2019 PSEA SCHOOL DIRECTOR QUESTIONNAIRE
(Please Print or Type)
Name of Candidate: ___Philip Schwarz ____________________________
Address: ___3370 Bartram Road _________________________
___Willow Grove, PA 19090 ___________________
E-mail Address: email@example.com________________
Telephone Number: (Home) ______________________________________
Does or will the campaign have a web page? Yes ______ No ____X__
If so, the address is: ________n/a__________________________________
Social Media (y/n): Facebook ___N__ Twitter __N___ Other _None__
Democrat Republican X Cross filed? Yes__X_____ No________
Campaign Chair: _____Self_______________________________________
Campaign Treasurer: _____Self_______________________________________
Candidate Campaign Committee: N/A
Campaign Committee Address: N/A
Campaign Committee E-mail: _______N/A_______________________________________
School District: _____Upper Moreland Township_______________________
County/Counties in School District: _____Montgomery__________________________________
1. Why have you decided to be a candidate for the school board?
I have been a resident of Willow Grove for 35 years and a Township resident for 25. I have a 35 year career in business and finance and my wife and I have raised three children to successful adulthood. I am completing my first term as a board member and I believe I have made many contributions to the board over that period, serving as Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee, serving on the Human Resources Committee, the Programs and Services Committee, as the District’s board member on the Intermediate Unit board where I also am currently serving on the IU’s Facilities committee, and have served as a Board representative on several labor negotiating teams for the District. In addition to my background and past contributions to the board, I believe that while there is value in introducing new board members with fresh perspectives I also believe there is great value in continuity and the historical perspective on continuing issues that board continuity provides. Because of this belief, when I ran the first time I committed myself to running for a second term. Except for the School Board, I have never run for a political office, and have no intention of running for any office once my tenure as a Board Director is done. Serving on the School Board is not a stepping stone for me, and my sole purpose is to offer my talents for the benefit of the students in the District and the community at large.
2. What is your view of the purpose of public education?
The purpose of public education is to provide an education to each student in the District that allows them to develop their own knowledge and talents to the greatest extent possible so that they may realize their potential and contribute to the community for the betterment of all.
3. What are your top three objectives if elected to the school board?
My top three objectives would be:
To maintain the high level of programs currently available to our students. I believe the District has made some significant achievements that provide an enriched educational experience for our students, including our award winning foreign language and music programs as well as our recently completed investment in our athletic facilities. As a Board member I would support the administration as we build and expand on these and other initiatives that maintain the quality of our programs.
To be a good financial steward of the resources available to the District. While the community has an interest in and obligation to educate every child, the Board has the obligation to provide that education in a manner that is fiscally efficient and consistent with the values of the community. Costs do not go down, so the Board and the administration must find ways to generate additional revenues are well as find cost savings where available. I believe that the Act 1 Index is a good benchmark for increasing taxes, balancing the increased costs of providing a quality education with the needs of the community and I would continue to support the Board’s past practice of limited tax increases to the Index.
To prepare the District to educate the students of the future. This objective has two parts, the first of which is fiscal. As a Board member I would seek to ensure that the District is on a sustainable track in terms of meeting the expenses of operating its programs, without any deferred maintenance or back ended contract terms that could derail program offerings in future years. I would also continue to support the administration’s’ Framework for Continuous Improvement, as that process has proven to engage teachers and produce courses that are rigorous and timely.
4. Did you attend public schools? Do/did your children (if applicable) attend public schools? Do you have family members that are or were previously employed by public schools?
I attended public schools. My children did not attend public schools, as my wife and I placed a high value on having a religious component be an integral part of our children’s education. I have no family members who are or were previously employed by public schools.
5. Please list your volunteer activities within the school or your community.
My wife and I believe very strongly in a religious component to education that is not available in the public schools. We decided to send our three children to local Catholic schools all the way through high school. This is not a reflection of our opinion of the quality of education available in the public schools, which we believe is very high, but does reflect our desire to have our faith integrated into our children’s education in a way that is not available in the public schools or possible in the other forms of religious education that our church offered. All that said, when my son was in school I was a basketball coach and a Cub Scout den leader, and I have served my church as a Eucharistic minister, been a member of a school consolidation committee, and have chaired a school fund raising committee that raised almost $20,000 for the school in its first year.
6. Have you ever attended a school board meeting? Under what circumstances were you there?
I have attended many, many meetings, both prior to my election to learn all I could about Board function and the issues facing the board, and subsequently in my service as a member of the board.
In addition to Upper Moreland’s regular Tuesday night meetings, I commit an additional evening each month to the Intermediate Unit Board Meeting, and I have attended many contract negotiating and meet and discuss agreement meetings in the course of my Board service.
7. Would you be willing to meet with local association members, on a regular basis, to discuss issues of importance to children and education in our school district?
Certainly the Board, and I as a member of that Board, are always available to discuss issues of importance to children and education in the District. The Programs and Services committee is specifically designed for that purpose and the administration regularly brings in association members to describe changes and improvements in curriculum and course offerings that must be approved by the Board. If you have ever been to our committee meetings, they are quite open and once the Board has completed their comments there is often an extensive and wide ranging conversation with the audience, including teachers. I know the administration also meets regularly with the association. As a Board member, I am just one of nine so while I would certainly make myself available to any association member, I cannot speak for the Board and would hesitate to relay any association concern when those concerns can be expressed directly at the committee meetings.
8. As a school director, which of the following would be the most important to you?
_____ Holding the line on taxes at all costs
__X___ Providing the best possible curriculum, textbooks and new technology even if it means an increase in taxes
The Board’s practice has been to increase taxes at the Act 1 Index to provide the necessary funding to maintain the quality of educational programs and physical plant that we enjoy at Upper Moreland.
While there are 17.0% of our residents who are over 65 and probably on fixed incomes, and 12.4%
of our tax base is from just the top ten commercial and industrial concerns in our District that have no vote, I believe raising taxes at the Index to maintain our District standards is the best course for the good of the entire community.
9. What are your views on organized labor and public education employee collective bargaining rights?
There are laws in place that give Labor the right to organize and be represented collectively. So long as those laws are in place and the employees freely make the choice to be so represented, I respect that decision. Whether organized or not, my desire as a Board member is to be the best, fairest employer I can be, balancing all of the factors of providing a quality education, a fiduciary duty as a steward of the community’s taxes, and needs and desires of those employees choosing to be represented collectively.
10. Do you believe school employees should have the right to strike?
This is a difficult question for me. In a typical strike situation both sides have an incentive to settle because during a strike management loses profits from production and labor loses wages. However, that lose/lose dynamic is missing in a school employee strike because the product, the number of school days, and the cost for those days in employee wages, are both fixed and mandated by law and by contract. The only losers in a school employee strike are the students and the community. That said, the law allows teachers a limited right to strike and if they believe that a strike is the only way to communicate their position to the administration and the community, then I would not be in favor of limiting that right.
11. Do you believe school employees deserve retirement security in the form of a defined benefit pension?
I believe everyone deserves retirement security and I further believe that the District and the community have the obligation to assist school employees in achieving that security. The vast majority of our community members must provide for their own retirement security through a defined contribution plan under which they individually determine their contributions, and therefore their eventual level of retirement assets, as well as assuming and determining the level of market risk inherent in the investment of those assets. I believe that forcing the District and the community to shoulder those contribution and risk burdens to guaranty school employees a certain retirement income, a guaranty and certainty that very few in the community enjoy, is inherently unfair. Also, with investment returns impacting required defined benefit contributions, the financial pressure of that variability on a District with limited ability to raise taxes to fund those contributions inevitably will negatively impact programs. A defined contribution plan, with the District making a fixed contribution, can certainly provide school employees with an adequate level of retirement security commensurate with that of the members of the community.
12. Do you oppose public tax support of private and parochial schools through a system of tuition vouchers or tuition tax credits?
I believe that a parent should be free to choose to send their child to any school they want. That said, every parent has an interest not only in the education of their own child but in the education of all of the children in their community and they must contribute toward that obligation. The voucher/credit proposals I have seen simply siphon funds away from the public schools, with all of their mandates, to private schools. Until the issue of sharing the costs of those mandates amongst all of the educational institutions can be resolved, and the communal cost of educating all of the children can be quantified, I would not be in favor of a voucher system.
13. Would you oppose efforts to allow private companies to provide the services now offered by our public school district such as custodial, transportation or food services?
By answering this question no, I am not saying that I am in favor of immediately contracting out any or all services currently provided by the District. However, given the Board’s limited ability to raise taxes, and the reduction of revenue generated by any tax increase by the decline in our tax base, I believe the District has a duty to and must be able to explore all options.
14. Would you oppose the creation of (additional) charter or cyber schools in your district?
Similar to vouchers, charters syphon off revenue without the obligation to provide mandated services. Also, cyber schools do not have many of the costs associated with facilities, transportation, and food services that the Districts have yet are reimbursed using average costs that include all of those expenses. Until the inequity in the cyber funding formula is addressed, I would oppose any additional charter schools in the district.
Teaching and Learning Conditions
15. Do you support full day kindergarten?
The Administration has repeatedly demonstrated to the board the value of pre-school and full day kindergarten as a factor in success in later grades. The logic in their arguments seems unassailable and I am fully in support of full day kindergarten.
16. Do you support reduced class size (classes no larger than 18-20) in K-3rd grades? What steps would you take to institute reduced class size within our school district?
The District currently has reduced class sizes in the earlier grades. Each spring the administration makes their enrollment projections and determines the number of classes for each grade, comparing the resulting average class size to the trend over the last ten years. Teacher assignments are shifted and thresholds for adding additional teacher resources to maintain the desired class sizes are discussed. I think this process works very well and I see no reason to change it.
17. Do you believe in the importance of investing in and promoting programs that support the health and development of the whole child? This would include electives and special programs such as art, music, foreign languages and technical education, along with library programs and wellness professionals including school nurses, psychologists, counselors, social workers, home and school visitors, and dental hygienists.
I am fully in support of programs that support the development of the whole child. The District’s music programs have been recognized by outside organizations twice this year, the foreign language department has similarly been recognized during my tenure, and the District adopted the block schedule at the high school in order to provide more elective classes such as the recently introduced film making course. We send more students to Eastern than any of the other participating schools. These are all points of tremendous pride and as a director I would do all I could to support and expand the programs that made them happen.
18. What do you feel is the best means to improve the safety of our schools?
There has been a lot of discussion on school safety in the year since the Parkland shooting. While hardening the envelope and other physical measures are certainly helpful, it seems as though the most significant factor impacting school safety is mental health. As other government agencies suffer funding cutbacks, more and more mental health initiatives fall to the schools. During a roundtable discussion at the Montgomery County Legislative Breakfast meeting other district superintendants echoed Dr. Milrod’s comments regarding mental health issues being the number one reported topic on school hotlines, and by a wide margin. While we should certainly continue to improve safety through initiatives like the ID badges at the high school, improved vestibule configuration and visitor ID security measures, and the presence of security personnel at school events, I believe the place we can get the greatest return on our efforts is to recognize and address issues before they get to the point where those other physical measures are necessary.
19. Would you oppose allowing school employees, other than trained security personnel, to carry firearms in the school district?
This is another very difficult question for me. It seems to me that the best way to stop someone with a gun is by another person with a gun, and having armed personnel in our buildings may have some deterrent effect on would-be violent actors. However, having a constant firearm presence in our schools does not come without a cost.
I believe that the constant presence of firearms in our schools, even if only carried by police officers, would have a detrimental impact on the atmosphere in our schools and the attitudes of the students as they come to class. Having had three of my own children, I know that they learn a lot from their environment, and the message from an
environment where guns are a constant necessity would be that there is constantly something to fear that guns protect them from. I think that is a message that would keep us from helping each student to reach their full potential and contributing to the community to the extent they otherwise might. I believe those detrimental effects would occur all day, every day, all year long, and that detriment must be weighed against the extremely remote chance that one of our schools would be the target of a violent attack. It is a difficult balance, but I am against the constant presence of firearms in our schools.
20. Would you oppose completely eliminating the property tax as the primary vehicle for local school funding?
The best way to ensure that the educational institutions in a community reflect that community’s values and goals is to keep local control over the funding. There is no formula, no matter how creative, which can adequately allocate centrally controlled funds in a manner that would fairly address the needs of the wide variety of school districts in Pennsylvania. I believe that the real estate tax is the best way to generate those funds, as compared to other forms of tax like an income tax or sales tax, since an investment in owning real estate is a long term commitment to the community, similar to the 13 year commitment required to educate a child through high school.
21. Act 1 of Special Session 2006 permits school boards to raise tax rates up to the rate of inflation each year without seeking voter approval. Would you vote to increase taxes up to this rate on a consistent basis in order to ensure that no unnecessary cuts to the school district’s educational programs are required due to a failed backend referendum?
While I believe the entire community has an obligation to educate every child, the School Board also has an obligation to the community to be good financial stewards of the funds entrusted to it by the community.
In Upper Moreland only 17.2% of the residents are ages 5-19, or school age and with a direct interest in school spending, while 17.0% are 65 or older and probably on fixed incomes. Similarly, only 28.8% of the households in the Township have children under the age of 18 so most of the households do not directly benefit from the schools or the facilities the District provides. Finally, the top ten tax payers in the District, not surprisingly, are business concerns and they represent 12.4% of all taxes paid. The percentage of taxes paid by all business concerns, who have no vote in our board elections, would be much greater. I believe that the Act 1 index, as developed by PDE, is as good a gauge as any to set a fair level of taxation that best balances the needs and obligations of all the community. This has been the Board’s practice since before my tenure and I fully support continuation of that practice.
22. Act 1 of Special Session 2006 does provide school boards with the ability to raise tax rates above the rate of inflation without seeking voter approval in limited instances, when school districts have what are deemed “exceptable” costs. Typically, these are costs over which school boards have little or no discretion, such as special education costs. Would you support seeking all available exceptions to avoid costly and polarizing backend referendum ballot questions?
As I stated above, I believe the Act 1 index is the best, fairest measure of the rate of tax increase to support our schools. That being said, I am not opposed to seeking the exception rate in extraordinary circumstances. Due to the exemption of several large properties as a result of appeals, the tax base for 2019-2020 declined significantly.
This decline greatly limited the additional revenue generated by increasing the tax rate at the Index, and I joined the rest of the Board in unanimously approving that the administration seek exceptions for the upcoming budget year.
While I would not support an extended practice of seeking exceptions over an extended period of years, I believe it is certainly preferable to seek the exception that to cut programs as a result of a short term set back such as those exemption rulings.
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