‘We're failing the kids’: Local activist running for Parkland School Board
UPPER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. — Local activist Laura Warmkessel of Upper Macungie Township has joined the crowded race for Parkland School Board.
Warmkessel grew up in the Lehigh Valley and is a Salisbury High School graduate. Her stepson graduated from Parkland High School in 2018.
- Upper Macungie resident Laura Warmkessel is joining a crowded primary for six seats that are up for re-election
- Warmkessel's legislative priorities include transparency in the board, not raising taxes and 'lowering standards' for academics in the district
- Warmkessel spoke about many subjects that have become part of a national conversation regarding schools, such as how to discuss race and LGBTQ themes in the classroom and which books should be allowed in school libraries.
Warmkessel has attended most school board meetings for the past two years and often speaks about transparency and spending during the public comment sections of the meetings.
In an interview, Warmkessel brought up many subjects that have become part of a national conversation regarding schools, such as how to discuss race and LGBTQ themes in the classroom and which books should be allowed in school libraries.
“Our world is changing, and people in the Parkland School District think it's happening everywhere else and don't realize that it's happening in their own backyard,” Warmkessel said.
Warmkessel also expressed concern about "lowering standards" for academics in the district, citing lower PSSA scores in recent years.
“The kids aren't failing; we're failing the kids,” Warmkessel said.
Warmkessel, a Republican, cross-registered for both the Republican and Democratic primaries.
“My political side should be irrelevant, because I represent a community and I have to look at both sides,” Warmkessel said.
Warmkessel said she thinks the school board has not done enough to be transparent. Transparency has become a hotly debated topic at recent school board meetings.
In particular, Warmkessel said she wants the board to do more to inform community members who do not have children in the district.
“They still pay taxes into the school district, they should have every right to know what's going on too,” Warmkessel said.
Warmkessel said she is concerned the district has lowered its academic standards in recent years and is instead “pushing this gender ideology.”
"We're more concerned with kids' pronouns, and their feelings, and 'everybody gets a trophy' than curriculum," Warmkessel said. "And curriculum — reading, writing, arithmetic, science — is where kids are going to succeed."
Warmkessel said Parkland School District students are not getting homework because "they're saying it's racist."
Superintendent Mark Madson said in an interview that students still are receiving homework and he has heard no discussion of homework being racist.
“I was very frustrated by a board member when they approved the raising of the taxes, saying, ‘Well, it's only $16 or $18 per person. Well, tell that to somebody on a fixed income.”Parkland School Board candidate Laura Warmkessel
Warmkessel also has said she thinks certain books that are available in the Parkland High School library are “questionable,” including “LGBTQ+ Athletes Claim the Field: Striving for Equality” by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, “Date Rape” by Christine Watkins and “The Black Experience in America: from Civil Rights to the Present” by Jeff Wallenfeldt.
“Many parents and community members find these topics and subject matter inappropriate and harmful or offensive based on age, maturity level, religious and cultural backgrounds,” Warmkessel said in an email.
Warmkessel said she is concerned about trans students who identify as female using girls bathrooms and locker rooms. She said she thinks the district should build separate gender-neutral bathrooms for those students.
Madson said school counselors and administrators work with trans students to figure out how to best support them.
If elected, Warmkessel said, she wants to advocate for “common sense spending” to avoid tax increases. She cited the board authorizing the purchase of an $80,000 aquatic scoreboard rather than a $20,000 alternative as an example of reckless spending.
Members of the board said at the time that the scoreboard will pay for itself from advertising revenue, but Warmkessel does not think that it can.
Warmkessel also objected to the board’s recent vote to increase taxes in the district.
“I was very frustrated by a board member when they approved the raising of the taxes, saying, ‘Well, it's only $16 or $18 per person,’” Warmkessel said. “Well, tell that to somebody on a fixed income.”
The upcoming election
Warmkessel is part of a crowded primary election, which is on May 16. The general election is on Nov. 7.
The six board seats that will be on the ballot will be those held by board President Carol Facchiano, board Vice President Marisa Ziegler, and directors Jay Rohatgi, Lisa Roth, Robert Bold and Patrick Foose.
All the board directors whose seats are up for re-election are running except Bold, who agreed not to run when he was appointed in January.
Other candidates include the father of three Chris Pirrotta and former educator Joanne Dillman, along with George Rivera, Bobby Lanyon, Beth Finch, Natalie Janotka, Michael Deering and Mike Millo, according to Lehigh County records.