The Great (School Board) Debate

NASH had the pleasure of hosting a candidate forum last week.


photo by Jaime Martinez

Last Wednesday, NASH Student Council hosted a public debate featuring six candidates for School Board. The event, which took place in the high school auditorium, "went wonderfully," according to NASH School Board Representative Jaime Martinez.

Jonathan Ross, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The venue was smaller and the stakes were seemingly limited, but the School Board Candidate Forum held at NASH on October 2, 2019, held a striking resemblance to the televised debates of national politics: The candidates were anxiously prepping backstage, the moderators were organizing their questions, the student volunteers were guiding visitors to their seats, and the lights were hot. 

The event was eight months in the making, first pitched to the School Board Student Representative, Jaime Martinez, by the League of Women Voters of the Greater Pittsburgh Area in early June.

“They asked me if the Student Council would want to help organize a forum for the candidates,” Martinez explained. “Since I’m the student representative, it fell on me to sort out the details over the summer.”

As the event drew nearer, Martinez and the representatives from the League became busier. They worked all the way to the bell, continuing to refine approved questions and vet student-submitted questions, of which the moderators received dozens, ranging from “Name positive qualities of your fellow candidates” to “The School Board is recognized as a non-partisan entity. Are you associated with a local political committee and if so, how will you separate your political leanings from your role on school board?”

The decisions that are made in the town council and the School Board directly affect the everyday lives of students, so they need to participate.”

— Elizabeth Warner, School Board candidate

When asked a similar question, Shannon Yeakle, one of the six candidates on stage, responded, “I think that is definitely a non-partisan position, not a bi-partisan position. So, for a majority of the issues, [political party] really doesn’t matter. I’m fiscally conservative, but we still have to hit budgets and scratch the surface of every aspect. Are we still buying chalk when our students have iPads? Are we printing unnecessarily? These are simple, non-partisan questions, but ones that have to be answered.”

As the night went on, the candidates continued to answer questions and were given time to rebut each other’s responses in the allotted 90-second response time. Martinez was pleased with how the formatting of the debate turned out, noting that “our candidates had a chance to take a stand on polarizing issues and were able to effectively communicate their policies to the public.” 

While the night provided a fantastic opportunity for the candidates, it also served to expose the students at NASH to local politics. Elizabeth Warner, another school board candidate, mentioned the importance of student involvement in local politics.

“The decisions that are made in the town council and the School Board directly affect the everyday lives of students, so they need to participate,” Warner said. “And that participation grows from there — it’s getting your feet wet, starting small and getting bigger.”

Warner was not the only candidate who expressed this perspective. Candidate Kevin Mahler discussed the need for increased adult support in local politics as well. “The school board has an impact on many more people than most realize,” he said, “Ultimately, your property value and taxes are partially determined by us, so you might want to start paying attention.” 

Audience members Paul Heckman, the DNC chairman for McCandless Township, and Valerie Mullen could not have agreed more. The pair came to support their top-choice candidate and listen to what the other candidates had to say.

Heckman noted, “Neither of us has children, but we came anyway because we know just how important this is. The school board officials are some of the most under-appreciated elected officials that we have.”

Mullen then added, “I was an educator for a very long time. The School Board is an opportunity for issues to be out in the open, hard questions to be answered, and different opinions to be heard.” 

The night concluded with the proof of this assertion: The candidates met one-on-one with audience members to discuss the issues, get to know potential voters, and even hear complaints.

“The night went wonderfully,” Martinez concluded.  “I’d love to continue organizing events like these. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up on the stage myself.”