This is the full transcript of the ExPRESSion’s interview with School Board member Menno Riggleman. It has been edited for clarity, though we have strived to maintain the integrity of Mr. Riggleman’s comments.
Adrienne Nolt: What is your background and what point of view will you bring a school board member?
Mr. Riggleman: Well, I had a business in Elizabethtown for 13 years and it was called Riggleman’s car care and I was an automotive shop technician. And I worked for the public and I raised three kids in the district. I’ve been here in Etown all my life – well now I'm in Bainbridge, but in the school district all my life. I got out of business back in 2000 and so I’ve had to have injections in my spine. So I wasn’t allowed to crank a wrench, so I sold everything in the business. And I got back into it once I got cleared. Got back into it in 2001. And I was a service advisor until then. I’ve been working a Hondru Dodge up until the spring of this year. I’ve been maintenance, I don’t know exactly when it changed over but I’ve been maintenance for the last 7 years. Then I worked for 4 different dealerships. Before, it was mostly in the Manheim area and now it’s been mostly the Elizabethtown area.
Adrienne Nolt : How do you think that your background will play into your roles?
Mr. Riggleman: Well in business and especially as a business owner, you deal with finances a lot. And you deal with budget a lot. That’s part of family too, but when you are in business – it’s tough in business today, it’s not the easiest to balance things today. Everybody has their hand out. So, you have to be smart about it. And your intention is you always have two of everything. When something breaks, you always have two of everything. But, you have to be smart in advertising, you have to be smart about it. You could spend a ton of money and a lot of money can be wasted in advertising. You have to weigh and measure, and you have to weigh and measure where you centralize your business and what kind of business you have. But in with that, the ethics play a really big role in today’s business. If the customers don’t think you are playing it straight with them, then they aren’t gonna be your customer. And the hardest thing is knowing when you have to fire a customer. That for me was tricky to realize, even in the beginning knowing when certain customers were –
Ms. Yearsley: The customer’s not always right
Mr. Riggleman: No, the customers always right –
Adrienne Nolt: But they aren’t always worth your time
Mr. Riggleman: Right. They aren’t always worth your time or the customer isn’t necessarily after who you want as a customer. And in the beginning you can’t do that. Only after you get things going can you pick and choose your customers. And you know how to fire a customer right?
Adrienne Nolt: I would not know how to do that.
Mr. Riggleman: You fire a customer, when they call for an appointment and you give them an appointment two or three months from now. That’s how you fire them. “Oh well thats the next available appointment that I can give you” “Really?” “Yeah I’m pretty busy” “Oh, okay well I’m gonna have to go so – ” “Okay.”
Adrienne Nolt: “And that's too bad.”
Mr. Riggleman: That’s the correct way, and some businesses don’t realize that. But that is the correct way of firing a customer.
Ms. Yearsley: You make them think it's their idea.
Mr. Riggleman: Well, yeah, basically. The last – when I work for someone else – They say that when you work for yourself, and then you go and work for someone else that’s really tough. The toughest thing is the ethics part. Cause when you are in charge of the company you’re the one that makes the ethics, but when you aren’t in charge and you see what ethics get played, that’s the hardest part. It really is. Ethics is the foundation of what we base our lives on. I’m hoping that – I know the board goes into different committees and different things and I’m hoping that I can get more into the ethics things and the finances things more than the curriculum end of it, cause you know I only got a high school education and I got it here. So I mean I took business courses here which... did okay. I won’t throw them under the bus but there is a lot to learn when you are going in business that you aren’t going to learn in a basic –
Ms. Yearsley: Absolutely.
Mr. Riggleman: Yeah, I mean, well, you know I won’t go there. There’s a lot of things that play when you are in business. No matter what you give your customers, and no matter if you wanna give customers the best shake you could possibly give them, you could still end up in court or turn up on the wrong side of the state. And so you do the best you can and give the best you can. And that's all that your customers ask of you. The best you can. And you tell ‘em and that's the best you can. I haven't sent that many cars out of my shop that I couldn’t fix. But when I did they were appreciative that I tried and they don’t have a bill to pay. And you know what, they had to go to three places to figure it out because they couldn't figure it out either. And that didn't happen to many times. My wife gave me a rule: that I had to be home by 11 o'clock news.
Ms. Yearsley: At night? Oh gosh.
Mr. Riggleman: She was pretty good. And there were some nights I broke that. That I didn't make it home by 11 o'clock. But it kinda was, the rule was I had to be home by 11 o'clock. That doesn’t mean that you know, I was out at the bar. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I'm very conservative. So, there were some nights you had to work late.
Nathaniel McCloud: What motivated you to run for school board?
Mr. Riggleman: The phone kept on ringing asking me to. Is that good enough? I was debating back and forth for a long time, and by a long time I mean three weeks, to know whether I really wanted to venture into this. They are – obviously – they are looking for someone with a good strong ethnic [Editorial note: we believe Mr. Riggleman meant “ethic,” he misused the word throughout the interview] background. With some the financial, being conservative and some new ideas. Looking into things, making sure checks and balances are done. So they kept on calling me, that's the Republican party kept on calling me, I said I was interested, and I said that I thought about it, and I said I would pass and then they called me again and they really needed someone to fill the seat. So, I can’t say that I was worn down, but I had to do some serious thinking about this. My wife thought I was crazy at first, but she understands.
Nathaniel McCloud: So what do you think pushed you over the edge, after teetering back and forth? I mean you rejected it originally.
Mr. Riggleman: What pushed me over the edge? Hm... I always wanted to be working kinda like for the community. My father was a firefighter in Etown. He volunteered, and he even was hurt in the fire department. But my wife, is kind of anxiety issues and she didn't want me out fighting fires. So I worked with different kids organizations and different things with the church, and decided later that the community is for, that I actually wanted to do things for the community. I don’t know that I actually had the school board in thought but that’s what door opened. And sometimes in life, you gotta look what door is opening. And that can lead to other things. So I gotta have an open mind. And hopefully I can do the school board justice.
Nathan Willison: So moving on to your campaign, what issues do you think were central to your campaign, that you put at the forefront –
Mr. Riggleman: You didn’t need too.
Nathan Willison: Ok.
Mr. Riggleman: And the reason why is because – I went to the, I don’t what to call it. They put you up front.
Nathan Willison: The forum.
Mr. Riggleman: Yes, The forum. The smarter ones didn’t go. I went. They kinda corner you with your religion – ethic background. And I don’t know if that was really fair. Some of the questions were stupid. Didn’t relate at all. Like I said, they just wanted to sell papers, to stir up trouble. I didn’t really have a thing. I want to be fair, not just to the students in the school, but be fair to the people in this area. You know, our taxes keep going up and up and up and I wanna make sure – Well a lot of people have no idea the issues the budget the things that go on. And sometimes they don’t get a straight answer. I want to give them a straight answer. When I say – the people that know me – when I say, these are the number, they know, these are the numbers. I'm pretty blunt. They just got hit with a new property assessment in Lancaster county. To be an example, my house got assessed for 90,000 more than it was the year before and the millage was the highest amount they could put on for the bylaw so besides the assessment going up, the millage went up. And they say, “Oh for the average person, it's going up only another 100 dollars,” well that’s what I think the figure was. Well I guess I wasn’t average. Because mine went up a lot more than that. Well the big scare, if you go onto the school board website, the property tax reform law –
Nathaniel McCloud: We’re very interested in that.
Mr. Riggleman: Well I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen, and a lot of people are really upset about it. It sounds really good, but on paper it’s really horrible. If you look into it I don’t know anybody – I would only say one percent would benefit from it. Well I shouldn’t say that. The elderly might benefit from it some. But I don’t think they are gonna benefit from it enough. I would benefit from it, but I’m dead against it. Only because my property taxes are really high and I don’t spend like that.
Nathaniel McCloud: Yeah, so during the most recent election there was a referendum that moved forward with property tax elimination.
Mr. Riggleman: That don’t mean it’s going to happen.
Nathaniel McCloud: You don’t think that the state legislature is going to get anywhere. Obviously there’s been deadlock.
Mr. Riggleman: There’s too much – I’ve done the research. There is too much going on now in the state, and there is too much in the fire that they are going to have to figure out. The last thing on their mind is trying to really change the tax structure. Keep in mind – do you understand what it would actually do?
Nathaniel McCloud: So, generally I know that they want to eliminate the district property taxes and replace it with sales taxes.
Mr. Riggleman: Okay, so how do you think that is going to work? Sorry, I know I'm not interviewing you, you are interviewing me. What that does is it takes the money out of our district, because our property values around here are extremely high, we pay property taxes. If we don’t do that, the average person that buys stuff that's how they pay their taxes. For one things, in this area we are paying less in school taxes than what our property taxes are actually worth. But the other thing it does, all that money that is gonna be collected is going to be in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. The school districts that are failing, they are going to pump major money into them areas because it is going by population not by property value. So that's where the shift is going to happen. School teachers, if this would go through, the next thing that you are going to see roll out, you are going to see mandatory wage freeze for teachers. And you know how that is going to go over. Cause they aren’t going to pay a school teacher here who is going to get paid twice as much as someone in the school district of Harrisburg. It’s not going to fly. So they aren’t going to accept the same wage. So what’s that going to happen for our school? Well our school is not going to have the best teachers. We’re not gonna, you know, they are going to move into a different situation. They’re going to benefit themselves. That’s what people do. They benefit themselves. So, the only ones who benefit out of the tax reform laws are the cities. And the only ones who are going to support that are the Democrats. And they don’t have the seat now to do it. And it’s a bad law in the first place. And really we get charged twice. We don’t lose our property taxes until our debt is paid
Nathaniel McCloud: Yeah that is one of the biggest things –
Mr. Riggleman: We’re paying both the sales tax end of it and we'll also be paying til our school debt is paid off. By the time the school debt is paid off, people are going to be sick of it, it is going to go back the way it was.
Nathaniel McCloud: So it doesn’t sound like you are concerned of there being a shift in this –
Mr. Riggleman: I can tell you If I was I wouldn’t be running for school board, I can tell you that. Think about what that would mean.
Nathaniel McCloud: So you don’t necessarily have any plans on how you would address the issue?
Mr. Riggleman: Yeah, I’d quit. What would be the point? What would be the point of the school board if that law goes through? Nothing. You won’t have any extracurricular, you wouldn’t have school sports that would be paid for, the students would pay for it. You wouldn’t have a salary for a coach. You wouldn’t have – food programs would probably go to the wayside. The after school stuff would go to the wayside. All that they would be doing would be dealing with the public that is upset, the teachers that are upset, I’m not good to yell at. You know what I mean? I'm sorry but that is the reality of it. I mean we really need, I mean if anybody would say, “This is the best thing out there,” they would have to prove it to me with the numbers to even come close that that would be the smartest thing for our district and our area, even though we pay the highest.
Nathan Willison: So, you've already kind of explained some of your goals for your term on the school board, but do you have a set goal you want to accomplish by the time your term on the school board ends?
Mr. Riggleman: For myself? For myself, I have set goals. But for the district? No, it’s more like grabbing on and holding on for the ride. I, there’s no goal, I mean, no goal that you are going to step forward and say, “I’m going to accomplish 20 percent tax reduction.” That ain’t gonna happen. If I could get it to slow down, that would be an accomplishment. The increase, the increase in the millage, that would be an accomplishment. Is it going to happen? I don’t know. I'm not even saying that’s my goal. I think the goal is to have the school board and the teacher and that we are all on the ethnic. And we follow the ethic rules of leadership and the foundation of the school. Because that is the best, the best, and that’s why we, I, kept getting called. You know, when you go on to the state, and they give you – they try to trick you up skits and different storylines. And you have to pick out, well which way should this go, do you fire the teacher do you do this do you do that? And I answered more of them correctly so I think I’m on the better end of the stick. Because today’s society, they’re kinda confused about a lot of things. “That would’ve been fine with me.” Well no, not really. Ethics, if you look into it really, you have to remember, this stuff was written 40 to 50 years ago. So and, that is our foundation, that is the basis of what society needs to run on, and society is going to the wayside, they are all always trying to stretch the envelope as much as they can. But that’s not – ethics is pretty solid. There is no giving. There’s no flexibility too much on the ethics end of it.
Nathan Willison: So, follow up on what you said on ethics and things like that, what values do you bring to the school board, that you are going to hold through –
Mr. Riggleman: Well, being in business, I feel – I don’t have a business degree – but being in business you really have to look at the spreadsheet in a realistic way but keep in mind that you have to put your faith in people that aren’t looking out for the district’s interest, and even though they think they are doing okay is there a way we can do better? You know, we’re not talking about chump change. We’re talking about millions of dollars and we need to be smarter and ask questions. A lot of times, Harrisburg was paying 2 million dollars over what they needed to be doing for their products, as far as their paper, and they were getting them from a supplier who was overcharging them 2 million dollars. And you wonder why the Harrisburg school district was failing in their budget. And the government came in and was looking over and said, “Okay, this is a 2 million dollar issue,” so we got to be looking into that. I know that in business, what you get billed for and what you receive isn’t necessarily what happens. We need to follow up on that. We need people to make sure what we are spending our money on is what we are getting. So that goes from pouring a sidewalk to getting a skid of salt. Are we getting what we are paying for?
Nathan Willison: Yeah, that’s a very important thing you would bring to the table. So you mentioned the forum, on October 26. You there, according to the LNP article on the forum, pledged to try to balance the district budget.
Mr. Riggleman: That might be what was printed, but that’s not what was said. You know, I definitely will asked the questions. Did our state government balance the budget, and how long did it take to balance it? You know its your terminology of how you balance the budget. We here at the school district balance our budget by raising taxes. We haven't answered the hard questions. Not that I want to ask the questions, but so we far we haven’t. The one question at the forum was, “Do you wish to bring back any program that was extinguished because it was eliminated because we didn’t have enough money?” There wasn’t any. So I would say, “No, they balance it by raising taxes.” I don’t know if we can keep going like that. I don’t know all the answers. But we need to be smarter than we are, getting what we do for our dollar. But on the other hand– we gotta look also to look at benefiting our teachers with the money that was provided for them. But be smarter about how we are going to make that. There’s different, you know when you are out in business you just don’t go out and call Blue Cross and Blue Shield and say, “Give me that package,” but that will take a lot of work with the school board and teachers – and they don’t work together well in a lot of school districts, I don’t know how it is here.
Ms. Yearsley: We’ve been fortunate here to have a very – they've been very – this year was an early bird deal. They came to an agreement very quickly.
[30:57] Mr. Riggleman: Yeah, but they get a 3.5% raise every year and they haven’t had anything taken away from them, so why would they give up? [The 2017-2020 collective bargaining agreement provides a 3.25% raise 16/17-17/18, a 3.25% raise 17/18-18/19, and a 2.875% raise 18/19-19/20. Cost of living, as reported by the Social Security Administration, went up 2% in 2017, as a point of reference. In addition, the PPO plan offered by the district will no longer be offered after June 30, 2019, leaving a high deductible plan as the only health care plan option.] Try that when you say, “We are going to lower that.” They're gonna bug. As long as you give them what you want, they aren't gonna bug. And I want to give them what they want. Teachers, good teachers, need – but keep in mind that our school is seventh in our county, we’re not first, we’re seventh.
Nathaniel McCloud: I had seen recent numbers, printed in the Lancaster Newspaper, that the – we ranked 2nd, only after Garden Spot. I’m not sure where you –
Mr. Riggleman: I’m going on the last –
Nathaniel McCloud: The 2015 year’s? This one [Referring to the 2016 statistic] was just printed in the last week or two.
Mr. Riggleman: Well that’s new. And that’d be great, I’d love to see that. So that would give us a definite plus, because we’ve definitely been putting, money into this school in terms of hiring the best teachers, we need to see that we are getting that, we need to see that we are getting that. And if that’s true? Thumbs up. Because a lot of school districts have rolled back their budget. They had to.
Nathaniel McCloud: So, on the forum that you had previously mentioned, on the October 26th date, you had mentioned some questions that you described as “Gotcha” questions and you said in the forum, that you didn’t feel the school should be teaching about “certain lifestyles” and “two men living together” –
Mr. Riggleman: Correct. So I'm basing this on what, not necessarily the curriculum that teachers were being said to teach. But I'm going on what is spoken and what is suggested by certain teachers, and how that is brought across. Because in the curriculum it’s not there. But we all know that the guidelines and stuff say.
Nathan Willison: May I ask how you came to that conclusion?
Mr. Riggleman: I’m going on from what my son brings home. Now my son has been out of school for a few years, not too many, but my daughter is 19 and she’s only been out of school for a little over a year, going on her second year. Well when they come home and say, “This is what was mentioned,” well I’m like, “That’s not what's in the curriculum, so how did you, how did this come about?” And they go ahead and say the teacher defends some of the statistics that are out there. And believe it or not a lot of the people– I can give you statistics all day long, that doesn’t mean it’s reality. You know, do I think that the curriculum should be changed? I’m not a curriculum person. There some curriculum that I would love to see changed. Darwin’s theory would be one. That’s so far outdated, it was outdated when I went to school. But do I really want to make my goal to get rid of it? No, I really think people need to make their own decision on what they feel and their theories are in life. The basis of– I was very involved when this school district came up with, and I even talked with the person who wrote the clause, and Philadelphia really blew this out of proportion and when the, I don’t want to say gay rights, it was bigger than that, but it was how they wanted us to teach, and all it came about they wanted us to teach acceptance.
Ms. Yearsley: You’re talking about the 1996, or 1997, Pro-Family Resolution.
Mr. Riggleman: And that went all the way to Jay Leno, I don’t know if it was Jay Leno, it went to the, we went national news. And that was sad. Because all we were doing was selling papers. Did we accomplish anything? No. It got a lot of people all stirred up, because this is a conservative area. My wife and I went down to Washington D.C. right next to us is two guys and obviously they were a couple. My wife goes, “Euh,” and I told her, “Honey, we’re not in the Bible belt anymore. We have to accept that.” Way of life is changing, but that doesn't mean that we should feel different in our lives. We shouldn’t be bashing them, we should be loving them the same. But we still need to see that as what it is. People have a hard time understanding what that is. On a conservative end, on an ethical end, it’s still sin. Is it any different than a couple living together that aren’t married? No, its not any different. So I don’t want to say it’s the worst thing out there in our society. It’s not. To say that “your bible doesn’t say anything against homosexuality;” they’re wrong. And that’s what got blown all out, what they were trying to pass on curriculum wasn't what they were trying to do. It was what the media was making them out to be. And the lady that wrote the guidelines came to me and said, “Why are you so upset about this?” And I said, “You used the word acceptance. Take that word out and you are fine.” She says, “What’s wrong with acceptance?” Well acceptance means you agree with it and if you don’t agree with it, then you can’t write that. But, she didn’t do anything wrong, the school didn’t do anything wrong. But the media is going to want to sell papers. And we need as a school district to be very cautious on how we present and how we and what we put forward. They’re bringing religion into it. And I’m like, “Religion isn’t– religion is our foundation, in my life, maybe not in everybody’s life. We still need to have the ethics background, that foundation in our school district and in our lives.” You find that when we get out there, nobody uses them in business. It’s a cut throat world, it is.
Ms. Yearsley: So, you aren’t looking to revive that?
Mr. Riggleman: Oh no, absolutely not. And I’m not looking for any trouble with the curriculum or how it’s being taught. That question brought up only because they wanted to bring it up to stir up trouble. “Oh you vote for this guy and that’s what is going to happen” and I tried to make that clear, but that’s not what got printed. But what is clear, every million dollars accepted in our county needs to work the strongest that it can. Not saying that it won’t be a million less next year because that’s unrealistic. But it needs to go further.
Ms. Yearsley: And I think one big stretch is that 150 dollars for the school newspaper.
Mr. Riggleman: Yeah I mean that’s not even a, “phhhw”.
Ms. Yearsley: Chump change, right?
Mr. Riggleman: When we are looking at a 58 million dollar budget, sure! That’s chump change. And the thing about it is, we wouldn’t even need to take the money out of the certain organizations that are willing to pay for that. There are certain organizations out there that are willing to give us money in a certain guideline. We need to look into that, and say, “Hey, we want this paid.” “Oh yeah we’ll take that.”
This interview is part of a series of interviews the ExPRESSION is conducting with the recently elected school board members.