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Hoping to Improve Education for All Kids, Aarati Martino Runs for Central Bucks School Board

She may be tiny, but she is a force to be reckoned with.

Aarati Martino, a Google software engineer for nearly two decades and the mother of two is running for the Central Bucks School Board District Six.

Martino, the wife of Paul Martino, the venture capitalist who recently opened a posh sports bar in Center City Philadelphia, said the couple moved to Doylestown from Silicon Valley so their children could live normal lives.

“California is a very liberal place,” said Martino. “When we had our kids, we said, we can’t raise them here. It was too expensive. There’s not the support. There’s not the values.”

In Silicon Valley, “There’s a huge divide. You either send your kids to a very expensive, elite private school with all the other well-compensated people’s kids, or you could send them into public school where your kids are going to school with gangsters.”

“There’s no middle ground,” she said. “It’s actually really sad. We wanted our kids to go to school with people from all walks of life because that’s life. That’s the American way.

“Paul and I purposefully moved here from Silicon Valley so our kids could grow up somewhere normal, with good schools and great hoagies. After COVID, I saw the learning loss, especially in mathematics, and felt compelled to help fix it. My parents are immigrants, and we have benefited so much from this country, so I must pay it forward.”

Martino added, “I’m pretty sure I can use my engineering and management skills to elevate the kids and get them back on track. From there, I want to enhance their education so they will be ready for the fast-paced technological world we live in.  With disruptive technologies like ChatGPT and social media, we have to prepare kids with the right skills so they can succeed, regardless of what the future holds.

“My background is in engineering,” Martino continued. “So, I appreciate any occupation that also creates and makes things better, including the wealth of artisans, hairdressers, writers, chefs, woodworkers…all living around us. We should build mentorships for our kids with these amazing experts at an early age while their minds are so fresh,” she added.

But some in Central Bucks have been protesting since a Republican majority was elected to the school board in 2021. Media coverage is routinely negative. Members of the education establishment are fighting the board on several issues, such as removing pornographic books from school libraries and banning flags that promote politics from classrooms.

“We saw in politics these things are happening in southern California, and now it’s coming to our doorstep,” said Martino.

Martino is already under attack, with people saying her husband is buying her a seat on the school board.

But Martino, who holds degrees from M.I.T. and a Ph.D. from Stanford, said she makes her own money.

“She said, ‘I feel it’s my responsibility to run,’ and I was like, ‘Yes. Let’s go. Let’s do it.’”

Martino is detail-oriented and believes she would be a great school board member.

While some think the minutiae that school boards deal with is dull, she explained, “I’ve actually gotten good at that kind of stuff. So when you’re talking about the boring stuff at school board meetings, it’s like, no, that’s actually the (important) stuff. If you know those tiny little details, if you understand, then you can put that stuff together and actually build something really good,” said Martino. “You just need to know how to do it and pay attention to it…And once you know how something works, this is how this works and how this money goes here, well, you know.”

“Bucks County is such fertile ground, and the district is already affording so many great opportunities for our kids, and I believe we can do even more. I would love to unite the community to do what we all agree upon, enriching our children so they can flourish as adults.”

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Local Media Outlets Cover Bucks Co. School Board From an ‘Anti-LGBT’ Angle, But Reporters Frequently Ignore Board’s Perspective

This article firt appeared in Broad + Liberty

Readers of news in southeast Pennsylvania may be under the impression that “anti-LGBT” hate pervades the newly flipped Central Bucks School District, but the district isn’t being helped at all by local media determined not to include the district’s explanations and defenses of its policies.

On at least five occasions, two prominent news outlets in the region have published articles casting the current board in the Central Bucks School District in a negative light on socially divisive issues, but the articles contained scant reference — or no reference whatsoever — to the district’s position or reaction to events.

A Broad + Liberty review of numerous articles about the district identified two articles by WHYY’s Emily Rizzo and two articles by Bucks County Courier Times reporter Chris Ullery in which there was no attempt at all by the journalists to contemporaneously portray or describe the district’s point of view. One additional article by Rizzo did present part of the district’s point of view, but only quoted the board president for a total of four words, effectively negating the emotional plea she made at a board hearing.

For the five stories analyzed here, CBSD Board President Dana Hunter said the district was not contacted for comment. Rizzo, and Ullery’s employer, Gannet, dispute that conclusion and defended their work as fair.

STORY 1: ‘These are human rights issues’: Pa. school board directors condemn Central Bucks for apparent anti-LGBTQ actions

This February story focused on a letter authored by 52 school board members from other districts condemning many of the policies and actions of the CBSD, whose board was won by a conservative majority after the November 2021 elections.

Rizzo’s story quoted the letter at length, and also quoted two of the letter’s signers. The story did not, however, present any response from the district, nor did it attempt to present or paraphrase any of the previous arguments the board had put forward in the ongoing debate over its policies.

The sentence familiar to all news consumers — “A request for comment was not returned.” — does not appear anywhere in the story.

A Broad + Liberty analysis of the letter signatories cross-referenced with Pennsylvania voter rolls shows at least 50 of the 52 signatories are Democrats. The party affiliation of one could not be determined. One person who signed the letter, Diana Stitt, is not on a school board, having lost her election in 2021.

Rizzo ignored a pointed question as to whether she tried to determine any significant partisan leaning from the group who signed the letter.

One board member from a neighboring district said the letter’s curators probably knew to be cautious in whom to approach.

“As one of 2 Republican members of the school board at Owen J. Roberts, I was not approached regarding this letter. I learned about it from a news article and saw that one of our members signed it,” she said. “I have no idea who was approached regarding this letter, but I assumed that it was a Democratic initiative and as a known conservative, the organizers would know better than to approach me.”

Broad + Liberty reached out to 51 of the letter signatories to verify our party-affiliation analysis. Efforts to reach Stitt were unsuccessful.

STORY 2: Central Bucks asks ACLU to reveal the LGBTQ students behind its federal complaint. ACLU says they fear retaliation

One of the most consequential moments of the new board’s tenure came in October when the ACLU of Pennsylvania unveiled a 72-page complaint — 27 whole pages of which were redacted — it filed with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the CBSD had created a discriminatory atmosphere, especially with regards to gay and transgender students.

Rizzo’s story two days later noted that CBSD Board President Dana Hunter asked the ACLU for an unredacted version of the report so that it could investigate and appropriately deal with any instances of bullying.

Rizzo wrote that Hunter, “said the anonymous nature makes it ‘impossible’ for the district to ‘intervene.’”

Using that selectivity, Rizzo quoted a total of four words from CBSD Board President Dana Hunter, while quoting two persons from the ACLU more than thirty times that amount.

Despite having a full day between the board meeting and publishing her story, Rizzo would not or could not pull a quote from Hunter about her plea for help so that the district could address any problems of bullying or other problems of discrimination.

For example, Hunter said, “The anonymous and hidden nature of this information makes it impossible for our administrators, school counselors, and teachers to do the critical work of connecting with these unnamed individuals to intervene and address any possible bullying or problematic situations.”

“Please, if you are a student experiencing bullying or a family member who is concerned that your student is the target of discrimination or harassment of any kind, please come to your building principal, to your teachers, to anyone of our administrators, so that we can work together to support you and rectify the situation,” Hunter added.

Rizzo and her editors did not answer a direct question about why her story quoted Hunter so selectively and without context, as opposed to sharing longer portions of her statement.

The article seemed to imply that Hunter and the district wanted an unredacted version of the ACLU report to be released to the public at large, which Hunter says is not the case.

“The request was that the information be provided to administration so that the allegations could be investigated,” Hunter explained. “These are allegations against our teachers and staff. If there are children being bullied or harassed and it isn’t being handled properly, our administrators need to know so that it is properly addressed and children are protected.”

While Hunter’s remarks at the October meeting did not clearly express that the board hoped only for a private and confidential copy of the ACLU report, Rizzo’s reporting also did not resolve that ambiguity.

STORY 3: Student protesters threatened, while a new policy to censor library books looms in Central Bucks School District

The report from May led with the fact that an undisclosed number of students protested in support of teacher Andrew Burgess, whose leave of absence has been a topic of intense speculation and debate.

The district’s response is not provided, and Rizzo did not indicate she tried to get it.

This was the only story in which Rizzo gave specifics in her defense (her whole response provided further in the story), saying that the district failed to reply to two emails requesting comment. The story makes no mention of the outreach, or the district’s failure to respond.

STORY 4: CB teachers concerned about risk to students vow to defy transgender policy. ‘We’re not doing it’

In November, Ullery reported that a handful of teachers in the district planned to defy a district guide on which names to use for students.

The 1,400-word article did present prior arguments made by Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh, but the article also does not indicate if Ullery made any effort to obtain a contemporary quote from the district.

STORY 5: Central Bucks School District teachers walk out of meetings over new policy

An Ullery report from January summarized an incident where teachers walked out of class in protest of Policy 321, which bans teachers from displaying political flags or other paraphernalia in the classroom unless the flags or materials are related to the curriculum.

The policy is widely characterized in the media as “banning Pride flags,” — especially in headlines — but media characterizations rarely add that the policy also bans Trump flags, Thin Blue Line flags supporting law enforcement, and even the Confederate battle flag, unless the flags are related to curriculum, according to Hunter.

Ullery’s story quoted Superintendent Lucabaugh, but only from an email leaked to Ullery by the discontented teachers. Nothing in the story indicates if Ullery made a contemporary effort to obtain further comment from the district on the Lucabaugh email, or on the walkout.


Hunter says the district did reach out to WHYY and Rizzo last year to discuss concerns the district had about the reporting, a not uncommon move by elected officials or governments who feel reporting does not provide sufficient balance or factual accuracy.

“Based on Emily Rizzo’s words and actions, it does not appear that she has interest in providing accurate or balanced information,” Hunter told Broad + Liberty. “The communications team did have more than one conversation with her about this on our behalf. The coverage of the district did not change.”

If Rizzo and Ullery did not reach out to obtain contemporary comment from the district as Hunter alleges, the actions would run counter to the published ethical guidelines set forward by each outlet’s parent news organization.

WHYY is a taxpayer-funded affiliate of National Public Radio whose ethical guide states, “We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.”

The Bucks County Courier Times is owned by Gannett News, whose ethical reporting guide says, “We will strive to include all sides relevant to a story and not take sides in news coverage.”

In response to a detailed list of questions, Rizzo said, “I’ve reached out to school district leaders and stakeholders throughout my reporting and will continue to do so. For the story dated May 14, 2022, I reached out to the school district asking for a response to the allegations, as I do always. In two separate emails, the district gave me no reply.”

“I will continue to report on the Central Bucks School District developments with fairness and accuracy,” she concluded.

“The Bucks County Courier Times strives to include all relevant sides in our reporting,” said Danielle Camilli, editor of the Bucks County Courier Times and the Intelligencer. “We have provided the district with an opportunity to comment on the new policy and the ongoing issues being raised by faculty and students. Throughout the course of our reporting we will continue to be fair, accurate, complete, and unbiased in our coverage.”

Even when the board majority has had the opportunity to directly communicate its own thoughts and ideas, as it did in a January editorial in the Inquirer, the board says it has been left feeling snake-bitten.

When the six members of the “majority” authored the editorial in defense of some of its policies, the Inquirer headlined the piece, “We voted to ban Pride flags in Central Bucks classrooms because students should be taught how to think, not what to think[.]”

“The Philadelphia Inquirer chose the headline, we did not have any knowledge of it,” Hunter said. “Many of us were very frustrated with the title chosen and did not feel it was accurate. The headline contradicted the content of the op Ed, subsequently it lead (sic) to emails from the community expressing much confusion.”

Requests for comment to the Inquirer about the editorial’s headline were not returned.

“So yes, Policy 321 prevents teachers from hanging Pride flags in their classrooms” the editorial noted. “But it also bans anti-abortion banners, or any poster advocating for a particular partisan, political, or social policy issue, unless related to the day’s curriculum.

“We understand that the policy upsets some advocates. It upsets some teachers who want to advocate their personal views in the classroom; it upsets some students who agree with those views; it upsets some community activists who want to see their views championed in the classroom; it upsets some elements of the press who agree with those views; and it upsets the three board members who voted against the policy. But this outcry merely demonstrates the urgent need for the policy. Without it, partisan activity would abound in some classrooms.”

Central Bucks’ New Policy Draws Scrutiny

Staff members in the Central Bucks School District could soon face disciplinary action for advocating to students about “partisan, political or social policy issues.”

The proposal, advanced after discussion at a policy meeting this month, is up for consideration at next month’s school board meeting and could be adopted as early as February, according to school officials.

The controversial policy, which has spurred an outside investigation into the district’s treatment of LGBTQ students, says employees “shall not display any flag, banner, poster, sign, sticker, pin, button, insignia, paraphernalia, photograph, or other similar material that advocates concerning any partisan, political, or social policy.”

It was retooled, at the recommendation from district legal counsel, who nixed language which previously referred to “beliefs about sexual orientation” and “beliefs about gender identity” as topics for which teachers to avoid advocating.

The revisions did little to quell the heated debate at a recent committee meeting, with supporters claiming the measure is solely intended to keep classrooms “neutral” and ensure students are educated rather than “indoctrinated.”

But critics feel the policy is too vaguely worded and makes teachers targets for parents who could interpret lessons as having political and policy slants with which they disagree.

At the Dec. 14 meeting, the Republican majority was asked to more narrowly define “social policy issues.”

Abortion was mentioned as one example, and board president Dana Hunter told The Inquirer in a statement the policy prohibits Pride flags “just as it would prohibit, for example, the display of Blue Lives Matter flags, antiabortion flags, or any other flags that advocate on social policy issues.”

The struggle plays out at the same time that the district faces a U.S. Department of Education investigation based on allegations laid out in a complaint filed earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

The organization claims the district has created a hostile environment for LGBTQ students, pointing in part to a recent decision from district officials requiring staff members to remove Pride flags from their classrooms because they conveyed political sentiments.

The school district hired the law firm Duane Morris, of which former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain is a partner, to review the ACLU’s claims and review the district’s policies.

Jamie Walker, who has three children attending district schools, said the issue was being overblown by political factions upset by GOP control of the board.

“I personally think the Democratic Party is using it to try to sway people to vote for them during school board elections,” she told DVJournal in a recent interview. “They want to try to paint our Republican school board members as anti-gay, anti-inclusive. I don’t know why they’re making it such a big deal. I think parents want to keep all classrooms neutral.”

One board member worried teachers who displayed pictures of same-sex spouses would subject to harassment.

And others who spoke during public comment said it opened up a Pandora’s box, potentially deterring other forms of advocacy, such as autism awareness.

Retired Bucks Central teacher Katherine Semisch said students are already increasingly uncomfortable with being exposed to a curriculum that doesn’t jibe with their beliefs.

Such a policy, in addition to alienating LGBTQ students, could stymie intellectually honest conversations in classrooms, she added.

“Where is the evidence of any indoctrination? It’s a policy based on runaway fears,” Semisch said. “Students become adversaries, spying and reporting out on their teachers. … This is a problem, not a goal.”

Advocates said the policy carved out exemptions protecting teachers from unnecessary parental intrusion.

The policy says instruction on political and social issues is allowed “when directly relevant to the curriculum and appropriate to classroom studies given the students’ age, class year, and course of study; provided, however, that such instruction or study is not to advocate concerning a partisan, political, or social policy issue.”

Walker believes the district is “being run great,” and she’s “fine with my kids learning about all sorts of things.” But felt it’s best if teachers keep political opinions to themselves.

“What happened in Bucks County during COVID, it just opened up parents’ eyes to what’s going on with their schools and how politicized they’ve become. Parents are sick of it,” she said. “People just want their kids to get educated. Keep politics out of this.”

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“Back to School PA” Funder Says Union-Backed School Board Members Should Recuse From Contract Approvals

The man who fueled a political action committee boosting school board candidates committed to in-person instruction took his fight directly into the heart of the arena [March 8], arguing that board members who accepted election funding from teachers’ unions should recuse themselves from upcoming contract negotiations.

Paul Martino, the multimillionaire funder behind “Back to School PA,” made his remarks in person at a Central Bucks School District board meeting, the district where two of his children are enrolled.

He set the table for allegations of hypocrisy by saying his own activism in school board races in 2021 had frequently been referred to as “unheard of” or unprecedented.

“Also of note: $40,000 was contributed in cash and in kind to the Democratic candidates by the PSEA [Pennsylvania State Education Association teachers’ union], the school board, the school teachers. This is a truly unheard-of amount of $8,000 per candidate,” he said.


“In my day job, I sit on a lot of boards of directors and that’s called conflicted interest,” he concluded while saying board members Dr. Mariam Mahmud and Dr. Tabitha Dell’Angelo should recuse themselves from the upcoming collective bargaining for a new multi-year contract.

Martino is a co-founder and managing general partner at Bullpen Capital, a venture capital firm.

After being frustrated with the at-home telelearning his children endured at the start of the pandemic, he began to pour some of his political discontent into the PAC, Back to School PA. BTSPA then took Martino’s contributions and doled them out in smaller increments to even smaller PACS across the commonwealth dedicated to races within a single school board.

BTSPA executive director Beth Ann Rosica told Broad + Liberty that 113 candidates supported by the PAC won their races in November.

In his runup to asking for the recusal, Martino tried to draw a contrast between how his own political activism had been treated in the press and elsewhere compared to monies raised and distributed by unions and their allies.

“I’m here to tell you that Democrat candidates raised $122,000 compared to our $95,000 — outspending us by $30,000 or by 30%. It was the Democrats who spent an unprecedented amount of money on this race, not the Republicans. And they did so in a convoluted way, through ten different PACS, hiding the ball.”

Martino put his claims in a white paper produced and published on the BTSPA website. Although Broad + Liberty has not had the opportunity to factcheck all of Martino’s assertions, campaign finance reports obtained and shared by BTSPA show that the PSEA did provide at least $38,000 to the PAC that supported the Democratic slate of candidates, CBSD Neighbors United. The PSEA also made smaller donations in the race to complete the $41,000 referenced by Martino in his remarks at the board meeting.

Neither the PSEA nor the Central Bucks School District returned requests for comment.

The current contract for teachers in Central Bucks expires on June 30, according to this copy of the contract posted online.

Meanwhile, the district has been without a contract for support professionals since June, according to a January report from the Bucks County Courier Times.

“While specifics have not been discussed publicly, the stalemate appears to be at least in part due to pay increases that employees have said need to reflect the added work brought by the pandemic since 2020,” the paper said.

Martino’s activism last year drew even national coverage from outlets like Vice, amidst a year in which education was a pivot point for many voters nationally. Pundits pointed to the surprise victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race as proof. That race seemed to hinge on a gaffe in which former Governor Terry McCauliffe said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Prior to last year’s fall elections, the Inquirer reported on Martino and his PAC, quoting critics who said his efforts were bringing “toxic politics to the local level.” A story in Philadelphia was headlined, “Inside the Ridiculously Vicious and Increasingly Nasty Local Elections in Bucks County.”

A podcast from the New York Times highlighted Martino’s influence.

“It’s a lot of money, but what may be most new and noteworthy is that so much of the money sloshing around in these races is coming from one guy,” Times national correspondent Campbell Robertson said. “Typically, a lot of the money in school board races comes from small donors, though the local party will give some money to the teachers’ union sometimes. Well, this year, in Bucks County, just one local PAC had put $50,000 into the races in the county by mid-October. And almost all of that came from Martino.”

But at the Tuesday board meeting, Martino seemed clearly irked by how he thought campaign finances had been portrayed.

“I was not the source of dark money. My contributions were clearly marked,” he said. “It was the other team that was hiding the ball.”

This article first appeared in Broad and Liberty.