12 Candidates Running For Five Spots On The Methacton School Board

Posted: April 26, 1995

Last April, they battled over which elementary school to reopen in the Methacton School District, Worcester or Audubon.

Fighting for Worcester were members of the Methacton Concerned Parents and Citizens, a group driven by young parents with children in the Methacton schools. They believed Worcester needed a community school, and wanted to end the 45-minute bus rides neighborhood children make twice a day to elementary school.

Arguing for Audubon were members of Citizens Against Unnecessary School Spending (CAUSS), a group led by senior citizens who have seen their fixed incomes shrink as school property taxes have swelled 60 percent over the last five years. They saw reopening Audubon as a way to save $2.1 million.

At a meeting in October, the school board sided with CAUSS and voted to reopen Audubon, shuttered since 1984, as the fourth elementary school in the district. Worcester supporters chanted "13 months" after the vote - alluding to the November 1995 school board elections.

The rematch comes even sooner, on May 16, when the Methacton school board holds its primary elections. Twelve candidates will vie for five spots on the board, and both groups have endorsed a slate of candidates. Nine of the 12 candidates on the ballot are endorsed by either Methacton Concerned Parents or CAUSS.

Five candidates are endorsed by Methacton Concerned Parents and Citizens: Ted Chylack, Paul Fischer, Margaret Martinez, James Phelan and George Sheehan. All have children who will be attending Methacton schools in the fall. They supported the reopening of Worcester and a plan to install computers in elementary classrooms, which was instituted.

Four candidates are endorsed by CAUSS and call themselves Friends of Methacton Taxpayers: Wilson Bohanak, James Franz, William Kazmir, and Charles McQuaid. They favored renovating Audubon, and want closer oversight on district spending.

Three candidates are running independently of the two groups: Deborah McQuiston, Elaine Syres, and William McGrain Jr.

Members serve a four-year term, and the position is unpaid. Eight candidates are registered Republicans, and four - Chylack, Sheehan, McQuiston and Syres - are Democrats. Only one incumbent - Bohanak - is seeking reelection.

What will the new school board members face in the next four years?

Enrollment projections show the student population jumping from 4,000 next year to 4,900 in 1998-99, indicating a need to open a fifth elementary school and eventually provide more classrooms at the middle and high school levels.

The growing student population means the board will again try to decide the fate of Worcester elementary, closed since 1984. Should the building, constructed in 1912 and renovated in 1955, be renovated again, or should a new school be built?

The district's contract with the teachers' union expires in June 1997. The board has to approve a new agreement, and all of the candidates have vowed to link teacher raises to performance this time around. "The last contract was a giveaway," said candidate Martinez.

At least five new faces will appear on the stage of the Little Theater for board meetings in December, but the spotlight will shine brightest on the man or woman at center stage - the new superintendent. Laird Warner, after 12 years as superintendent, will leave Methacton in June, and Board President Neil Basile has said he wants to have a replacement installed before the beginning of the school year.

Will the new superintendent, chosen by at least four lame-duck members, become a friend or foe to the new board? Who will lead the curriculum and finance debates?

Methacton property owners have seen the tax rate rise from 179 mills in 1989-90 to the current 252. The preliminary budget for 1995-96 would mean a further increase of 40 mills, to 292. The proposed increase would cost the owner of a home at the average assessment about $350 a year.

Candidates endorsed by Methacton Concerned Parents and Citizens:

Ted Chylak, 43, of Audubon, a senior deputy attorney general in Montgomery County. He earned his law degree from Temple, and holds a doctorate in policy administration from the University of Georgia. His son and daughter attend Arrowhead Elementary School, and he sits on the board of the school's Home and School Association. Chylack lost a race for the school board in 1993. He said he favors soliciting money and donations from private companies to help pay for the district's costs. He said he would like to see the district "play the market" for new teachers under a new contract.

Paul Fischer, 40, of Worcester, president of Independent Sealing Co. Before going into business, Fischer taught physical education in Philadelphia for seven years. Fischer has two preschool children. He began attending school board meetings a year and a half ago, and lobbied for the reopening of Worcester. He said he plans to bring his background in education to the board to bear on curriculum issues. Fischer said he worries that some board members ''only want to look at the dollars." He said he will work to focus the board on long-term planning.

Margaret Martinez, 44, of Collegeville, an administrative assistant for a personnel company. She said she has attended school board meetings for 10 years, since her eldest son was in Methacton High School. Her two younger children now attend Arcola and Arrowhead. A former Home and School president, she is making her first run for the board with the endorsement of both parties in Worcester and Lower Providence. She said she has seen the quality of her children's homework improve with computers, and supports installation of more PCs in classrooms. She said she also would work to get an elementary school in Worcester.

James Phelan, 40, of Worcester, a former elementary school counselor in Norristown, and now a director of computer resources for Merck. He earned his B.A. from St. Joseph's and M.A. in counseling from Temple. His two boys attend Methacton High and Eagleville. A board member from 1989 to 1993, he said the present board doesn't understand or care about educational issues. He would push for a five-year plan for improving the computer system in district schools. He also wants to link administrators' salaries to performance.

George Sheehan, 41, of Collegeville, a Villanova Law graduate who is a partner in the Philadelphia firm Sweeney, Sheehan & Spencer. Sheehan has lived in Lower Providence for 14 years, and his two children attend Arrowhead Elementary. He started attending board meetings when his children became school age, and now wants to put an end to the "factional squabbling" he sees on the board. He said he believes that an income tax would fund schools more equitably than the property tax, and thinks school districts should lobby for reform in Harrisburg. He believes strongly in neighborhood schools: "The school is a magnet for all kinds of community activities."

Candidates endorsed by Citizens Against Unnecessary School Spending:

Wilson Bohanak, 49, of Eagleville, a senior account executive at Xerox. The only incumbent seeking reelection, Bohanak has served as board treasurer since 1991. Before his election to the school board, Bohanak served on the Lower Providence Planning Commission for two years. His daughter attends Arcola middle school. Bohanak said he believes the board could cut spending on computer systems in half, and points to other school districts that he believes spend their money more judiciously. He said he will vote against the proposed 40-mill tax increase for the next school year.

James Franz, 64, of Collegeville, a retired banker at First Pennsylvania. Franz has lived in Worcester for 24 years, and his three grown children attended Catholic schools. He was the CAUSS representative on the redistricting committee for Worcester, and endorsed the opening of Audubon. A fifth elementary school is necessary, he said, "but do we have to build the Taj Mahal?" He said he wants to control school spending, and calls for sacrifices from all members of the community. "We should spend every dollar as if it were our own," he said.

William Kazmir, 66, of Fairview Village, a retired carpenter and former maintenance supervisor with the state. Kazmir built his home 40 years ago on Germantown Pike, and his two children attended Methacton schools. Kazmir is president of CAUSS, and religiously attends board meetings. He questions most spending proposals brought before the board. "The school board has been a rubber stamp for Dr. Warner's spending measures," he said. He pledges to actively review salary, purchasing and construction expenditures.

Charles McQuaid, 66, of Trooper, retired from Fleming Foods, where he worked in the loss control department for 13 years. His four children were reared in Lower Providence and attended Catholic schools. McQuaid believes a fifth elementary school will be necessary, but "in the distant future." He said he questions the board's spending on the ILS computer system for the elementary schools, and doesn't want "technology that overlaps with what the teachers are doing." He plans to scrutinize school staffing, and wants the board to review the budget quarterly.

Candidates running independently:

William McGrain, 35, of Worcester, a self-employed contractor with experience in construction financing. McGrane is a lifelong resident of Worcester, and graduated from Methacton High in 1977. He and his wife, candidate Elaine Syres, have three children who will be attending Methacton schools in September. McGrain is critical of district's long-range construction plans for Worcester and Audubon, and believes both buildings should have been sold.

Deborah McQuiston, 39, of Audubon, a self-employed certified public accountant. McQuiston is making her second run for the board. She has lived in Lower Providence for 10 years, and her two children attend Methacton schools. McQuiston cites her financial background as an asset for the board in troubled

financial times. "It's critical for a school board member to understand the numbers," she said. She would like to see an occupation tax to fund the schools, and advocates more aggressive tax collection to increase revenues.

Elaine Syres, 46, a technical writer for the WEFA group and former eighth- grade teacher in Camden. She earned a degree in education from East Stroudsburg University and served in the Philippines for the Peace Corps. She said she started attending board meetings when she moved to Worcester six years ago. If elected, she would be more open and responsive to community inquiries than the current board members, she said. She also said she disagrees with the district's long-term plan.

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