Pennsylvania’s School Board Election Reform Bill
POTTSTOWN, PA – Many of those in the Pottstown area are all too familiar with the lame-duck mess that the neighboring Owen J. Roberts School District was dealing with last year (and still is). It all stemmed from candidates who won during the May primaries and those elected school board members who were finishing up their terms. So that period between May and November became what many consider a lame-duck session.
While many in Pottstown compare the situation to their own problems faced last year by the Pottstown School Board, there simply isn’t any comparison. The Pottstown community elected three new members to their nine member school board in November (with two of those candidates securing school board seats during the May primary)…hardly a lame-duck board.
To curb these kinds of problems from happening in future elections, State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-19th of West Whiteland) from neighboring Chester County, proposed legislation which would ban school board candidates from running in primary elections.
The legislation proposed by Senator Dinniman would end partisan school board elections, which would tremendously help school districts and communities like Pottstown and neighboring Owen J. Roberts.
It would also help put out to pasture political operatives like Tom Hylton who has systemized (i.e., gophering about to collect both party’s required signatures for cross-filing and then personally couriering them to Norristown – so not to inconvenience the candidate in the least bit) the primary election process for his own selfish benefit. That’s how Hylton got elected to the PSB. And that’s also how he got his hand-picked candidates elected. Hylton seized the election cycle when he knew that the smallest possible amount of voters would be participating…the primaries. Let’s face it, only die hard voters (most being in their golden years) vote in the primary elections. We think most Pennsylvania residents really dislike the idea of having to register with a particular political party just so they can vote in primary elections. It shuts out of the process many who would very much like to vote…but don’t want to be stigmatized by aligning themselves with one party they don’t always agree with. And up to this point, many local elections have been decided during the primary election cycle…as it was for Pottstown in 2007 and 2009. So by the time November rolled around, the majority of voters were left out in the cold in an election process that failed them.
In 2009, Hylton pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the election cycle just so he could buy himself a seat on the school board (spending over $26,000 that year alone). He did the same thing in 2007 by spending close to $10,000 to financially support of “The Neighborhood Schools Team” through two separate Political Action Committees (PACs): Friends of Montgomery County and Pottstown Citizens for Responsible Government. Hylton targeted the die hard primary voters by using cherry-picked facts, stale commentary and scare tactics. To target his demographics, he purchased advertising space on the opinion page of his former employer, The Mercury – an idea that Hylton himself suggested to Mercury Editor Nancy March in December of 2008. So, the older voters, in reading what they believed was traditional opinion commentary, were actually reading paid advertising sold to the highest bidder…in this case Hylton.
The purpose of Senator Dinniman’s new legislation will have two effects: 1) it will limit the power of political committees to select school board candidates, and 2) it will prevent school board candidates who have lost their party’s primary election from then having five lame-duck months during which to make decisions on the board.
Makes sense, right?
Well, we’re happy to report that, as of December 16, the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee unanimously approved Senator Dinniman’s Senate Bill 1086 (the school board election reform bill). The legislation, which was approved by all of the committee’s seven Republican and four Democratic members, will now go to the Senate floor for action.
Let’s hope for a quick passage, so we can involve all members of our community in the election process, not just a small portion during the primary season.
For more information, please check out the Pennsylvania State Senate website: www.pasen.gov or Senator Dinniman’s website: www.senatordinniman.com