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County Hall Corner: Prepping for the Primary – School Boards Edition

In the field of business statistics, there is a term called the “long tail” to describe the phenomena of unexpected occurrences that occur from a “head” or central point of distribution of the product or service. The ‘long tail’ that has emerged from the COVID shutdowns and virtual education is a very strong parental backlash.

In the interest of “protecting” children, schools were first closed completely and then shifted to virtual teaching, and when this was lifted, in-school masking was made mandatory. All these initiatives were birthed on uncharted ground. In the urgency of protecting physical health, no one really knew how these changes would impact students’ educational progress and mental well-being.

The United States Department of Education has a National Center for Education Statistics, which is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. From January 2022 through May 2022, a new study called the School Pulse Panel was conducted to measure COVID-19’s impact on public education. The surveys were sent to 850 public schools throughout the nation, with principals, administrators, superintendents, and staff responding.

The results are stunning. 80% of public schools reported “stunted behavioral and socio-emotional development” in their students because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a 56% increase in “classroom disruptions from student misconduct,” and a 49% increase in “rowdiness outside of the classroom.”

Not surprisingly, the educational progress of students also took a major hit. The lowest estimate came from the New York Times, which reported that the learning deficit was estimated as a one-third-year loss of educational learning. They also noted that the loss was viewed as unretrievable. Other studies suggested that it could have been as much as a total year of actual student learning was lost as a result of the COVID-19 response. Yet, the educational loss was just the tip of the iceberg, as there were other unrecoverable damages to students, such as athletic competitions hindered, arts programs canceled, graduation events altered or canceled altogether, etc.

Which brings us back to ‘long tail’ — the parents. Parents were in the front-row seat of all this chaos. They did not need to read a study to see with their own eyes the higher anxiety levels and symptoms of depression among all age groups. Yet, when they presented their concerns to their school boards, in many cases, they seemed to be getting a deaf ear. These frustrations added to an already resentful populace which, even before COVID, saw their property taxes increasing every year due to increases in local schools’ budgets.

Thus, it should not exactly be a surprise that there are record numbers of individuals submitting petitions to be on the ballot in May for the office of “school director,” which we would generally call a “school board member.”

Williamsport Area School District has 13 on their ballot, but Jersey Shore School District does them one better with 14 candidates on their ballot. Loyalsock School District has 12 candidates, Montoursville has 10, Muncy and Hughesville have nine, and South Williamsport and Montgomery are the outliers with just four candidates on their ballots. That adds up to a rather astounding 75 (!) candidates in our county for the office of local School Director.

For the vast majority of those voting, this might be the most important office that they are concerned about. For those willing to become informed, a good source to understand the role of the school director position would be to review the Pennsylvania 2023 State of Education Report presented by the PA School Boards Association ( This 48-page report covers school finances, staffing, infrastructure, student mental health, and challenges yet to come.

Also, do some research on those running for these offices. This starts by looking up the names of the candidates that will be on your ballot in May. These can be easily done by going to Lycoming County’s website,, and from the “Departments” section, selecting “Voting Services.” Scroll down, and the first entry is “May 16, 2023, Municipal Primary, List of Candidates for Local Offices.”

As the saying goes, our children are our future. And as President John Adams’ wife, Abigail Adams, once wrote, “Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” It is healthy schools that have healthy governance that assure that this intensity and conscientiousness is taking place.