New candidates running for Allentown, Southern Lehigh school boards this November
- New candidates for the school board races in Allentown and Southern Lehigh school districts
- One candidate who cross-filed dropped out of the Allentown School Board race
- One Republican candidate dropped out of the Southern Lehigh School Board race
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - There are new candidates vying for a seat on the Allentown School Board. Democrat Daysell Ramirez and Republican Thomas Houck replaced current school board director Evelyn Santana, who dropped out of the race earlier this year.
Republican Doug Durham was also chosen by his party to replace Maria Shantz in the Southern Lehigh School Board race. A slate of moderate Republicans and a Democrat are running against a slate who call themselves “true Republicans.”
There are five positions open on the Allentown School Board of Directors. The Democratic candidates running are Ana Tiburcio, Zaleeae Sierra, long-time board member Audrey Mathison, and recently appointed member Andrene Brown Nowell. Brown Nowell and Mathison are cross-filed. Replacing Santana is Democrat Ramirez and Republican Houck.
Santana was appointed to the board in January to fill now-State Sen. Nick Miller’s former seat and had been running for election. School board directors serve unpaid four-year terms.
Houck, a retired police officer, is a former 2021 Allentown City Council candidate as the only Republican. He graduated from William Allen High School and said there weren’t many Republicans interested in running for the school board because of the city’s tendency to vote Democratic. The school board currently has an all-Democratic board, but a worker with the Lehigh County Elections Office said she was unable to provide voter registration information for Allentown.
“Teachers deserve the salary they're getting, but I also think our school workers, the support staff should also be getting a decent salary."ASD Republican candidate Thomas Houck
Houck said he’s concerned some support staff in the district, including food service workers, still do not have a collective bargaining contract. The last deal with the food services union, Pennsylvania Joint Board Workers United Service Employees International Union Local 391, ended in June 2022.
“Teachers deserve the salary they're getting,” he said. “But I also think our school workers, the support staff should also be getting a decent salary. I'm not necessarily advocating the same as the teachers, but they shouldn't be barely making a minimum wage either.”
Houck also said he supports metal detectors at some of the district’s schools and hiring more security staff.
“Metal detectors at the doors and [if] they start going off at you, he said. “Then a team takes a student aside and you talk to him and maybe do a wand scan and if you still have an issue, maybe do a pat down.”
Ramirez is a supportive services coordinator for property management company Pennrose, which manages Overlook Park, an Allentown Housing Authority property.
Ramirez was born in Puerto Rico and has a degree in Psychology. A parent in the school district, she said her background helps her understand and connect with the students in the Allentown School District.
"You can be whatever you want to be, your culture does not define you.”ASD Democratic school board candidate Daysell Ramirez
“You're not limited to your culture or what people believe that you will be gearing towards because of your culture,” she said. “I want our children to know that yes, you can also be a professional person. You can be whatever you want to be, your culture does not define you.”
Ramirez has one child in the school district, a 10th grader who goes to Building 21. She said kids should know more about financial literacy and acquire additional social-emotional skills before graduating.
She said she also believes education acts as an equalizer for those less fortunate.
“I’m the one person driving down the street and I see kids walking out of school or towards school with their backpacks,” she said. “I feel very strongly about serving them too. I see them as my children too. I see they also deserve a good education.”
There are currently 10 candidates running for five positions on the nine-seat board for the Southern Lehigh School District. Dividing the slates is a pledge signed by candidates endorsed by the Southern Lehigh Grassroots PAC, also known as Southern Lehigh Putting Families First.
Doug Durham said he decided to step up to run for the Southern Lehigh School Board after Shantz decided she couldn’t continue to run for the position. He said his one of his main goals is lowering school millage rates. He also wants to develop a policy to prevent transgender athletes from playing sports in the school district on teams that align with their gender identity.
“We have said publicly that we would never permit biological males, for instance, to play in sports against biological females,” he said. “That is an issue that we think is going to one day face the district, not an issue right this moment.”
Durham’s slate has vowed to enact certain policies if elected, some of them controversial. Examples include requiring board members to vote to overturn what it said is the district’s “policy of hiding gender identity information from parents and guardians” and mandating school officials notify parents and guardians of previously withheld information.
Under the pledge, board members would not require school staff to use students' preferred pronouns. It also calls for a ban on "woke" politics and rejecting curriculum based on critical race theory, which could limit what is taught about certain historical events in the U.S., such as slavery.
Melissa Torba is the only Democrat on the ballot. The other Republicans on the Democratic ballot include incumbent school board Director Emily Gehman, Eric Boyer, Tim Kearney and Candi Kruse. The Republican slate includes Durham, Paul Deebel, Lance Tittle, Danelle Roy and James Pica.