Could last night’s panel discussion for Chambersburg Area School Board candidates have revealed a serious issue in our schools?

October 12 — Seven of eight candidates for the Chambersburg Area School Board participated in a panel discussion last night at the Chambersburg Rec Center. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll moderated the session. 

In terms of the bigger picture, things went well, overall. 

Barkdoll said, “I don’t know any of these seven candidates. I actually thought they all did fine. I liked them. I thought they gave good answers. I didn’t think anyone had any huge moments where they made mistakes or gave bad answers. I thought all of them clearly were acting in good faith. They seem to have the best interest of kids in the community at heart, even though they clearly did have I think, some different positions on different issues. I would say there maybe were 70 people there or so, which for a Wednesday night in October is not bad. But I was pleased after the event, I did have a few people approach me that truly were just citizens. John Q. Public that were there, that were not familiar with the candidates and said that they enjoyed the event and felt that they gathered some information that would help them now make a decision on how to vote. There’s where I think the value is to these sorts of events.”

Benjamin Raber, who is running unopposed in Region 9, made the comment that parents should be involved, but not too much. 

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “Ben Raber said we want parents involved, but not too much. He doesn’t have a competitor, so he doesn’t have to really worry as much about how it might be interpreted.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM said, “I think I can interpret it pretty well.”

Jansen continued, “I think to say something like that, even if you would then would say oh, I was just saying it tongue in cheek. Yeah, maybe in today’s atmosphere when so many parents are concerned about different activist ideologies getting pushed in schools, maybe that’s not a time to say something like that.” 

“It’s never a time to say that,” Ryan insisted. 

Barkdoll said, “That was in response, I believe to the question about when you’re formulating educational policies, which a lot of the candidates took to mean only curriculum, although that was not the question, but there was a question about when you’re formulating educational policies, who do you put the most stock in? Should it be coming from the school board? Should it be coming from educators and administrators, or should it be coming from parents?”

It was also asked, what’s your position on parental rights when it comes to educational policies?

Barkdoll said, “I think that’s where that answer came up.”

Some other questions included Chambersburg district’s long term planning strategy in terms of population growth in the school district?

Also would these candidates support posting textbook and curriculum information online on the district’s website for the public to view? 

Barkdoll noted, “All seven of them did say yes to that, by the way.”

The most commonly asked question dealt with the staffing shortages in Chambersburg School District. 

Barkdoll said, “We did get a lot of questions from the public, leading into last night. As of yesterday, and I went on their website to verify this, Chambersburg School District had 106 vacant positions throughout their school system. About half of those were what I would call teaching, instructional and administrative positions and I was not there to engage in fact checking last night and even though we know this is a problem around the state and around the country, Chambersburg has a really acute problem when it comes to staffing shortages. If you look at vacancies in all of our other neighboring school districts, and I know they’re much smaller districts, it’s a fraction of what Chambersburg is dealing with. So I do think that’s a problem.”

The reason for the teacher shortage could be a real issue in the school district. 

Jansen said, “It did strike me that they kept talking about the paying of people. That’s not the teachers. We’re at the top three states in the country and in fact, above average salary, we’re number one in Pennsylvania. So we’re not under paying teachers. Now staff could be a different thing. I think what disturbed me is one of the candidates said that people approached her to say why they were losing staff. And she actually said, people being beaten up by students and that stuck out to me. Really? Is it staff? Is it teachers? This was in the actual (meeting). I would have liked to have had a follow-up, but the public was not allowed to address the entire board of candidates. Instead they split them up so you go around individually. That was a disservice.”

PA Representative Rob Kauffman said, “(Chambersburg School District) is in the top 25 in the state, there are give or take any given year about 9,500 enrolled students.”

Jansen said, “We don’t know how much bigger that’s going to get. They were talking about the growth in Franklin County. Of course, some of that is due to retirees moving here and some of it’s young people taking these warehouse jobs who maybe don’t have families. But there’s a presumption of course that we will be increasing the student population as Franklin County grows. I was struck by the number of times people brought up the culture. One person that’s running even said something about hearing support staff saying they were beaten up, and I’m assuming that’s by students. I’ve certainly heard about the bad student behavior when they try to take away smartphones, which some teachers claim they don’t even try anymore. What do we do about this? Because it doesn’t seem like the policies and the mental health so-called programs like this Kooth Program, which I’m finding lots of red flags on, is actually helping our students to have better behavior.”

Kauffman said, “That is something that the education establishment, they they like to leave out is that it is about the culture. Now I haven’t heard, when you’re talking about students beating up faculty and teachers and staff, I have not heard that in Chambersburg. If that’s happening, we have bigger problems than I ever realized in Chambersburg. It is a ‘culture’ thing because what the teachers and the faculty have to do and deal with, it’s very difficult for anyone. It’s not about the salaries. I don’t believe it’s about salaries and payments. I still believe that most folks in the public education realm are passionate about what they do. I do believe that and it’s not always about the money. It’s about how they’re treated. It’s about the culture. I mean, goodness knows, it’s about all the mandates and everything that is placed on them. Most of them feel like they barely get to teach what they are passionate about, because they’re more worried about smartphones in the classroom. They’re more worried about behavior. They’re more worried about emotional and mental health. They have to worry about all these things except the main thing, which is educating students.”