POTTSTOWN >> The race for four open seats on the Pottstown School Board features seven candidates: two incumbents, a husband-and-wife, a former borough council member, a web designer and longtime district employee and volunteer.
It may be the most crowded a school board race in the borough has been for a long time. Board members Polly Weand and Kim Stilwell are not seeking re-election.
It is important to recognize that according to election law, school boards are considered to be non-partisan, and so all seven candidates are running for both Democratic and Republican lines on the May 16 primary ballot.
The four top vote-getters for each ballot line will be up for the general election in November.
That makes it possible for the election to be decided May 16, or for some candidates to be knocked out or end up on one but not both ballot line in November.
The Mercury sent all seven the same questionnaire and are publishing excerpts from their responses here in the order in which they were received:
A 61-year-old attorney who lives in Cedar Street, David Miller previously served on Pottstown Borough Council from 1998 to 2001.
A Pottstown High School graduate who received a bachelor’s degree from York College and his law degree from Widener University. He spent eight years in the Army, achieving the rank of captain and 21 years in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
In his response, Miller wrote that maintaining a focus on education should be the school district’s “core mission.”
“Each decision made within the PSD should always revert to the question ‘how does this decision enhance and/or support the mission of education,” Miller wrote.
Miller advocates for “zero-based budgeting” which will “require difficult choices about spending priorities which often challenge long-held but unsubstantiated spending practices.”
He identified the “educators, staff and facilities” as the district’s best assets and “empowerment, accountability and sustainment in all phases of executing the mission to educate our next generation.”
A 42-year-old web designer and marketing consultant who lives on East Third Street, Raymond Rose is a graduate of Albright College where he received a bachelor’s in information systems.
He has no prior experience as an elected official.
In his response, Rose wrote that the biggest issue facing the school district is increasing parental involvement.
“The more that we get parents involved in their education, showing interest, speaking positively about the schools, and encouraging their academic growth, the more these kids are going to soar,” he wrote.
Identifying “teachers, staff and administrators” as the district’s best asset, Rose said as the husband of a teacher he believes the best way to make the most of this asset is to “give them the resources, support, and space to do what they do best.”
A 72-year-old retired electrical engineer who lives on North Frankliin Street, William Barnhill has no prior experience in elected office.
In his response, Barnhill wrote that the biggest issue facing the district is “I see what I believe is an excessive spending in the maintenance and facility budgets, much of what is being done at the present could possibly be done differently or later. I do not have privy to these budgets, but I know from my previous jobs, that both engineering firms and contractors tend to overcharge public sector jobs due to the fact that they know they will get paid without any problems.”
“One solution to this situation is to have better oversight from a third party who better understands what is needed and involved in the upkeep of the school district’s properties,” he wrote.
He also listed “teachers, administrative staff and all the present, past parents, alumni and citizens who assist in the daily running of our schools” as the district’s best asset and said “including them in future decision processes” would be the best use of that asset.
A 65-year-old customer service representative who lives on North Franklin Street, Bonita Barnhill served one four-year term on the school board from 2003 to 2007.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, with a math concentration from Kutztown University.
In her response, she said the biggest problem facing the school district is “National ranking of our school district has gone down considerably over the last few years. We are ranking well below what past Pottstown student have accomplished previously. All students need to be successful upon graduation from our district so they can be better adults an raising the future of our community.”
The solution, she wrote, is to “have trust in our very talented educators and administration that have been placed in our schools, but we must work hard right beside them to give them support , tools and supplies necessary to give the students the best education our taxpayer dollars can provide.”
Calling students, teachers and administrators the district’s best asset, Barnhill wrote that serving on the school board “do the homework necessary to be educated on the pressing issues facing the students and the district administration” is the best way to maximize those assets.
A 68-year-old writer who lives on Chestnut Street, Thomas Hylton holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Kutztown University. He was also a reporter and editorial writer for The Mercury and in that role won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of editorials on the value of preserving open space.
He has been a school board member since 2009.
In his response, Hylton wrote that the biggest challenge facing the district is “with the third highest school tax effort in Pennsylvania, the district is spending beyond the ability of the community to pay.” The solution, he wrote, is “we must become more efficient.”
The district’s best asset, he wrote, is “Pottstown is a traditional town with stores, offices and industry in close proximity to distinctive residential neighborhoods. Our population includes residents of all ages, races, and incomes. Our graduates are better prepared for the real world than those in the homogenous suburbs.”
To make the most of that asset, “lower the tax burden to encourage more middle class people to move here and stay here. Improve the appearance of our town. Find ways to make the school district and borough government more efficient and people-friendly,” he wrote.
A 49-year-old Chestnut Street resident and owner of two businesses — one an online and digital marketing consulting firm, and another a daily services company — Amy Francis holds a bachelor of science degree from Framingham University.
She has served on the Pottstown School Board from 2005 to 2009, and again from 2012 until now. She is currently the president of the school board.
In her response, Francis wrote that the biggest problem facing the district “is, hands-down, the lack of fair and equitable funding for the Pottstown School District from the state.”
The solution, she wrote, is “to continue to work with fellow board members, parents, staff, faculty, and the community at large to build a sustainable network of advocacy on behalf of the district.”
The district’s biggest asset is “the people of the district — teachers/faculty, administrators/staff, parents, and taxpayers alike.”
To make the most of it, the district must share “a clear and concise message to our region and state regarding the many positive things that PSD brings to our students and our community: diversity, unwavering camaraderie, a thriving arts and music program, social and emotional learning, a focus on the health and wellness for each of our students and their families, challenging academics tailored individually for our students, robust in-house career and technology programs, a progressive educational philosophy.”
A 69-year-old resident of Park Court, and former teacher and administrator in the district, John Armato is now the director of community relations for the Pottstown School District, a post for which he is not paid.
Armato holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from East Stroudsburg State College and an honorary degree from Pottstown High School.
In his response, Armato wrote that the biggest problem facing the district is “providing quality educational opportunities for our students so they may enter the adult world prepared to compete for living-wage jobs and make a positive contribution to our society, while being challenged with dwindling resources and increased burden on our community’s taxpayers.”
Noting that passing two budgets with no tax increase, “won’t solve all our problems,” Armato also wrote that the district must “join together as a community and develop partnerships with other communities to advocate for a fair and equitable school funding system that will decrees the burden on local taxpayers and give all students a equal opportunity for success.”
Calling the “students, staff and citizens of our community,” the district’s biggest asset, Armato wrote that the best way to make use of that asset is to “recognize that in order for all of our efforts to be successful it will be necessary to work together and continue to celebrate our achievements and show leadership in addressing our problems.”