I am very sorry that I can’t be with you and with the members of the community who came out tonight because of a prior commitment. I want to sincerely thank the Women’s Club of Southern Butler County for opening up their meeting to the Mars school board candidates and allowing the public to come and hear from all of the candidates. Let me also say that I admire each and every one of the candidates for being willing to sacrifice their time and energy for such a worthy cause.
My wife Andrea and I have lived here in Mars since 2013. I grew up outside of Harrisburg, but Pittsburgh was always a second home to me. My mom grew up in Allison Park, where my grandma was a Kindergarten teacher for nearly 30 years. My father, one of 13 kids, grew up in Greensburg.
When I was young, my mother ran a food bank at a church in downtown Harrisburg for families in need. I saw first-hand how giving those families a hand up — not a hand out — was often all they needed to get things back on the right track. I saw that my mother was a person who cared deeply about those who are often forgotten – and seeing that faith in action inspired me to find a way to honor that tradition. That led me into the field of public policy.
I’ve worked my whole career in communications for organizations fighting for better public education funding and fighting to protect the social safety net for the most vulnerable among us, among other things. And that vast experience with public policy analysis will be an asset on the school board.
Having lived in Maryland for almost seven years, my wife and I moved here to start a family. We had our first son, Josh, in 2015 and our second son, Connor, in 2017. I love them more than I ever thought a human could possibly love something. And that’s why I’m running.
We moved here with a certain perception of the area — of the people and the community and the schools. The friends we’ve made here, the sense of community, our neighborhood — they’ve all exceeded our expectations. But we’ve come to learn, by getting involved even before we have kids in the schools, that when it came to the schools here in Mars, we can do better. We need to do better. And here’s the honest truth, I feel like I would be failing kids as a father if I didn’t fight to make this school district better for them.
In 2017, I helped with Megan Lenz’s write-in campaign. It was becoming clear at the time that the board could use some new blood. During the support staff contract negotiation, I was taken aback by the strong-arm tactics of the board. I appreciate a desire to try to save money for the taxpayers, but to save such insignificant amounts of money when looking at the big picture on the backs of these hard-working members of our community seemed callous.
As a YoungLife ministries youth leader when I was in college in upstate New York, I learned an important lesson while working with at-risk middle school students: sometimes people just need to feel heard — sometimes people just need to feel appreciated and valued. And our school board was devaluing these folks. That reflects poorly on all of us.
And as we have continued to stay involved over the past two years, we’ve come to learn that not only is their fiscal restraint arbitrary, but the lack of medium- and long-term budgetary planning is putting the district in a precarious financial position. It took some digging, and many right-to-know requests, but we discovered that when the board says the district is in great financial shape, they’re simply not telling you the truth. You’re not getting the full picture. Multiple failed special education audits should be the first tip off. Those failed audits happened because the school board chose not to devote the necessary resources to provide state and federally mandated services to some of our most vulnerable students. When we pass budgets two years in a row with $1.5 million deficits, but then we fight about a single band teacher at the middle school, we all need to start asking questions about how this show is being run. When we give a no-bid contract to a technology firm connected to a board member and the district’s law firm, only to have that firm file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after roughly a year of existence, we need to start asking questions about how we are doing business. The list goes on.
The criticisms that I and the other candidates I’m running with have are not personal; the criticisms we have are not political. The criticisms we have are all policy-based criticisms. And I feel that it’s my DUTY as a father to try to make things better for my kids — and for all the kids who deserve a school district that provides the resources necessary for them to all reach their full potentials.
I’m honored to be running with four great parents who have been actively involved not just in the community, but specifically in the issues the school board and the district are facing right now. These folks have been attending meetings for years and have shown the community how dedicated they are to making Mars the best school district it can be. Don’t let anyone tell you that our running as a team is a negative. Together, we complement each other with our varied backgrounds and strengths. We don’t agree on lots of things, but we do agree on a few core principles that we always try to come back to:
Transparency — an acknowledgement that we’re here for the right reasons and we will go out of our way to make sure the community knows that.
Fiscal responsibility — being good stewards of taxpayer dollars; always trying to be efficient with our spending, but also constantly having an eye towards the future in a growing district. Maximize what is available and be open and honest with the taxpayers about how we’re budgeting.
Academics — in a fast-changing world that requires us to think differently about what it means to get our kids ready for the real world, how are we preparing kids from the earliest ages? Are we keeping up with surrounding districts when it comes to program offerings? Are we making sure that we’re giving all the kids in our community the same opportunities regardless of socio-economic background?
Those are the things the drive us. And we’ve been here for years now — sometimes as the only other people in the room at board meetings. We recognize that no one is entitled to these positions. You have to earn it. You have to work for it and let the community see that you’re here for the right reasons — and you’re dedicated. We have serious issues to deal with, and that means we need serious people for these positions. How we run our schools says a lot about who we are as a community — it reveals our moral compass. It’s about whether our teachers have the resources they need in the classroom to ensure our kids can achieve to their highest potential. It’s about whether we run meetings openly. It’s about whether we as decision makers are profiting from taxpayer dollars or we’re making it clear that we will use every dollar in the most efficient way possible. It’s about whether we shut people out or welcome people in. It’s about the kind of environment we create for teachers and staff and administrators that trickles down to each and every kid in the district. All of these things are reflections of the community — and it’s time to decide if we like what we see in the mirror. I thank you for the opportunity to have this statement read, I apologize, again, for not being there with you tonight. I look forward to continuing to meet folks out in the community as the campaign continues.