League of Women Voters

Partisan Politics; No need to go to Washington!

The Federal government shutdown has magnified the political partisan bickering in Washington.  Unfortunately, over the last week, I have had a front-row seat to the local version – I’ll explain.

In the last Community Matters post, I mentioned that the League of Women Voters is conducting a Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidate debate on Saturday, October 19, 2-4 at the township building.  Knowing that in the past a similar LWV debate was scheduled for the school board candidates, it struck me odd that no such event was planned for this year.

I was told that the reason that there was no scheduled TESD school board debate was that the LWV calendar was full and therefore could not accommodate the event. The explanation seemed plausible and I probably would have walked away from the situation except that two TESD school board candidates (Scott Dorsey (D) and Pete Connors (R)) approached me (separately) questioning ‘why’ there was no scheduled school board debate as both were interested in participating in such a forum.

This discussion of a ‘Meet the School Board Candidate’ forum occurred last week as I was completing last minute details for the Paoli Blues Fest.  Between the Blues Fest and community street fair on October 5, the 9th Annual Historic House Tour the Saturday before and eye surgery in between, I was certainly not anxious to take on  another ‘project’.  However, believing that more people in our community need to be engaged in local issues and to ‘know’ the candidates before casting a vote next month, a debate/forum needed to develop. Without the assistance of the LWV or any other organization, I first contacted Tredyffrin Township to check available dates/times to hold the forum.  To the credit of the Tredyffrin Township staff (particularly the township secretary Pat Hoffman) and the police department, township manager and ultimately the Board of Supervisors, I was given approval to hold the candidates forum on Saturday, October 26, 2-4 PM.  If you are wondering why I approached the township for use of their building rather than the library or one of the schools – the answer is simple, cost.  There is a fee to use the schools or the library for an event.

Once I had the day/time locked in, I gathered the email addresses of all eight TESD school board candidates, which includes incumbents Rich Brake (R) and Kevin Buraks (D).  All eight received the same invitation to participate. With my contact information, I sent the following email to the eight candidates:

Dear Tredyffrin Easttown School District School Board Candidates,

‘Meet the Candidates’ forums are central to democratic processes and are an important element of civic action and engagement. In recent years, the League of Women Voters has held these forums for township supervisor candidates and school board candidates.  The League of Women Voters will hold a debate for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors candidates on Saturday, October 19, 2 – 4 PM but a similar forum is not planned for school board candidates of the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.

This type of forum establishes connections between candidates and residents; allows voters to make informed decisions on election day, gives candidates the opportunity to present their platforms on issues that matter to residents; and gives residents the opportunity to raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the successful candidate(s).

Utilizing a grassroots community organizational approach, there will be a ‘Meet the School Board Candidates Forum’ on Saturday, October 26, 2 – 4 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building, 1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn, PA 19312.  All candidates for the T/E School Board are invited to participate in this upcoming forum.  The purpose of this forum is to give school board candidates an opportunity to address a wide range of issues that affect our school district…

Appreciating that the moderator of the candidate forum needed to be a non-TESD resident, I contacted a friend who is an attorney and a financial planner.  With no questions asked, he agreed to help.  I then asked four residents (representatives from Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships) to serve on a committee to help with the planning, logistics, marketing, etc of the candidate forum. For the record, two were Republicans, one a Democrat and the fourth a non-US citizen.  As a registered Independent, I looked more at choosing people that understood the local school board issues versus their party affiliation.  These four individuals were enthusiastic and anxious to help with the event.  As stated in my invitation to the candidates, I was utilizing a “grassroots community organizational approach” to this “Meet the School Board Candidates” forum.

Of the eight school board candidates, I immediately received responses from five candidates (3 Republicans, 2 Democrats), offering support, appreciation for the effort, willingness to re-arrange personal schedules so they could participate, etc.  With a moderator, a volunteer committee, a place, day/time and support from the majority of the candidates, I was feeling confident about this TESD school board candidate forum.

Then the rumblings from the local political parties started – I should mention, that my invitations went directly to the candidates, not the political parties that they represent.  Believing that elected officials need to be independent-thinkers, it seemed the decision of whether to participate in this public community event should be up the candidates themsevles, without influence from the leadership of the respective political parties.  Again, to the credit of many of these school board candidates, there was overwhelming support for the candidate forum.

What do I mean by ‘rumblings’ – I received questions about the format, where would the questions come from and how would the questions be asked, would questions come from the audience, (if so, how would they be categorized), would the process be ‘fair’ or  biased to the Republican candidates or biased to the Democratic candidates, what political party were the volunteers, etc. etc.  The rumblings started within 24 hours of my sending the invitations to the candidates – but it should be noted that not one of the five candidates who contacted me criticized or questioned my motives or my fairness.

About the time the local partisan politics started to surface, it mysteriously became known that the League of Women Voters schedule was not full and that they could accommodate a school board candidate’s forum.  Imagine that!  I knew if ever there was a moment when something was meant as a ‘sign’ this was it.  It had become painfully obvious and very quickly, that no matter how I organized this candidates forum, either the local Democratic Party or the Republican Party (or both) was not going to be satisfied with my efforts or the results.  The finger pointing had already started and it was only 24 hours since I sent the candiate’s their invitations.  If a school board candidate debate was to happen, it was up to the ‘D’s’ and the ‘R’s’ to organize it with the League of Women Voters.

As a result, the following email was sent to the eight school board candidates:

TE School District Board Candidates —

I was working on scheduling a TESD School Board Candidate Forum on Saturday, October 26 for two reasons: (1) to provide an opportunity for candidates to present their platforms on important issues facing the TE School District and (2) to give residents the opportunity raise issues that they feel need to be addressed by the candidates.  A public forum to discuss school district issues is important. When I questioned why there was no school board candidate forum scheduled as in prior years, I was told that the League of Women Voters did not have availability on their calendar.  Based on the information that the League of Women Voters was unable to schedule such an event (and having been approached by two school board candidates, a ‘D’ and an ‘R’), I moved forward to make the necessary arrangements for such a forum.

It has now come to my attention that the League of Women Voters is available for Saturday, October 26 to host the forum/debate for the school board candidates.  To those candidates that contacted me either with a commitment to participate in the forum or a willingness to rearrange their personal schedules, thank you and your responses were most appreciated. Please know that as a community member and as a registered Independent, my only intention in scheduling a school district candidate forum was to engage more residents in our important school district issues and to allow candidates an opportunity to express their views on these issues.  There was no personal agenda on my part.

The location, day and time for the school board candidate forum has been reserved for Saturday, October 26, 2-4 at the Tredyffrin Township Building. If you were interested in pursuing this opportunity with the League of Women Voters, I would encourage you to contact your local Republican and Democratic Party representatives.

Please accept my apologies for any confusion and best wishes for a successful campaign.

Pattye Benson

The moderator and committee members that I had contacted to help received the same update as the candidates.  I thank these five volunteers for their support and willingness to help.  So … where does the school board candidate situation now stand?  It is my understanding that the leadership of the political parties is working with the League of Women Voters to organize a debate. The last update I received was that the plan was to schedule the school board candidate debate prior to the Tredyffrin Township supervisor debate on Saturday, October 19 at the township building. I look forward to hearing a confirmation on the date and time.

It remains unclear why the local Democratic and Republican parties scheduled the supervisor candidate debate with the League of Women Voters and did not do the same for the school board candidates. However, I am hopeful that the school board candidate forum will occur; that important school district issues will be discussed and that candidates can have the opportunity to present their view.

In closing, the last ten days has taught me one thing, … whether it’s  elected officials in Washington or our local political parties, I recognize that I am no fan of the partisan sandbox. For me, it’s about understanding the issues and then supporting the candidate that best represents my views.

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Four weeks and counting until Election Day

Election Day 2013 is 4 weeks from tomorrow, Tuesday, November 5.  If you are not registered, today is the last day to register to vote in the Municipal Election.  Applications from Pennsylvanians registering for the first time, those changing their address or changing their party affiliation must be postmarked or delivered to Chester County’s board of elections by the close of business today, October 7.  Chester County’s board of elections is located at Government Services Center, 601 Westtown Rd., Suite 150, West Chester, PA 19380. Their phone number: 610-344-6410. Office hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM.

Do you know the candidates for the Board of Supervisor or the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board? What issues facing the township and school district are important to you – do the candidates share your concerns, your opinions? How likely are you to vote on November 5?

If you are a voter in Tredyffrin Township, you will have an opportunity to learn more about the Board of Supervisors candidates.  The League of Women Voters is holding a supervisor debate on Saturday, October 19, 2-4 PM at the Tredyffrin Township Building. There are three contested seats on the Board – two for supervisor-at-large and a district supervisor for the middle district.  Seeking one of the two at-large supervisor seats is incumbent Michelle Kichline (R), Trip Lukens (R), Murph Wysocki (D) and Mark Freed (D).  Current at-large supervisor E.J. Richter (R) is opposing Laurie Elliott (D) for the middle district seat.

In recent years, the League of Women Voters also has held a debate for the TE School Board candidates. Unfortunately, the volunteer organization will not hold a similar debate this year for the school board candidates.  This is an important time to know your candidates – what are their backgrounds and experience, where do they stand on issues, etc. etc.  So … why no debate for the school board candidates?  Do you know who the school board candidates are?

On the Tredyffrin side of the school district, we have Democrat incumbent Kevin Buraks being challenged by Republican Pete Connors in Region I.  In Region II, Scott Dorsey (D) opposes incumbent Rich Brake (R).

On the Easttown side of the school district, there are two seats available in Region III.  For personal reasons, neither Betsy Fadem (R) nor Anne Crowley (D) is seeking re-election.  I attend almost every school board meeting and I have not met any of the four candidates vying for the two open Region III seats.  The candidates are Republicans Doug Carlson and Virginia Lastner and Democrats Maryann Piccioni and Jean Kim.

School board candidates Pete Connors and Scott Dorsey have each stated that they want the opportunity to discuss school district issues and are interested in pursuing a debate forum with the other school board candidates — Neither knows why a debate was not scheduled as in prior years. Because of my discussion with Connors and Dorsey (and the interest from the public in learning about the school board candidates), several options are being explored.  However, with only 4 weeks remaining until Election Day 2013, it does not leave much time to organize a ‘meet your school board candidate’ forum.

If the past is any indication, the political war for control will rear its ugly head over the next 30 days with school board and supervisor candidates door knocking, campaign mail pieces hitting our houses and the robo-calls that invariably come at dinnertime.  Voters need a reason to go the polls on November 5 – they need to know the issues and which candidates support their views. Everyone should be interested in the election because the future of the township, the school district and the community are dependent upon strong, issue-focused leadership.  The issues are complex and the School Board (and the Board of Supervisors) must work as a team united (with the community) to find effective solutions.

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League of Women Voters Forum for Tredyffrin Supervisor Candidates . . . A Debate or a ‘Love Fest’?

The League of Women Voters held the Tredyffrin Township supervisor debate last night.  Seven candidates are vying for four seats on the board, with incumbents JD DiBuonaventuro (R), Mike Heaberg (R) and Paul Olson (R) trying for another term.  Candidates stepping out for the first time include Kristen Mayock (R), Tory Snyder (D), Murph Wysock (D) and Molly Duffy (D). Incumbent DiBuonaventuro  is unchallenged in the township’s District 3 race.

The format of the evening was a 2-minute self-introduction by the seven candidates, followed by answers submitted by audience members and ending with closing remarks by. Each candidate was asked the same question, with the initial question rotating through the candidates.  The debate was taped but there will be approximately a 24-hr. delay before residents can watch it at home.

So . . . what was my opinion?  How did the candidates perform?  Was there a theme of the evening?

Buzz phrases of the debate . . .

  • Protection of public safety
  • Hold the line on taxes
  • Economic redevelopment
  • Reinvestment in community
  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Avoid unnecessary spending

If I did not know the party affiliation of the supervisor candidates, there were times during the debate that their responses and choice of words were so similar it was hard to differentiate between the Republicans and the Democrats.  Is that an indicator that the politics of Tredyffrin Township fall somewhere in the middle, in the ‘moderate’ range or . . . is it an indicator that the candidates are politically savvy and have figured out what sells to this community?  The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

How were their responses similar? On the topic of Earned Income Tax, every candidate was opposed to adding another tax – an opinion offered equally by both Republican and Democratic candidates.  What was unclear re EIT . . . were the candidates opposed to the EIT for the school district and the township?  Or where they only opposed to the EIT for the township?  I submitted a question to the League of Women Voters that was not chosen that might have clarified the candidate’s positions.  My question, “If the school district (in the next year or two) were to place an EIT on the ballot, what would be your position on taking the 50% to which the township is entitled by state law?”  Would the candidates still be opposed to the EIT under these conditions?  Don’t know.

Although all candidates stated they opposed an EIT, Democratic candidate Tory Snyder indirectly referenced the ‘no EIT’ Republican campaign signs.  Snyder who has served on the township Planning Commission for the last 10 years and served as chair of the Sidewalk Subcommittee understands the value of volunteer’s time who serves on township boards, committees, etc.  So although personally opposed to an EIT, Snyder made a point of the stating her respect for community volunteers serving on the school district’s tax study group, their work and upcoming presentation on the EIT.

All seven candidates repeatedly stated the need for township budget support for police, fire and emergency services. If you recall the 2010 township budget included reduced funding to the fire companies.  However, after hearing the very loud public outcry to replace the reduced fire funding in the budget, three supervisors (Warren Kampf, Bob Lamina and Paul Olson) took their appeal to local businesses and residents and was able to recover the funding for the fire companies.  If last night was any indication, the local fire companies have nothing to worry about when it comes to township funding support. All supervisor candidates listed public safety as a priority and its funding a necessity.

Several candidates spoke of community engagement in order to best represent the desires of their constituents.  Economic revitalization and redevelopment were repeatedly discussed as one question very specifically asked about Chesterbrook and what would the candidates do to improve it.  As current township supervisors, DiBuonaventuro and Heaberg both said that it has been difficult to get to the new owner of the Chesterbrook shopping center. (Australian company Centro Properties sold the shopping center to the Blackstone Group earlier this year).

Candidate Molly Duffy offered that the Chester Valley Trail and Patriot’s Trail would be coming through Chesterbrook.  Duffy explained that the new sidewalk at Penn Medicine would eventually connect through Chesterbrook offering new revitalization opportunities. As an attorney working in real estate and a current member of the township’s Zoning Board, Republican candidate Kristen Mayock offered that she would be able to help potential developers through the system.  Mayock would like to see the township business development process more stream lined and easier to use.

Heaberg discussed the Economic Development Committee that was approved back in April and of his work with the large leasing companies, small business owners and corporate representatives.  Heaberg, with supervisors Phil Donahue and Michelle Kichline are interviewing prospective members for the Economic Development Committee with the idea that the committee will be able to offer assistance in township business development and redevelopment.

It was interesting to note that Democratic candidates Murph Wysocki, real estate attorney,  Tory Snyder, planning professional and Molly Duffy, attorney and small business owner have all applied to serve on the Economic Development Committee.

From my vantage point, probably the most important question asked during the debate was (1) what the candidates viewed were the priorities for the township and (2) how would they fund these priorities.

Candidate Wysocki responded that money and the township budget was a priority. Wysocki suggested the need to prioritize necessary services to taxpayers but at the same time offering the taxpayers better value.  He suggested creatively using grants and pooling purchases as ways to fund the priorities and stated that economic revitalization will broaden the tax base.

DiBuonaventuro stated that there are two priorities facing the township — (1) managing the township budget and (2) reinvestment in the community and township.  Duffy listed economic development as her priority and used Paoli and Chesterbrook as examples of areas that need redevelopment. She stated that the Chester Valley Trail will be a way to increase property values and suggested that vision for the future.

Heaberg stated that ‘my priorities are your priorities’, indicating that he believes in following the priority needs of the residents.  He stated that residents have indicated public safety and infrastructure needs (sewer, paving roads, snow removal, libraries, maintanence of the 13 township parks) as important priorities.  Heaberg believes in addressing priorities in a fiscally responsible way.

Mayock’s list of priorities for the township is two fold; holding the line on taxes and the encouragement of redevelopment.  She supports continuing to keep pressure on the Paoli Transportation Center project; offering that she had contacts that can help move this project.   Olson stated the health, safety and welfare of residents are his priority plus continuing to support the library.  He offered that the township has a $17 million reserve and that was achieved by being fiscally responsible.

Snyder offered that her priority for the township is (1) the management of the $30 million taxpayer’s dollars in the township budget and (2) to bring value to residents for services.  However, beyond that, Snyder wants to bring ‘vision’ to the Board of Supervisors — enthusiastically stating that is what planners ‘do’!  Snyder cited the township’s comprehensive plan that she worked on and of the plan’s specific steps for implementation.  Synder pointed to using qualified professionals who live in the township, as volunteers to help implement the plan, summing up that we “need people that recognize vision”.

As I was leaving the debate, someone commented that it was like a ‘love fest’ among all the candidates.  I knew exactly what this person meant.  It was refreshing . . .  there was no arguing or partisan wrangling; all the candidates (4 Republicans and 3 Democrats) conducted themselves with civility and respect for their fellow candidates.

To all the voters in Tredyffrin Township – let me say, all of these candidates are qualified to serve as your elected officials.  Attorneys, planning professional, small business owners, financial experts, community volunteers . . . yes, it was obvious they all have the experience, background and the credentials to serve.

Your supervisor selection is a very personal choice — I encourage you to watch the entire debate and decide for yourself.  Personally, I think that one candidate excelled last night and one candidate fell a bit short but it should not be about Pattye Benson’s opinion . . . talk to the candidates and ask them your own questions, watch the debate and then take your decision to the polls on November 8.

Your voice does matter and your vote counts!

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Good News – T/E School Board Candidate Debate Will be Videotaped!

Good news — Gene Donahue, the studio manager for the township’s public access channel reports that League of Women Voters debate for the supervisors and the school board candidates will be videotaped!  The debates will be available 24//7 online at the streaming video-on-demand site.
Gene reports that it usually takes about 24 hours to upload and process before the videos become available for viewing on channels – Comcast 2 and Verizon 24.
Here’s the schedule for the supervisor and school board debates:

Starting 10/28/11 & Ending 11/7/11

Supervisors Candidates Debate:
Mondays @ 8:30 PM
Tuesdays @ 8:30 AM & 2:30 PM
Fridays @ 8:30 PM
Saturdays @ 8:30 AM Sundays @ 2:30 PM

School Board Candidates Debate:
Mondays @ 10:30 PM
Tuesdays @ 10:30 AM & 4:30 PM ;
Fridays @ 10:30 PM
Saturdays @ 10:30 AM Sundays @ 4:30 PM

 

To view programming as video-on-demand, visit:
To see the schedule of programming airing on Comcast channel 2 and Verizon FIOS channel 24, visit:
http://www.tredyffrin.org/general/cable/publicaccess/programming.aspx and click any of the series’ names for detailed information.

 

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Should Our Teachers be Graded on Student Achievement?

There was much discussion about public education reform during Governor Tom Corbett’s campaign and this week the Governor offered four broad proposals for reform (however, the specifics are limited).

(1) Charter school reform — Give the process of approving charter schools to a new state commission rather than to local school districts;

(2) Expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program — The program offers businesses tax credits for providing funding for scholarships or other educational improvement organizations;

(3) Voucher program — Create ‘opportunity scholarships’ that would allow low-income students in poor-performing schools to attend a different school;

(4) Grading teachers — Review and beef-up the teacher evaluation system in Pennsylvania’s schools.

As Tredyffrin Easttown School District candidates prepare for the League of Women Voters debate on Tuesday (7-9 PM at the Tredyffrin Township building), it was Corbett’s fourth initiative on public education reform that caught my attention. I wonder what school board candidates think about Corbett’s proposed teacher grading system.  And how, if any, would a grading system challenge the TESD teacher contract negotiations of 2012?

My understanding is that Corbett is proposing a grading system for teachers much like the way students are graded.  Currently teachers are graded ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ and 99.4 percent of teachers in public school in Pennsylvania receive an ‘A’ . . . satisfactory rating.  However, counter to the teacher’s ratings, some school systems in the state have barely 50 percent of their students performing at grade level.  The new proposed multiple-point grading system for teachers would include “distinguished”, “proficient,” “needs improvement” or “failing.”

We know that most local school teachers are good, but are there not any bad ones?  Is it accurate that less than 1 percent of teachers in Pennsylvania are unsatisfactory?  Especially in light of the number of failing students and Pennsylvania’s ever-increasing high school drop out rate.  Is there any correlation between the quality of teaching (performance of teachers) and the performance levels of students?  Corbett’s is suggesting a reform of the teacher evaluation system that combines classroom observations and student performances . . . linking student achievement to teacher performance.

Is it possible that a single, statewide pay-for-performance model will work in each of the state’s 500 school districts?  Should the grading of teachers take into account a teachers’ longevity?

I believe that the most important school-based factor in children’s success is good-quality teachers.  Isn’t there a real possibility if we tie the merit pay of teachers performance to student achievement, this will discourage teachers from taking on the needier students and push the educators to ‘teach to the test’?

Most of us would probably agree that students with experienced, highly skilled teachers tend to do better academically. And that poorer schools have a more difficult time in attracting and keeping those teachers.  The real challenge is what is the solution?

Taking that logic a step further . . . if vouchers and charter schools remove the highest-performing students from the poor school districts, isn’t there a real risk that the failing school districts will not be fixed by Corbett’s proposed public education reform?

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PA State House Representative 157 Race . . . Candidate Questions & Responses

Back in August, I approached the two State House 157 candidates, Paul Drucker and Warren Kampf in regards to a ‘Candidate Question & Response’ forum.  Recognizing that Community Matters has a regular following of interested concerned residents, I sent a joint email to both candidates asking to meet with them [together] to explain my idea.  Below is an excerpt from that email of August 23, 2010:

“Warren & Paul –

As candidates in the PA State House race, I would like to meet with you to discuss an opportunity that would benefit you both. . .

I have come up with a list of six questions that I feel are important issues to our community.  You will be given the questions at our meeting and are asked to return your responses to all six questions to me by September 17.  That will give you 3+ weeks to answer the questions and the word count is to be limited to 300 words per response.  Each Monday, starting September 20, I will post one of the questions with each of your responses.  The questions will be posted for 6 week, ending on Monday, October 25.   I will not edit your responses nor will they be shared with anyone prior to posting on Community Matters each week. You will not know the order that the questions will be posted, and to be fair, I will change whose response is first each week.  

My proposal offers an opportunity for voters to better understand your views on important campaign issues. Your participation in this process will guarantee a larger audience hears your views.  Because I am doing this for the community, I will remain neutral; the questions and your responses will be posted each week and the readers will be encouraged to comment.  I will serve as moderator and will not weigh in personally. . .”

Neither candidate would see the questions before deciding if they would participate.  I did not want their willingness to participate to be predicated on the specific questions. Drucker responded, stating that he would participate.  I asked him if he was willing to answers the questions, even if Kampf declined, and his response remained yes.  On behalf of Warren Kampf, his campaign coordinator Michael D’Amicantonio replied via email, declining to participate. Here’s an excerpt from the email –    

” . . . We have accepted an invitation from the Phoenixville Chamber of Commerce to participate in their candidate forum, and we have already reached out to the League of Women Voters to take part in their traditional and well-respected debate. . . ” 

For the record, I can confirm no evidence of a Phoenixville Chamber of Commerce candidate forum and no evidence of a scheduled League of Women Voters debate. 

The upcoming November election is important to all of us.  We do not always understand candidate’s views on specific issues; it was my intent to provide the candidates a greater audience through Community Matters.  I believe that my candidate questions are reflective of the resident’s interests. Unfortunately, as I stated Warren Kampf will not be participating but I did receive Paul Drucker’s responses on Friday, September 17 as requested.  Shortly, I will post the first question and his written response.  As detailed in my email to the candidates, this process will continue for the next 6 weeks, ending the week before the election.

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