All eyes are on Region C in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, as five candidates battle it out for the three available seats.
Incumbents Frank Murphy and Timotha Trigg are running together with newcomer Sharon Jones, while former interim member Gregg Lindner and parent Kathy Do are running together after a successful write-in campaign last spring.
Jones, Do and Lindner are seeking the seat vacated by board member Paul Price, who is not seeking reelection.
Meanwhile in Region A, contenders Vic Dupuis and Rob McPherson are battling for the seat left open by Corrine Sweeney, who retires this year.
Incumbent Eileen Bushelow is running unopposed for her seat in Region B.
Chadds Ford resident Murphy said that he and Trigg selected running mate Sharon Jones over her background as an auditor for Chester County coupled with her status as a mother of two children in the district.
"I think she will have some unique insight into the problems and opportunities that a school district like ours has," he said.
He also said that he believes Jones could bring some new cost-cutting ideas to the table when budget time rolls around.
"I think ... as an auditor and somebody who is involved with how the government spends its money properly is a perfect choice for these times," Murphy said. "She has a clear eye on ensuring every dollar is spent to its maximum benefit."
Regarding upcoming budget cycles, Murphy said that the district has to look for more creative ways to cut spending with an eye on how the students would be affected in the classroom.
"We have to be adamant about ensuring no cuts occur that could impact the education of students in the classroom," Murphy said.
Murphy also reiterated his recent stance against building utilization, a move he denounced at a recent school board meeting.
Murphy also responded to comments that the issue is only being put to bed for the sake of the upcoming election.
"I'm dead set against the issue. And any board member can bring any issue up for consideration at any time, but it's silly to say it's going to come back up after the election."
Murphy also noted that he was a supporter of former superintendent Sharon Parker and took her reasons for retiring at face value despite opinions otherwise.
"Although we lost a great superintendent ... with John Sanvile at the helm, I think we poised for bigger and better things," he said.
Pennsbury resident Sharon Jones said that she was asked to run with Murphy and Trigg because they share many of the same beliefs, particularly that providing a quality education for students is the utmost priority.
She added that as an auditor for Chester County, she is used to listening to the expertise of the parties involved before deciding how to proceed.
"That's how you find ways to approve efficiencies, and that's no different that what I can bring to the board," she said. "I think I have something to offer this dynamic and I want to continue with what this board started."
That approach, she added, has helped the county avoid a tax increase for a number of years.
"We're obligated to taxpayers to be prudent in how we spend, and not to tax more than necessary," she said.
Jones said that she feels the existing board is moving in the right direction, and that they should not be criticized for not taking advantage of suggested "creative" revenue sources.
"There are certainly other avenues out there ... but there have been so many issues recently," Jones said. "Now that we are starting to level off and things are decided upon, they have started to talk about these other sources."
She also agreed with the direction the board has taken with respect to public input and involvement, and that she believes they've opened up more in an effort to present information in a better capacity.
"I am pleased with the way the board is, and with the fact that they're able to at least agree to disagree," she said.
Jones said that she has been criticized in the past for what she said are misleading statements regarding her attendance at school board meetings.
Now that her two children are older, Jones said that she attends as many meetings as possible and has spent much time bringing herself up to speed on the issues facing the district, either by viewing meeting videos or by reading the minutes.
"I wouldn't have run if didn't have the time and the interest," Jones said. "I am a dedicated person, and I feel I give 150 percent. And I do not take decision to run lightly."
Chadds Ford residents Do and Lindner are running together on a platform that Lindner said is designed to strike a balance on the board.
Lindner, who previously served as interim director for five months in 2009, said he also wants to bring a level of moderation to the board that he feels is currently missing.
"I think the tone of that board is wrong," Lindner said. "When people bring up contradictory views ... some board members put them through an interrogation, so there's a real need for moderation."
Lindner also said that he hopes to find creative ways to move the district forward rather than seeking cuts that affect education.
"If we do not make some changes to how we fund the district moving forward, then we're in line year after year of looking at cuts," he said. "That is a terrible cycle to get into and it's not why people moved here."
Lindner said he and Do are not fans of "taxing to the max" when it comes to the Act 1 index cap. Rather, Lindner said that responsible increases would help build on the following year's rate increase and keep taxes at a manageable rate.
"You also have to go through every program, take out the things that don't work, invest in other areas and finally be able to put forward a budget that makes sense for the entire community."
Lindner said he'd also like to see the district develop long-term plans on how to deal with much-needed repairs at Charles F. Patton Middle School.
"The plans have to be laid out soon, so we have a time on the horizon and we have time to do something in a manner that everybody understands the issues and the dollars and get full input from the community," Lindner said.
Lindner said his passion for education stems from knowing the sacrifices his parents made for him as a child, relocating to a district in Maryland known for its excellent schools.
"I'd like to do the same thing for my children," he said. "And this time, it's nice to have a running mate whose qualifications are unequaled by anybody else who is running."
As a self-professed "wonk," Do said that she's comfortable poring over things like policy statements and financial records.
Do also said that whether or not people agree on the Act 1 cap index, it was established for a reason - to prevent school districts from exorbitant tax increases.
"When they did it, they set the cap using specific indexes. And they look at what is reasonable based on what is happening in the economy at a given time," Do said. "They determine what would be reasonable for a school district to increase."
Do said that electing to raise taxes well below the cap, as well as not taking advantage of state exceptions, is an unreasonable approach.
"We are really jeopardizing our children's education," she said. "Any year you fund below the cap, the following year you're staring below the level."
The difference between last year's proposed 1.1 percent increase versus the 1.4 cap, Do said, was roughly $20 per household per year.
"That's a trip to McDonalds for your family," she said. "And because of that we lost a lot of funding."
Regarding balance on the board, Do said that the pendulum has swung too far in one side's favor at this point.
"All we're saying is, let's bring it back to the middle," she said. "Let's look at both sides of an issue and see what is happening, how it's affecting our children and whether or not each and every decision is making our children our priority," she said. Do also said there are numerous revenue sources doing unexplored in the district and that it was time to examine them in earnest.
One example was an optional work rotation among support staff, with pay reductions, rather than laying off over 20 employees, as the district did last spring.
"And those services that are really important to our teachers, they've all been lost," she said. "It's almost as though we're devaluing those people."
In Region A, East and West Marlborough Township, Vic Dupuis and Rob McPherson are vying for the seat left open by longtime member Corrine Sweeney, who announced her retirement last spring.
Dupuis, who won the Primary over McPherson by a narrow 41 votes, said he feels his style and approach to government is similar to Sweeney's.
"I'm not coming in with axes to grind, or to save money or support reconfiguration; I want to be a team player on the board and hope to reach consensus," he said. "I think there's a lot of effort on behalf of the current board about being right and not being effective. I'd like to get rid of some of that emphasis in the next few years."
Dupuis said if elected he would bring a fresh set of eyes and opinions to the board, as well as a skillset that would assist with specific tasks.
"If you're running a $70 million business, you need to contribute to a good financial doctrine," he said. "And I think there are several outside revenue sources that are not being explored but have received a lot of lip service."
One of those avenues, he said, would be naming rights, endorsements and other forms of advertising that he said could be done tastefully and bring in much needed dollars.
"We also have what could be the best performing arts center in Chester County now at the high school. And there should be a committee formed to explore opportunities there as well."
He also said that even though the teachers' contract talks are over for the time being, June 2012 - the expiration date of the current contract - is not far away.
"I have a strong relationship with all parties involved and I'd like to see it done the old-fashioned way, with teachers and the board, and not PSSA representatives and lawyers," he said. "I think if we start sooner and work together we can get it fixed well before the contract ends."
East Marlborough resident Rob McPherson said that he feels his skills as a negotiator and training manager for the government could help the board make the hard decision ahead.
"I think what I did for 30 years gives an analytical approach that not everyone comes equipped with," he said. "The board is in for some difficult choices if the district wants to maintain the level of excellence for which it is rightfully known. I would rather be part of the solution rather than complaining about the results."
He added that should he be elected, he hopes to bring a middle ground to potentially polarizing issues.
"Middle ground is where progress is made. Extremes on either side don't move the ball forward," he said. "Politics always has a pendulum swinging and it always eventually settles in the middle. Why not start there?"
McPherson said that the district's options are limited in terms of budgetary solutions because of the way the state system is set up.
"You have to be realistic in the approach to the budget to maintain excellence, but the problem is how to do it while at the same time realistically reflecting the economic downturn and the impact that it's had on the residents," he said. "While there are some who would argue that times aren't bad in Unionville, I would argue the contrary."
Regarding the recently denied building reconfiguration study, McPherson said that while he could have voted to perform the study, he felt the timing of the event was off.
"I think we needed more time to get past the [teachers' contract] negotiations, and we just hired a new superintendent. I think we could have put it off until Mr. Sanville was established and see what his plans are," he said.
McPherson said that he also wants to make sure the board is representative of the entire Unionville-Chadds Ford community.
"It's not just parents with children in school," McPherson said. "Something like 70 percent of our residents don't currently have kids in our schools; they have to be factored in, too."