The following is excerpted from the ExPRESSion’s interview with newly-elected school board member Michael Martin, which took place on December 14th, 2017.
Could you go ahead and talk about yourself, like your background in the community.
Yeah, we just want to know a little more about you on a personal level.
I graduated from Etown in 1994, went to Penn State. My senior year I met my wife. We got married after graduation, and moved back to Etown, maybe, I'm not sure, 2001, 2002? Somewhere around there. We have two daughters. My older daughter is a freshman, here [at the High School], my younger daughter is a fourth grader at Bear Creek. My family has three retail furniture and interior design stores called David’s furniture and interior design, in Mechanicsburg, Harrisburg, and Reading. I’m the president of the Company.
So you have been in Etown for most of your life?
Most of my life. [I] only away for college, and shortly after that.
What do you think motivated you to run for school board? Your background in the community?
Well, that’s kind of an interesting story. There was a school board director who resigned part way through his term, and there wasn’t time for the county board of elections to get the seat on the ballot for the primaries, and to make it known that there was going to be a two-year seat open. There were four four-year seats open, and then there was this two-year seat to fill the remainder of that term that was going to appear separately on the ballot. So there was a letter sent to both parties, letting the parties know the process would be that each party would nominate someone to appear on the ballot in the general election in November. Through an interesting series of events, I got asked by the Elizabethtown Republican committee to run for that seat, and the opposing party did not nominate someone. I won in a landslide. That’s the best way to run.
So it sounds like you didn’t really have to run a campaign?
No I didn’t, but I was interested in working with the fellow candidates, that were members of my party, to win. We got yard signs printed and the local party helped us get a mailer printed up, and some – they are called palm cards. You hand them out at the polling places to see who the endorsed candidates are, so voters can know who they are. In local elections, like school boards, there are people who cross-file, so it might not be clear who their original party, I guess you could say, is. And some people care about that. So we did, then, coordinate some efforts.
Do you think there were any issues that played into your –
Well, I had actually thought about running for school board a while ago, but running a small family business through the Great Recession had a lot of challenges and it was an intense and time consuming period. My dad, David, he got an acute form of leukemia and he battled that for 11 months and then he passed away in 2014. I had just kind of tabled it, but when this came up, I talked it over with Jen. It seemed like it was a good time to try and see.
I feel like I have a lot that I can contribute because I graduated from the district, I have lived here my whole life, I have two children in the district, I run a small business. So I have a variety of experiences that I think I can contribute something to the board.
Do you have any goals for your term on the board, anything that you want to accomplish?
Well, the bottom line is, is the board has a responsibility to deliver the very best education and experience for the students and the community, with the resources we have. So, that can present challenges and choices, and I think the board has to be really big stewards. So, ultimately my goal is to do that, within those parameters. We want to do the best that we can.
The district has this motto: “excellence by choice, not by chance.” So we want to live up to that, carry that out. And we have constraints, with the financial resources that we have. That’s where leadership, and experience and maybe, sometimes, courage to figure the best thing that we can do.
So I can’t say I went into it wanting to – with an agenda. I don’t have an agenda, I just want to do the best job possible. When you are entering into something like this, you don’t know what you don’t know. To go into it thinking, you have things that need to be done. I’m not really familiar with the board and the policies and the things that go into it, so to say, “we need to do X, Y, and Z.” I believe in conservative fiscal governance, wherever possible. That’s always something that is kind of in the back of my mind.
This sort of touches on something brought up at the December reorganizational meeting about the opportunity cost for the district. Do you recognize any opportunity costs that the school district has that you are interested in addressing?
Well, you know, opportunity costs, that’s obviously the what the choices are about that I was referring to before, because if you choose to do this, then you are eliminating that. Prioritizing what do we think is the best, and we may not get it perfect. There is nothing specific that’s on my mind.
But if you go to enough of the meetings and see that there are certain things are outside the board’s control, because they are mandated by the state, that the board, by law, is required to do. And a lot of those things are significant expenditures, so then we have to look at the things that we have within our control and we have to make decisions about that. I guess that is where the opportunity costs come in. George, Mr. Longridge, pointed some things out. There is a lot the needs to be talked about.
It is not a simple subject.
Speaking of things outside the control of the school board, the state legislature has proposed an amendment eliminating property taxes. How do you feel about the property tax elimination and how would it affect your job as a school board member?
You probably have a different opinion too, being a small business owner.
The thing that makes me nervous about it – most people for a long time have expressed a lot of concern for a long time about property tax, the system of taxations. But with what they are going to propose, it is going to put more control of the revenues in the hands of the state legislature and out of the hands of the school boards. So that is the part that makes me a bit nervous.
Anytime you get that money away from the people who are most impacted, I think you have a lower quality of governance. You can see it – to me the most effective, the most in-tune is the government that is closest to the people, whether it’s your local municipality or borough, school board, as you get further away, you get a lot more inefficiencies, and a lot less productivity with those dollars. So, I think we see that when we go from the local level to the state level, and it gets even worse when we go from the state level to the federal level.
So I think the board can do a better job managing those monies, meaning having control over it. I don’t know – theoretically, their proposal allows for that, to some extent, what they actually end up doing in the end, I don’t know. Whatever taxes they get, they can start off here, and over time, the state could keep more and more and more. There would be nothing that school boards could do but say, “This isn’t working. We have a problem.” They can choose to do something about that, or ignore it, at the state level.
Right now, they pass laws that provide mandates for what the state has to do. And then those mandates increase costs, sometimes significantly from year to year but the funding doesn’t change. Assuming they continue to do that, and then, perhaps, keep more revenue that used to come right to the school, but now goes to the state and then to the school, that could be an even bigger problem.
So do you think you have any responses from a school board level?
I don’t feel like I know quite enough about it, other than the concerns that I just expressed. I think I would need to see more information.
On October 26 there was a public forum held in the middle school here, so the candidates could express their opinions. We just want to ask why you chose not to attend the forum.
What day was that?
October 26. Mr. Robrish [the moderator of the forum] had responded that you had responded and said that you had some sort of business conflict.
Yeah, we had a community event at our store in Mechanicsburg, so by the time I arrived it was pretty late. I did get there, but it was pretty late, towards the end. That was on the calendar, I had to speak at that event, that was on the calendar – I was asked to run for the school board in August to appear on the ballot in November.
How does that process work? So the Elizabethtown Republicans contacted you in August?
I was at the fair and I stopped by their stand there. Actually, I stopped by to see who their candidates for school board were, because I hadn’t seen much about that. And that’s where the conversation started, the last week of August. They were – the deadline for them to file all the paperwork to get someone nominated was September 12, or something like that. There was very little time.
Really cutting it close.
Yeah, they hadn’t found out that much before that though. They were in the process of trying to find someone.