As Debra Evans seeks her second four-year term on the Parkland School Board, she is clear about what she believes to be her primary strength.
"I have a real capacity to see both sides of the issue," said Evans, of North Whitehall. "You can be empathetic to both sides of the issue without being wishy-washy."
Evans, who has no party affiliation, will have her work cut out for her in the May 17 primary. Her name will only appear on the Democratic ballot.
She had intended to cross-file and run in both the Democratic and Republican primary, as she did four years ago. However, the Lehigh County voter registration office did not accept one of her petitions to get on the Republican ballot because of concerns with the eligibility of the person who circulated the petition.
Consequently, Evans will try to win the Republican nomination as a write-in candidate. She said she will have people stationed outside each polling place to give guidance to voters who want to write in her name.
Evans has a bachelor’s in fine arts from Marywood University in Scranton. A mother of two sons, she worked as an operations manager for Banana Republic-Gap for 18 years. She now is in sales as a coordinator for private functions at Iron Lakes Country Club in North Whitehall.
"I believe in the education process, and I believe it's an important part of our community," Evans said.
During a first term on the school board, she added, "There's a huge learning curve." She said she is seeking a second term because "I feel like I'm in the middle of my swing."
She declined to tell her age, saying it's "not relevant."
Recently the Parkland School Board has struggled with its budget for the 2011-2012 school year. The board held a budget workshop on April 1, addressing revenue losses primarily due to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed state budget.
Parkland administrators recommended $6.4 million in cuts for the 2011-2012 school year, including the elimination of 60 staff and teaching positions, primarily through retirements and resignations.
“I was more than satisfied with what the administrators have suggested,” Evans said. “They’ve made cuts that will affect the majority of the students the least.”
Parkland is only allowed by law to raise taxes by 1.4 percent, but it received permission, or special exceptions, that would allow it to raise taxes 3.88 percent. Evans said she agreed with the board’s decision to seek the special exceptions.
“The district needed the money desperately, and it wasn’t something that could wait,” Evans said, adding, “It’s an investment in the future. We’re hoping the investment we’re putting in these students is for the future of our community at large.”
On other issues:
-- Merit pay
Gov. Corbett wants public school districts to institute a system of merit pay, pay based on performance, for teachers. Evans said it is difficult to form an opinion on merit pay without knowing what criteria would be used to evaluate teachers.
However, she said, Parkland already has set high educational standards for its teachers, providing workshops and continuing education classes in the district that “save taxpayers and teachers money” compared to what it would cost to take courses elsewhere.
-- On vouchers
The governor also supports vouchers, using the per-pupil subsidy that the state sends the school district to allow low-income students in a failing public school to transfer to a different school.
Parents have the right to choose where their children attend school, Evans said. However, she said, “I do not believe funds should be filtered to institutions that do not provide the same quality of curriculum and/or the same rate of success” as Parkland. With vouchers, she said, students wouldn’t necessarily attend the best schools.
For now, however, her focus is on the current budget deliberations even as the school board waits to find out exactly how much funding it will get from the state.
“We’re doing the best that we can,” Evans said, “and we know for a fact that our budget is based on the bare minimum of what we’re going to get.”