.
Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the open letter.
The letter is addressed to Pennsylvania families and voters, and it states that those who have signed it are supporters of fair education funding. It says Democrats and Republicans have signed it, putting their responsibility as school leaders ahead of party politics.
And, it says, that responsibility has forced them to takes sides in the race for governor.
“Unfortunately, it has become clear to us that one of the candidates seeking the office of governor of Pennsylvania not only disagrees with our goal of a strong public education system, he has publicly committed to destroying it,” the letter reads. “Doug Mastriano’s statements about making historic cuts to public education — pledging to cut more than 50% of state funding — are dangerously out of touch with the vast majority of Pennsylvania families.
“Moreover, his cuts threaten our children’s well-being, our financial well-being, and the overall well-being of communities across the commonwealth.”
The letter says that Mastriano’s cuts would cause mass layoffs of school employees and force districts to enact staggering property tax hikes, which would hurt local businesses.
“There is no justification for such extreme measures, and we are shocked that a major party candidate would even consider them, much less make them a central tenet of his campaign,” the letter reads.
The letter states that all Pennsylvanians should be able to agree that the public education system should not be used as a political pawn. It closes by encouraging voters across the state to support Shapiro in the November general election.
Overland said in an interview with the Reading Eagle this week that he feels Mastriano is intent on tearing apart Pennsylvania’s public education system, calling his proposed funding cuts historically extreme.
They would lead to teachers, bus drivers, custodians, support staff and other members of the community losing their jobs, he said. Class sizes would grow, services like vaccines clinics and summer feeding programs would disappear, programs like art and music and sports would be cut.
“So students would lose out on those really important opportunities that are often not accessible to them anywhere other than school,” he said.
Overland said the timing of Mastriano’s plan to cut education funding is strange, given that the bipartisan state budget passed just a few months ago included historic funding increases for education.
“There was a lot of optimism that we were actually turning a corner when it comes to state funding,” he said. “We would be jerked back in the other direction when it comes to a Mastriano plan.
“The plan, as much as there is a plan, just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up.”
Local voices stand up
Eight school board members from three Berks school districts have signed onto Overland’s open letter.
Exeter School Board member Dave Hemberger said he agrees with everything laid out in the letter and that he couldn’t stand idly by with a perceived threat to education looming.
“I think it’s important that public educators and board members speak up when they are alarmed at some of the things that a candidate who’s running for office says about public education,” he said. “And I think it would be catastrophic to have someone like Mastriano in the governor’s office. He doesn’t believe in public education.”
If Mastriano’s funding cuts were put in place, Hembeger said, schools, which are already fighting a devastating teacher shortage crisis, would collapse.
“If you are concerned with public education, Josh Shapiro is a far, far superior candidate,” he said. “This is a topic that really resonates with voters — public education is important to people. Everybody has a stake in this — public education is critical and crucial.”
Other local board members who have signed the letter shared similar thoughts.
“As a school board director, it is the duty of myself and my colleagues to advocate for our students, staff and faculty,” said Mark Detterline, a Reading School Board member. “A Mastriano governorship would mean slashed public budgets, which would serve to only increase the disparities in educational opportunity across urban and rural districts in the state.”
Detterline said the Reading School District, one of the largest in the state, has already seen the negative impact of divestment in public education, including deteriorating infrastructure, outdated materials and other serious financial constraints.
“As such, I would not be taking my oath as a school board director seriously if I did not speak out against this ill-advised, fundamentally flawed and intentionally detrimental Mastriano plan,” he said.
Fellow Reading School Board member Jonathan Tinoco also said he believes Mastriano’s plan would have a devastating impact.
“My statement towards my decision is because I cannot support something that will destroy or discount the funds and opportunities from the public school system, whether it’s across the state in Erie or here in Reading,” he said of his choice to sign the letter. “I believe every public school system deserves to be funded adequately.”
Wilson School Board president Stephanie Kocher said she believes irreparable harm would be done to public education if Mastriano were to be elected governor.
“My concerns around the possibility of Doug Mastriano becoming the next Pennsylvania governor are many,” she said. “In regards to the danger that he poses to public schools, I am most concerned with his intentions to drastically cut funding. His plan would result in heavy job losses, programmatic cuts and a decrease in the level of education that students receive in the classroom.”
Here are the school board members from Berks County and other school districts in the region to sign onto the open letter opposing Republican gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano.
Exeter School District
• Dave Hemberger
Reading School District
• Mark Detterline
• Patricia Wright
• Nick Philippides
• Patricia Law
• Jonathan Tinoco
Wilson School District
• Stephanie Kocher
• Guadalupe Kasper
Avon Grove School District
• Bill Wood
Downingtown School District
• Caryn Ghrayeb
• Madhu Gurthy
• LeeAnn Wisdom
• Lisa Strobridge
• Mindy Ross
Octorara School District
• Brian P. Fox
Owen J. Roberts School District
• Paul Friel
• Rita Pederson
• Jennifer Munson
• David Harmanos
• April Saboe
Phoenixville School District
• Scott Overland
• Jerry Weiss
• Caitlyn Carminito
• Victoria Walker
• Michelle Schamis
West Chester School District
• Daryl Durnell
• Laura Detre
• Karen Fleming
• Daryl Durnell
• Laura Detre
• Karen Fleming
Rose Tree Media School District
• Robert Kelly
• Hillary Fletcher
• Ken Dinitz
• Susan Henderson-Utis
Upper Darby School District
• Meredith Hegg
• Damien Christopher Warsavage
• Rachel Mitchell
• Donald Fields
• Neil Desnoyers
Abington School District
• Shameeka Browne
Colonial School District
• Dr. Jamina Clay
Norristown School District
• Christopher Jaramillo
• Monica D’Antonio
• Marissa Dell
• Cynthia Wirth
• Sharon Mauch
• Phil Daniels
North Penn School District
• Al Roesch
• Juliane Ramic
Perkiomen Valley School District
• Sarah Evans-Brockett
• Laura White
Pottstown School District
• Deborah Ann Spence
• Katina Bearden
• Laura Johnson
• John J. Armato
• Susan Lawrence
Spring-Ford School District
• Erica L. Hermans
• Abby Deardorff
Upper Dublin School District
• Jennifer Iannitti
Wissahickon School District
• Deanne Moyer Morris
• Rosetta Chiavacci
Source: Berkshire mont
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