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Chester County Press

Incumbents have strong showing in Avon Grove School Board races

05/28/2019 03:09PM ● By Steven Hoffman

A few of the most highly contested races in the area in 2019 are for seats on the Avon Grove School Board. In the Primary Election on May 21, there were nine candidates vying for five seats.

Now, heading into the general election in November, there are eight candidates who’ve earned spots on the ballot vying for those five seats on the school board. But the results of the Primary Election could be more consequential than it first appears.

The candidates are sharply divided on the new high school project, and at least two candidates made halting the project the centerpiece of their campaigns to unseat incumbents. However, the Primary Election results suggest that those candidates supporting the high school project are in strong positions for the general election in November—though the May 21 results could hardly be called decisive.

In Avon Grove’s Region II, where two seats are up for election, incumbents Tracy Lisi and Jeffrey Billig were being challenged in the Primary Election by Mark Stewart, Jr. and Carmela Ciliberti.

Billig and Lisi earned the nominations on the Democratic side, where they were the only candidates on the ballot. On the Republican side, the results were very close. Lisi led the way again, earning 575 votes. Stewart Jr. received 570 votes, while Ciliberti tallied 566 votes. Even though just four votes separated Stewart and Ciliberti, Billig managed to fall right in between them, earning 567 votes. If those results stand, Lisi and Stewart would have their names on the ballot on the Republican side in the November election.

In Avon Grove’s Region I, incumbent Charles Beatty earned the Republican nomination while challenger Dorothy Linn emerged with the nomination on the Democratic side.

In Region III, two longtime school board members are seeking reelection. Bonnie Wolff and Herman Engel have more than 25 years of school board experience between them. Wolff and Engel were the only candidates on the ballot on the Democratic side and emerged with the nominations.

On the Republican side, Wolff received 390 votes to lead the way, securing her name on the ballot on both the Democratic and Republican side. First-time candidate Christina Fanning secured 384 votes, six more than Engel, who received 378 votes on the Republican side. That means that Fanning’s name will appear on the ballot in November.

With Wolff and Lisi winning both the Republican and Democratic nominations, they are positioned well for the general election in November. While the margin was razor thin in Region II, they were significant. Ciliberti did not finish in the top two on the Republican side, and as a result did not lock up a spot on the November ballot.

Lisi expressed cautious optimism about the results of the Primary Election.

“While my running mate, Jeff Billig, and I, are pleased with the results from Tuesday, it is important to keep a few things in mind,” she said. “First, the results are still unofficial. The official results will be available in a few weeks. Also, this election was just the primary. The results of this primary now ensure that the names our will both be on the ballot again in November.”

The high school project may have been a reason that voter turnout was higher in Avon Grove than in other places.

Lisi said, “I believe the results of the primary send a strong signal that our community supports the current direction of the school district. Our opponents were running on a single issue—to stop the construction of a new high school and to stop the renovation of the current high school into a middle school. This facility project underwent years of intensive study and evaluation to determine the most cost-effective plan to serve the needs of our students and provide a generational solution. We are now more than a year into the design phase, and over a million dollars in taxpayer money has been spent. Millions more will be committed prior to the election in November. Our opponents offered no new ideas, and demonstrated that they have little grasp of the budget details or any other aspect of the project. The fact that many Republican voters and hundreds more Democratic voters supported us on Tuesday would seem to indicate that voters in the community want to see the construction project through to completion and recognize the foolishness of wasting millions of dollars to re-valuate plans that were already thoroughly assessed and rejected as inadequate. Jeff and I stand by our fact-based campaign and firmly believe that public education is an investment, not an expense. I would stress again, however, that this was only the primary and I ask every voter, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, who cares about the future of our schools, our children and the fate of our community to come out and make their voices heard again in November.”

Here’s a look at some of the other school board races in the area:

There are six seats on the Oxford School Board that are up for election this year—an unusually high number because the school district made changes to how the seats are apportioned and because of one resignation since the last election. Voters will have a lot of choices to make in November.

There are two at-large seats that are up for election this time around. The Democratic nominees are Sherri Matis-Mitchell and Denita Wright Watson. Incumbent school board member Mark Patterson has locked up one of the nominations on the Republican side. A large number of write-in votes came in for Republican candidates in the at-large races, opening up the possibility that a candidate will earn the nomination and be on the ballot in November.

There were also a significant number of write-in votes for candidates who are seeking the two-year unexpired term on the board. When those results are available, there could be one or two nominees for that seat.

In Region II, with one seat up for election, Mary-Laura Buchner-Hulse won the Democratic nomination over Jen Harrison, but on the Republican side it was Harrison who won the nomination over Buchner-Hulse. The two candidates will be vying for the seat in November.

In the Region 1 race, incumbent Howard Robinson cross-filed and won the nominations of both parties so he has a clear path to election in November. The same is true of incumbent school board president Joseph Tighe in Region III.

Like Oxford, there are six seats up for election on the Kennett School Board, and there will likely be some new faces when the reorganization meeting takes place in December.

In Region A, Maribel Garcia and Ann Parry were the top two vote-getters in a field of five candidates on the Democratic side. On the Republican side, Dominic Perigo and Steve Ciprani earned the nominations.

For the unexpired two-year term in Region A, Ryan Bowers earned the Democratic nomination, while 36 write-in votes were cast on the Republican side.

In Region B, with two seats up for election, David Kronenberg earned the Democratic nomination. There were also significant write-in votes cast on the Democratic and Republican side.

In Region C, incumbent Michael Finnegan earned both the Democratic and Republican nominations.

In the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, Rashi Akki cross-filed and earned the Democratic and Republican nomination in Region A, while Victoria Baratta locked up the nominations of both parties in Region B.

In Region C, with three seats up for election, one candidate, John Murphy, earned the nominations on the Republican and Democratic side. Erin Talbert and Jen Brown earned the nominations on the Democratic side, while Jon Trigg and Steve Jones earned the Republican nominations.

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