Community Members Warned Pennridge GOP’s School Board Majority: We Will Vote You Out. And They Did

Voters were motivated to elect new school board leadership following radical changes to policies, curriculum, and a complete lack of transparency and decorum.
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“Public schools are public schools because they’re controlled by the constituents which the majority of the community voted us in,” said Jordan Blomgren at a school board meeting in May. “I don’t believe that we are abusing power. I believe that we are doing exactly what we promised the community that we would be doing.”

The ‘we’ Blomgren refers to is the board’s 8-1 GOP majority including the four directors elected in 2021: Christine Batycki, Ricki Chaikin, Bob Cormack, and of course Blomgren, herself. Their promise had been to eliminate political bias while bringing transparency and fiscal responsibility to the Pennridge School District. They failed miserably.

“I remember her saying that,” said Leah Foster-Rash, who ran for and won a seat on the board in Tuesday’s election. “To me, it was an alarming statement because you know she’s not wrong, we have an obligation to the community [but] I don’t know where it flipped to just the people who voted you in.”

Foster-Rash said that the newly elected school board majority, which in addition to her includes Chris Kaufman, Bradley Merkl-Gump, Carolyn Sciarrino, and incumbent Ron Wurz, have an obligation to work with integrity, honesty and transparency. “You don’t just represent the majority when you’re on the board. You represent everyone in every family.”

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Over the last two years parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers looked on as the district, time after time, hit new lows. Programs to ensure all students felt welcome were discontinued. Award winning books were removed from the library. Large portions of the district’s curriculum were hijacked and replaced with Hillsdale 1776, a conservative curriculum associated with Hillsdale Christian College in Michigan. It had also become commonplace for emails to the school board to go unanswered, likewise remarks, actually pleas, were repeatedly ignored,  dismissed or ridiculed during in-person public comment at meetings.

On Tuesday, Republican, Democrat and Independent voters issued a resounding condemnation of the current board’s governance by voting for the Pennridge Community Alliance candidate slate. 

READ: The Numbers Don’t Lie: Voters Give Pennridge Democrats a Mandate for Change in the School District

“We won this election one door at a time, one text message, one phone call at a time,” wrote Adam Bencsik, Chair, Pennridge Democrats, in an email to thank committee people and volunteers for their hard work. “This is the ultimate team win and everybody who canvassed, texted, donated, worked the polls, attended an event or just talked to their neighbor about how bad things have gotten should be proud of what they contributed.”

Lauren McGee-Bradley, one of the co-founders of RIDGE Network, a non-partisan advocacy group working to address issues affecting students, parents and teachers in Pennridge, shared her perspective of the election’s outcome.

“You had to have people crossing the aisle, especially in a district like Pennridge. You had to have conservatives, people who consider themselves conservatives, voting for the PCA slate,” she said, adding that many found the extreme beliefs of the current board to be a bridge too far for most to cross.

McGee-Bradley said she believes the community needs to begin treating each other better and with respect. “I want to see what RIDGE Network can do and how we can keep the community mobilized after the election,” she said. “I think that’s really important to keep the community engaged. It shouldn’t happen just around elections.”

READ: Vermilion Education Gives Pennridge School District Curriculum a Right-Wing Makeover

A lot was riding on this year’s school board election. Behind the scenes, parents and teachers were considering their options should the Republicans remain in power. Some families were beginning to consider the costs associated with private schools, or if relocating to another school district was feasible. Teachers were contemplating their options with several prepared to resign if control of the district remained in the hands of GOP extremists.  

“I have never seen this level of energy or resolve,” said Darren Laustsen, a parent in the district.

A Bucks County court recently ruled against the school district in a civil suit filed by Laustsen, saying that Pennridge had acted in bad faith by refusing to provide Laustsen with documents about books that had been removed from the school’s library.

“Parents overwhelmingly perceived this movement as a direct threat to their kids’ education,” Laustsen said. “They rolled their eyes at all the divisive culture war talking points and fear-mongering. Moms and dads are angry and, believe me, we are not backing down.”

He said it’s time to move on from the Moms For Liberty agenda. “It is clear that if the GOP does not abandon that playbook, they will lose. Every election. Every office. Period. There is a bipartisan army of local parent volunteers galvanized by this race.”

READ: In Pennridge School District, Books Once Shadow Banned Are Now in the Trash Can

“Not all Republicans are one way, the same way not all Democrats are one way,” Foster-Rash said. “When you talk to them as neighbors, when you talk to them as someone who grew up here, when you talk to them as parents … there’s a lot more common ground than people think.”

When asked about working with the four remaining GOP board members, Foster-Rash said, “I’ll create the space … we have to work together here. Here’s the space for you to come in and work with us and work for the district.” She emphasized the need for people to listen to all sides of an issue.

McGee-Bradley said the mood in the community and at the school has experienced an about-face since the PCA slate won. A teacher had told her that morale had been really low. However, “after the election, he said that the environment in the high school was so different. He said teachers were excited … the kids even seemed more lively,” she said. “Pennridge can be a place where everyone feels safe and comfortable and welcome.” 

The five newly elected school board directors, Leah Foster-Rash, Chris Kaufman, Bradley Merkl-Gump, Carolyn Sciarrino, and Ron Wurz will be sworn in at the December 4 school board meeting at 7 p.m.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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