Student School Board Candidates Debate at Forum
Last night at the State College Borough Building, StateCollege.com (our sister site) and the State College branch of the American Association of University Women hosted a forum for the eight candidates running this fall for the Board of Directors of the State College Area School District. The forum was also supported by the Borough of State College, and Patton Township. StateCollege.com senior reporter Adam Smeltz served as moderator. Three incumbents and five challengers are vying for a total of five vacant seats.
This year’s election is an unusual case, in that two Penn State undergraduates have thrown their hats in the ring. One is freshman Lydia Glick, a seven-year resident of State College. The other is the ever-conspicuous, button-wearing president of Penn State’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, Sam Settle.
Most of the debate centered around balancing pressing fiscal constraints with maintaining quality of education intact for students, and excellent benefits and pay for employees—all in the face of a recent budget shortfall for the district. Most of the candidates expressed the same sentiments, that every measure had to be taken to conserve the high quality of education in the district, while cutting programs and personnel as little as possible. Most candidates stressed “creative” budget strategies like increased revenue from private fundraising campaigns. Glick even suggested selling Memorial Field and eventually moving it to a less flood-prone location. “I don’t understand how we can have a budget shortfall and then be willing to pay out money to make a temporary fix on Memorial Field. How can you be paying out this money when we have no money?”
Settle, unsurprisingly, espoused a much different viewpoint. Citing statistics that the SCASD placed 6oth in the Commonwealth for test scores and 16th highest in per-pupil spending (incumbent candidate Dorothea Stahl later corrected his figure to the district placing 160th in spending). “There’s a lack of return on the investment,” he said. He expressed the need to cut spending on personnel—70 percent, he said, of the district’s budget, to make the budget more manageable. “More money does not always equate to a better education and cuts do not always equate to a worse education,” he asserted, fitting in with his overall plan for more efficiency in the district. He suggested that the district should study those that “outperform” the SCASD in test scores and that spend less money doing so, thus developing a model for optimal success for students at the lowest cost to taxpayers.
The other large issue that arose was that of vouchers for optional private school educations for those students who want to opt out of the public school system or shop around neighboring school districts and choose to enroll there. For instance, a student dissatisfied with his or her education in State College could attend public school in Bellefonte. Most candidates, including Glick, were distressed by the idea, objecting that such a program would take money away from the public school system. Settle has been an outspoken advocate for school vouchers, pointing to the button on his lapel reading “I SUPPORT SCHOOL CHOICE.” He explained, saying that vouchers would make public schools have to compete more freely with other options like private and parochial schools; they would no longer be able to bank on students enrolling thanks to free tuition.
Many in the audience seemed to take issue with Settle’s viewpoints, noting their disapproval by shaking their heads and murmuring. Certainly the story of the evening, he brought a new and controversial position to the discourse of the school district, seeming more so than his opponents to running the school district as a business. While the concern to balance the district’s budget is certainly a crucial one, Settle came off as dispassionate; every time he spoke about serving “the students” or “the children,” it didn’t sound natural, but contrived.
Smeltz, the moderator, raised the question of the students’ commitment to their four-year posts, and their ability to commit to them based on their status as full-time Penn State students. This was especially true in the case of Settle, who only came here upon matriculating to the University, moving from Philadelphia, and will finish his undergraduate program in May (though he will immediately continue his master’s program at Penn State). “I have lived in State College my entire adult life,” he said. “This is my home.” Given that Settle is only 20 years old, his “entire adult life” is a whopping two years.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.
For more coverage of last night’s event, take a look at the videos by William Derrick on StateCollege.com.