After the 2022 election brought such disappointing results for Republicans throughout most of the country — and Pennsylvania was no exception — there has been a lot of burnout, and some voters feel that there is no point in casting a vote. The fast-approaching primary on May 16 on another off year is bound to draw less attention than otherwise, too, but the coming election might instill a bit more hope for 2024, since local elections matter so much.
Local positions like school board seats are a lot less glamorous than positions like governor or president, but they can have an incredible impact on residents’ day-to-day life and on the development of the upcoming generation. School boards influence property tax rates and determine things like curriculum, district policy, staff hires and budgets — all of which will either improve or set back the education of students.
Jason Breckbill, a candidate running for the Ephrata Area School District’s board of directors, understands that this unpaid job is one based entirely on serving the public, and he welcomes the chance to put his community first, a community that he knows very well. Not only is he a lifelong resident of Lancaster County, having lived in places like Brownstown and Manheim, but he has lived in Ephrata for the past ten years with his wife, Brenda, and their two children.
Throughout his life, he has been an active member of his community: He has served as a foster parent, a soccer coach and a Sunday school teacher, as well as participating in groups such as a Boy Scouts troop, a Trail Life USA troop, and the Republican Committee of Lancaster County.
Running for the school board is not a new idea for Breckbill. “It’s always been something on the back of my mind that maybe this would be a way I could contribute to the community,” he told The Lancaster Patriot. He desires to be involved in the community and see it grow stronger, he explained. “Up until this point, our children have gone to private school and they were homeschooled, and now I have a child in the public school, so I thought it made a lot of sense for me to look at this opportunity to serve.”
Breckbill does not only bring a desire to contribute more. His career makes him a valuable asset to the board, he believes, since he has worked for a couple of decades in the technology industry, finding technological solutions for organizations and serving in leadership positions. He currently leads Ephrata’s roundtable on information technology. “In any organization, there’s a lot of technology,” he pointed out, “so I bring that experience of finding technology solutions forward. But also, I have managerial experience, and setting budgets, and managing those budgets.” He also has experience working within the school system, since he was involved in a tech committee for a private school.
This is not an easy time to jump into a school board seat, however. The cultural push to include things like critical race theory, equity and inclusion, social-emotional learning and transgenderism in the classroom has many parents up in arms. Ephrata is a more conservative place than most, so Breckbill’s hope is to focus on unity over division and, as a Christian, to promote the values of loving one’s neighbor and of coming together and looking for common ground with people who might not always agree.
As he understands it, in Ephrata’s schools parents can still choose to opt their children out of studies or required reading on sensitive subjects. This provides some safety net for worried families, and it also encourages parents to take a more active role in the teaching of their children. Breckbill, who grew up with a challenging learning disability, knows the value of parents’ involvement in the education process, since parents know their children best and are the ones who should be shaping their children’s values. The family unit is, to Breckbill, the most important aspect of society.
A less hot-button issue, but one that is always relevant to a school board position, is local taxes. “As Founding Father and chief justice John Marshall said, ‘The power to tax is the power to destroy,’ and I believe that,” Breckbill stated. “The challenge in the school district is you have to have a balanced budget every year. And I’ll be one of nine people voting on whether there should be a tax increase or not. And every year, the state sets a new budget, and funding from the state can vary from year to year, and the trend has been the funding from the state has been going down. So that’s been putting a bigger strain on school systems, and so you either have one or two options: you have to cut costs somewhere, or you have to increase taxes.” That will be an ongoing issue for the school board to wrestle with, he said. “I’m all for lower taxes. But at the same time, we want to make sure that we have salaries that are competitive for our teachers and have the resources for our students to be able to learn. So it’s definitely going to be, ‘OK, where can we save costs and negotiate contracts?’ But we want to be good stewards with our taxes, making sure we’re getting the best bang for our dollar.”
Test scores are another important issue for the school board to monitor. There are a lot of factors that go into a district’s test scores, and Breckbill believes that comparing one school district’s test scores to another’s can be detrimental, since each district has different situations and demographics. His desire is simply to increase Ephrata’s test scores so the community will do better.
Breckbill has been endorsed by the Ephrata Area Republican Committee — which has also endorsed the five other Republican candidates for the Ephrata school board, all of whom are running for reelection — and his primary slot is not contested. If he is elected to the position of school director, Breckbill hopes to help solve problems and to make himself available to everyone seeking to become involved in the education process within the district. He knows there is a lot of learning he will have to do as a new member of the board, but he looks forward to working with the Ephrata school district.