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Chester County Press

School board election viewed as critical to Avon Grove’s future

10/29/2013 08:00PM ● By Acl

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

Eight candidates are vying for four seats on the Avon Grove School Board in the Nov. 5 election that could prove to be pivotal to the district’s future.

“The Nov. 5 school board election is absolutely critical to the economic future of the area,” said Brian Gaerity, a candidate in Region I. “One group of candidates wants to strengthen and improve Avon Grove schools, which will bolster property values and lead to further business development. The other group consists of partisan-driven candidates who are willing to put our kids and property values at risk to pursue short-sighted goals. The election will determine which direction the board takes.”

With two longtime board members, Dennis Gerber and Robert Weidenmuller, deciding not to seek another term, there will be at least two new faces on the board when it reorganizes in December.

In Region I, where two seats are up for grabs, incumbent school board member Bruce Dobsch is seeking reelection and has linked his campaign to Bob Wickes. Gaerity and Patrick Walker share similar views on many issues and joined forces.

Dobsch has said that he would like to see the district’s academic curriculum strengthened. He is also concerned about student safety on the school buses. He would also like to have the district develop a plan to to eliminate the use of temporary classrooms.

When contacted by email last week, Wickes said that his positions are the same as Dobsch’s. Wickes is a 35-year resident of London Britain Township who graduated from Cornell University and served in the U.S. Army. He worked as a human resource executive with in-depth leadership experience in compensation, performance management, and strategic planning.

Gaerity, meanwhile, holds a B.A. in International Relations and an MBA. He has 15 years of experience in corporate marketing and communications. He previously served on the Avon Grove School Board and has served on various committees for the district.

“I’m running because I care about our schools and I care about education,” Gaerity said at the meet-the-candidates forum in advance of the Primary Election.

Walker has a Ph.D. in chemistry and a doctorate in law. He is an attorney with McCarter & English, LLP. He has also served on a variety of committees for the school district as well as the Avon Grove Charter School.

At the meet-the-candidates forum, Walker talked about what motivated him to seek a seat on the board.

“I believe in education,” he said. “I believe that children need a strong education. I would like to keep taxes low but maintain all arts, music, and sports programs.”

Gaerity summed up his concerns about the divide that exists on the current board.

“Some members are following narrow political agendas that contribute nothing to education quality,” Gaerity said. “The district has cut programs, staff and support to levels that significantly risk further gains in student achievement.”

Gaerity said that he sees serious consequences to having a board that is divided between two factions with opposing views. “Hardly anything is getting done,” he said. “There is no movement on school safety issues. The board has been promising action on safety vulnerabilities for months but very little has been done. Another example is no capital plan. A year ago, the new facilities manager put together a long list of capital projects, including renovation of the high school bathrooms because the stench in some of them is now permanent. As far as I know, there is no plan to implement or pay for those projects. The board seems to be all talk and no action.”

In Region II, Ed Farina and John Emmons are candidates to win the seat currently occupied by Gerber.

Emmons earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from SUNY Buffalo. He is a manufacturing/engineering manager for Mannington Mills in New Jersey. He has worked in the vinyl flooring industry for 33 years as a manufacturing and technical manager, and his experience includes plant management positions involving more than 300 associates with operating budgets in excess of $200 million. He has also served as a director of the United Way of Salem, New Jersey since 2009. He has lived in New London Township for 11 years.

At the meet-the-candidates forum, Emmons expressed his support for full-day kindergarten—if it can be afforded—and for arts and music programs.

According to Emmons’ website, his priorities include ensuring a safe and healthy learning environment; providing an excellent, cost-effective education; drawing on his substantial experience in the private sector to balance the needs of students, parents, taxpayers, and teachers; continually improving the education process by using technology and best practices; and making sure the school district has an adequate long-term financial plan.

Farina and his wife have two children who attend Avon Grove Schools. Farina received two bachelor of science degrees in mechanical engineering and engineering management. He has worked for Bechtel National, DuPont, Dade Behring, and now Siemens healthcare. A resident in the district since 1989, Farnina has served as a member of the Avon Grove Class Size Task Force and recently participated in the superintendent search focus group. His focus on the school board would be to make the schools the best they can be while remaining sensitive to fiscal responsibilities—he wants Avon Grove to remain a high-performing school district with comparatively low taxes.

According to Farina’s website, he is motivated by two fundamental principles: education and fiscal responsibility.  His parents were children of immigrants and valued education above all else. He has pledged to make the schools the best that they can be.

In Region III, incumbent Pattie Lyons, who has served on the board for the last 16 years, is being challenged by Penn Hudson.

Lyons can point to an impressive record of service on the board. The district at one point balanced the budget for seven straight years without a tax increase. Avon Grove went from having one of the highest property tax rates in the county to having one of the lowest, but at the same time Avon Grove's levels of academic achievement also outpaced other school districts. Lyons was also on the board during two superintendent searches and during the construction of the Avon Grove Intermediate School.

“It’s a wonderful school district and we have the {test} scores to prove that,” Lyons said at the meet-the-candidates forum. “My roots are here. Avon Grove is a wonderful school district and I want to keep it that way.

Even though there are four seats up for election in three different regions, Gaerity said that the 2013 contest offers voters a choice between two groups with diametrically opposed views.

“Patrick, Ed, Pattie, and I have 40 years of volunteer service to Avon Grove,” Gaerity said. “We don’t care about politics. We think Avon Grove can be a model of high achievement and low cost.”