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WCASB Shoots Down Valley Forge Charter (Again); Now Lawmakers Seek Reforms

The West Chester Area School Board voted 7-0 Monday to reject a proposed charter school, Valley Forge Classical Academy, the second time the WCAB turned down its application.

The state legislature is now looking into changes to the charter school law that may make it easier for new charter schools to form in the face of opposition from officials and union groups who portray these school choice options as harmful to traditional public schools.

Guy Ciarrocchi, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools board member and former Chesco Chamber of Business and Industry CEO, decried the decision.

“Sadly, the West Chester School Board did what too many school boards do in Pennsylvania. They rejected competition; they rejected giving parents a choice. Taxpayers who support giving children access to quality schools, empowering parents, and competition should be rooting for Valley Forge as they appeal this decision. If they win, everyone wins.”

The Commonwealth Foundation’s education policy analyst Rachel Langan said, “The state could make charter schools more accessible by easing requirements to set up a charter school, allowing the tax dollars to follow the student and making the charter appeal board more charter-friendly.”

And she pointed out what school choice advocates say is the absurdity of the current system for getting public charter schools approved. She compared it to Wegman’s grocery store chain needing approval from a competitor, Acme, to move in next door.

“Imagine if Wegmans also had to secure a location for their store without knowing if Acme would support it. That’s costly and risky—and essentially represents the current charter approval process. If denied, Wegmans loses money and must appeal. If the proposal is approved, Acme must pay Wegmans each time a customer shops at Wegmans instead of Acme.

“This doesn’t make sense for a grocery store, and it doesn’t make sense for schools, either,” Langan said. “Why would a school district choose this model? The model is flawed and needs to be changed.”

The Commonwealth Foundation is the state’s free-market think tank.

State Sen. Dave Argall (R-Carbon/Schuylkill), who chairs the education committee, said the House and Senate are trying to change the charter school law. A year ago, he brought together interested parties to discuss issues, from charter schools, cyber charters, public schools, the teachers’ union, and the association representing public school business officials.

“I joked at one point it was like bringing Cowboys fans and Eagles fans into the same room,” said Argall. “They have some things in common, but they have very strong differences.”

And with a Democratic-run House, a Democratic governor, and a Republican-led Senate, there have to be compromises. He said he believes small changes can be made at first.

“We need to do a better job of helping the school boards pay some of the costs of charters,” said Argall. “We should look at how schools are reimbursed for special needs (students).”

“You know it’s going to be painful,” he continued. “You know it’s going to be complicated. But I think there is a basic consensus that we should try.”

“A lot of us strongly support school choice,” he said.

School choice supporters held a rally at the state Capitol on Tuesday. Supporters of the Valley Forge Classical Academy plan to appeal to the state Charter School Board. They are collecting signatures from supporters so they can file that appeal.

The district issued a statement saying the application did not meet the district’s standards or the state’s standards.

“We know that our community, our students, thrive on high-quality educational experiences and programs,” said Karen Fleming, president of the WCASB. “While we recognize the Valley Forge Classical Academy’s enthusiasm for student enrichment, the revised application and district evaluation still demonstrate the proposed charter school’s inability to meet the caliber of education our community and our state expect.”

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ROSICA:Past Performance is an Indicator of Future Decisions

As summer comes to an end, election season is in full swing.  While many consider these off-year elections unimportant, I believe that local elections impact us more than state and national races. Specifically, school board elections matter much more than many people realize.

First and foremost, Pennsylvania is one of very few states that grant school directors the authority to raise taxes without the consent of voters.  Currently, the West Chester Area School District’s (WCASD) annual budget is over $300 million dollars.  While many residents don’t mind paying taxes to support our schools, the district’s performance in recent years seems to indicate that there is not a strong return on investment.  Paying your school taxes should be an investment in our students’ and our community’s future.

As a professional who has worked in the field of education for over 30 years, I do not believe that standardized tests are the best measure of individual student achievement. However, they are one indicator to assess the effectiveness of schools. With a $300 million annual budget, it would be a reasonable conclusion that the WCASD has stellar academic outcomes.

However, based on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing data for 2022, only 25 percent of WCASD 8th graders were proficient in Math. Additionally, proficiency in English Language Arts for elementary school students actually dropped from 75% in 2021-2022 to 73% in 2022-2023. Learning to read at the elementary level is an indicator of future success. When a child leaves 5th grade below the proficient reading level, they are at a much greater risk of never learning to read and potentially dropping out of school. Currently, over 25 percent of the district’s elementary school children are not proficient in reading.

In addition to declining test scores, the Pennsylvania Department of Education recently placed two WCASD middle schools and one elementary school on a “watch list” because students in those schools are experiencing a prolonged period of academic distress. Fewer high school students are taking the SATs. While the budget has increased 52 percent since 2013, academic outcomes have decreased. This is not a very good return on the taxpayers’ investment.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Auditor General issued a report in January stating that the WCASD school directors have not been good stewards of tax dollars. According to the report, the district played a “shell game” to move money around and “sandbagged” the budget to allow the board to raise taxes without taxpayer consent.

“The overall results of this audit should raise concerns due to the district’s common yet questionable practices that are placing an excess burden on taxpayers across Pennsylvania,” Auditor General DeFoor said in the report. While this activity was not illegal, it was at the least nontransparent, and at the worst, unethical.

There are three incumbent school board directors running for re-election in November. Those three directors voted to raise our taxes over multiple years when the Auditor General stated that it was unnecessary.  These three incumbents also voted to keep schools closed and supported masking mandates after the state Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional.

While many in our community have moved past the school closures and mask mandates, it is important to remember how much our children suffered both academically and socially. And our most vulnerable children have endured the most dire outcomes.  Despite the evidence documenting the adverse effects of school closures, there are schools around the country that have already transitioned to remote learning due to COVID and others that have reinstated masking. Will WCASD do the same?

If past performance is any indication of future actions, the answer is yes. If the answer is no, then each of the three incumbents should publicly acknowledge their voting record and their poor decisions. They are at least partially responsible for the abysmal academic decline of the district, and they are responsible for raising taxes unnecessarily.  Would you continue to invest in a stock portfolio with declining results and increased prices?

Absent assurances from the three incumbents regarding school closures, masking, academic performance, and taxes, we simply cannot trust them to do what is right for our students and our community. It is important to remember these facts on election day.  Your vote is private, and no one needs to know who you vote for, so vote your conscience and do what is right and best for our children.

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Two Slates of Candidates Vie for West Chester Area School Board

Like many Delaware Valley parents, some in the West Chester Area School District believe their school district isn’t living up to its potential, and their children are not receiving the education they deserve.

Back to Basics West Chester, a non-partisan political action committee, was founded by parents in the West Chester Area School District with the mission to refocus on academic excellence for every student through a more balanced school board,” said Beth Ann Rosica, campaign manager. “Our platform is based on six primary pillars, including school safety, keeping politics out of the classroom, academic excellence, fiscal accountability, transparency, and parents as partners.

“School Safety was recently added to the platform as a result of feedback from voters while our candidates were door-knocking,” she said. “Our five endorsed candidates were selected for their diverse views and experiences, and each brings a unique skill set that will help to balance and complement the current board members. Our candidates include Nick Spangler and Bob Rafetto for Region 1, Amanda Greenberg and Peggy Schmitt in Region 2, and Alain Oliver in Region 3.”

“I never anticipated running for school board,” said Greenberg. “It’s not something I ever aspired to do.”

“My family moved to the West Chester Area School District two years ago, and I’ve been a teacher for 10 years,” said Greenberg. “So, I’m pretty familiar with all the ins and outs of education from a teacher’s perspective.

“The first day we went to the bus stop in our new neighborhood, when the twins were in kindergarten, we were really excited, Greenberg said. “The neighborhood was full of kids. And then I realized we were one of only two families sending their kids to public school in the entire neighborhood.”

The other children went to private and charter schools.

While the district has a good reputation, she discovered that test scores had declined. She attended school board meetings and asked questions, only to find out “it’s not very parent-friendly.”

Test scores are down, but taxes are up, she said. It was time to take action.

“I am most concerned about the academic decline of our district. Our children lost a great deal of academics when schools were closed and in the hybrid model. Many of our students are not proficient in reading and math,” she said. “We need to spend every minute of instructional time focused on getting our children caught up and at least to the proficient level. Every child is entitled to an appropriate education that includes, at a minimum, proficiency in reading and math.

Alain Oliver said he tried to get people to run for the school board and ended up running himself. He was hesitant because he had two kids in high school and was worried there might be repercussions for them.

But he also noticed academics are trending down.

“My biggest concern is academics,” said Oliver. He is also concerned that the district is not transparent. He has a background in economics, holds an MBA, and works in nonprofit management and believes those skills will help the district with analysis. For example, a few years ago, WCASD bought Singapore Math, a new curriculum. He then got rid of it. He wondered what the reasons were for the change, such as whether more teacher training was needed.

“These conversations never unfold at the board level,” Oliver said. He would like to see constant improvements “through disciplined analysis.”

Oliver said test scores in the WCASD have declined by 48 percent over five years, a trend that began before the pandemic. He listed these PSSA scores to illustrate:

In 2017, 73 percent of WCASD 3rd graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2018, 67.7 percent of WCASD 4th graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2019, 66.5 percent of WCASD 5th graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2020 PSSAs were canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, 38 percent of WCASD 7th graders scored advanced or proficient in math; in 2022, 24. percent of WCASD 8th graders scored advanced or proficient in math. The data shows that only 1 out of 4 WCASD freshmen are competent in math, a Back to Basics blog post points out.

Ten candidates are running for five seats.

The others, including four incumbents and one new candidate, are also running together with the name “United for West Chester Area School Board.” Those candidates are Alex Christy, Katy Frey in Region 1, Daryll Durnell, Karen Hermann in Region 2, and Gary Bevilacqua in Region 3. DVJournal reached out to two incumbents for comment, Bevilaqua and Christy. Christy did not respond.

Bevilaqua said DVJournal had not given him enough time for a response.

Christy, who was appointed by the board to fill a vacancy in March, is district office director for Democratic state Sen. Tim Kearney and is active in the Democratic Party. Bevilacqua is the vice president of the school board. He is a technical project manager in the IT division at Vanguard.

The primary will be held on May 16, and the candidates have cross-filed. Candidates with the highest vote totals will move on to the fall election.

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Former Back to School PAC Director Vies for West Chester Area School Board Opening

West Chester Area School Board member Kate Shaw resigned at the Feb. 27 meeting. Although she is leaving the board before the end of her term in December for work-related reasons, she mentioned a petition that some community members brought against five board members, including Shaw, over their votes to impose masks “during a global pandemic that killed over 1 million people” in her farewell remarks.

However, some experts said mandatory masks harmed the children that well-meaning officials meant to protect. A judge ruled for the petitioners, then reversed himself the next day. The five board members had voted to keep students masked despite a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling against it.

“It’s been an honor and privilege like none other,” said Shaw about her eight years on the school board. But community criticism of the board in the last two years, she said, has “done real damage.”

One of the parents who brought that petition, Beth Ann Rosica, is vying to replace Shaw.

Rosica is a parent advocate with a Ph.D. in educational leadership and owns a public relations and consulting business. She was the executive director and chief strategy officer of Back to School PAC, which backed school board candidates around the state who opposed closing schools during the COVID pandemic. She was also a vice president at a national company that runs programs to help families and youth. Rosica has also been an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I would like the opportunity to serve on our board because I care deeply about our community and our students, particularly our most vulnerable children,” Rosica said. “I think it is important for every school board to have a heterogeneous mix of directors to ensure a balanced, non-partisan approach to decision-making. With a Ph.D. in education and as the owner of a successful business, I believe that I have a variety of skills that would be helpful to the other board members and ultimately to our community.”

The board has also contended with critics who oppose teaching Critical Race Theory and gender theory to young children. As well as parents who object to the district not telling them if their children are talking about changing their gender and want to use different names and pronouns.

The school district asked people who live in District One and would like to serve on the board for the remainder of Shaw’s term, which ends in December, to apply. The West Chester Area School Board Directors will hold a Special Board Meeting next Monday at 7:00 p.m. in the Spellman Education Center, 782 Springdale Dr. in Exton to appoint a candidate to fill the vacant school board seat.


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Judge Reverses Course in West Chester Area School District Case

Just days after a stunning ruling that would have swept five members of the West Chester Area School Board out of office, Common Pleas Court Judge William Mahon Friday reversed course and permitted them to stay—for now.

Superintendent Robert Sokolowski sent this note to parents: “Earlier today, The Chester County Court of Common Pleas heard oral arguments for reconsideration of the order issued on Tuesday, March 29, to remove five WCASD school board members. The judge presiding over this legal matter then ruled from the bench to vacate his earlier order and has since issued a written order as well.”

He promised to keep parents updated and thanked them for their “continued patience and support.”

As the Delaware Valley Journal previously reported, parent Beth Ann Rosica, executive director of Back to School PA, a group that fought to keep kids in classrooms in the aftermath of the pandemic, had filed a petition to have the board removed who voted to keep kids in masks despite a state Supreme Court ruling.

As of Monday, Kenneth Roos, WASD solicitor, filed a motion to dismiss Rosica’s petition.

Previously, Rosica explained her position, saying, “Our position is that this is a legal question, plain and simple. Either the board members have the legal authority to mandate masks, or they do not.  We believe that they do not have the authority, and we hope that the judge agrees with us. We believe that is important to pursue this petition in order to hold the Board members accountable for their actions and to hopefully prevent our children from being forcibly masked again.”

Rosica said the judge’s decision to order the school board members removal was based on lawyers for the district not meeting a deadline to file a response to her petition.

On Friday, Mahon “spent about 30 minutes questioning the attorneys as to why they did not reply timely. He did not understand how I could interpret his order correctly and they could not. Once they acknowledged that they were mistaken, the judge talked about how it would not be fair to the board members to be removed when the attorneys made the mistake,” she said.

“So now the petition will proceed in the regular fashion.” Said Rosica. “The good news for us is that if we prevail it will be on merit and not on a technicality, which overall is a better outcome. I was pleased that the judge recognized that I had followed all the steps correctly even when the attorneys had not.”


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Mom Who Was Booted From West Chester School Board Meeting Has Last Laugh

Sometimes karma bites.

Anita Edgarian, the mother who was ejected from a West Chester Area School Board meeting in July after she tried to ask about Critical Race Theory, ran a write-in candidacy for the school board.

While Edgarian did not win a seat on the board, she believes her candidacy took votes away from School Board President Chris McCune, causing him to lose his seat on the board.

“No matter who you are, you can’t treat people like that,” said Edgarian, who garnered 1,629 votes.

Edgarian gained national attention when she was interviewed on Fox News after the July 26 meeting when she was taken out of the room by a police officer at McCune’s behest.

On Election Day Nov. 2, Edgarian was working at the polls all day at Bethlehem Methodist Church in Glen Mills, handing out campaign literature to ask people to vote for her.

“Toward the end, I was exhausted,” she said.  She talked to a young man and told him about what happened to her and that “I’m the mom taken out of the meeting.”

He not only voted for her but when he got home, he watched the video and told his mom, who had not planned to vote, that she had to go and vote for Edgarian. His mom also watched the video and agreed to vote, too, making it there shortly before the polls closed at 8 p.m., said Edgarian.  That evening that  man and his mom joined Edgarian and some volunteers at a restaurant who went for a bite to eat after the polls closed.

Edgarian is very happy with the outcome, even though she did not win. Another candidate, who she supports, Stacey Womsley, did.

“All the things I wanted to accomplish have happened,” said Edgarian, who is an immigrant from Iran.

“This is not about CRT,” the mother of three teenagers told DVJournal for an article shortly after her expulsion from the meeting. “This is about a citizen of the United States, a mother, an immigrant, a female with an accent, saying something that they didn’t want to hear and they physically intimidated me and bullied me.”

Critical Race Theory, which asserts that all American institutions are fundamentally racist, has been denounced by many area parents and others as having no place in the public schools. Some school officials have denied that it’s being taught. However, there is widespread agreement that CRT principles, such as asserting all white people are “privileged” and participating in advancing white supremacy, have made it into some schools. And at least one area school board member admitted that CRT is being taught in the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District.

Various area districts have spent thousands on consultants to train teachers on the CRT-inspired principles and hired directors of equity, diversity and inclusion. The issue apparently inspired slews of concerned DelVal parents out to vote, after they saw the curriculum being taught during virtual classes during the pandemic.

McCune, meanwhile, was elected to serve a four-year term in November 2013 and re-elected in November 2017, according to the school district website. He has served as board president since 2017. He did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.


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