Professors run for CCSD Board


Photo courtesy of the “Lisa & Shanna” Campaign

Lisa Whitenack (left) and Shanna Kirschner, both Allegheny College professors, are running for Crawford Central School District Director positions.

The Crawford Central School District is holding primary elections for its Board of Directors on Tuesday, May 16. Two Allegheny College faculty members are campaigning for the election.
Associate Professor of Political Science Shanna Kirschner and Associate Professor of Biology and Geology Lisa Whitenack are running for positions as directors on the CCSD Board.
Kirschner said that the idea of running for School Board has been developing in her mind for a long time and that running alongside Whitenack has always been a part of her ambition.
“We are both interested in education and education policy, we both have kids in the public school system in Meadville,” Kirschner said. “This election cycle has quite a few open seats and, given everything that is happening in education nationally and in western Pennsylvania, the stakes are really high.”
The “Lisa & Shanna for Crawford Central” social media pages have been up and active since early March. Kirschner is running under her maiden name Hodgson.
“I published several papers under my maiden name and often use it professionally,” Kirschner said. “Anyway, Lisa and I are using our first names in our campaign since we believe the community recognizes us better that way.”
The CCSD constitutes eight schools in Crawford County including the Meadville Area Middle and High School and the Board of Directors consists of nine directors and is chaired by a director elected unanimously by the board, according to current CCSD Board Director and Assistant Professor of Psychology Ryan Pickering.
“I have been on the board for one-and-a-half years and my term is four years long,” Pickering said.
“I got elected to the board in 2021 with three other directors who are also almost halfway through their terms.”
With the remaining directors nearing the end of their four-year term that started in 2019, five positions are up for contention in the upcoming primary election.
Kirschner and Whitenack are on the ballot as cross-party representatives of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Pickering said that he took the same route during his campaign as it makes it easier to get the necessary signatures to be on the ballot.
“It’s easier to get the signatures from members from both parties as opposed to just one despite what one’s own political affiliation may be,” Pickering said. “In the end, I am on the board as a Democrat because I gained a majority of my signatures from that party.”
Both Kirschner and Whitenack agreed that running as cross-party candidates is not a big deal to them since the Board is bigger than politics.
“The school board is about the kids and those involved with the public school system,” Whitenack said. “In the end, it does not matter to me what party I am a candidate of as long as I am able to make a difference.”
This is not the first time the pair are working together on a campaign, having previously served on other boards together.
“Shanna and I used to be on the Meadville Children’s Center Board for the daycare on campus, the one in Oddfellows, back in 2014 until 2018,” Whitenack said. “We were also on the faculty review committee together.”
The pair have similar reasons for running for the school board, including their experience and family history with the public school system.
“My mom and my two sisters are teachers,” Whitenack said.
“My own husband is a teacher,” Kirschner added. “I also have cousins, uncles and aunts who are teachers and staff members in the public system.”
Both candidates are focused on addressing problems in the public school system in the Crawford Central School District such as budgets, overcrowded classrooms, poor transportation and teacher retention.
“Unlike other states, public schools in Pennsylvania are funded by taxes,” Kirschner said. “Pennsylvania ranked 50th in the nation for the disparity between high- and low-income districts for public school budgets three years ago.”
Kirschner added that a majority of the funding for public schools in Pennsylvania comes from property, income and sales taxes with the state providing a smaller percentage of the budget as compared to other states.
Whitenack said that funding for public schools in Pennsylvania was deemed unconstitutional in February 2023 due to the difference in funding for lower-income districts as compared to higher-income districts.
According to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued the ruling which could demand reforms that would see over a billion dollars transferred to the public school system budget from the state treasury.
The court’s ruling, according to the report, is likely to be appealed by state officials and could entail a long road to reform that will finally address the disparity between funding in lower and higher-income school districts in the state.
“We want to address this disparity in funding because this creates a problem of lower-income districts being unable to generate enough funding for school kids whereas higher-income districts enjoy a share of the funding due to higher taxpayers amounts,” Whitenack said.
Although enrollment numbers suffered in local public schools in the past due to COVID-19, the number of students in classrooms has been steadily increasing recently, according to Kirschner.
“My fourth-grader had around 18 students in their class,” Kirschner said. “The number is now at 24.”
Kirschner and Whitenack believe that the shortage in funding, coupled with rising student enrollment, has contributed to a rise in the disparity between the amount of funding required for one student and the amount of funding available to public schools.
Whereas Kirschner and Whitenack find their motivation for running in ensuring that the children attending schools are given the best possible education and to provide teachers with ample pay and working conditions, Pickering said that the School Board’s focus, presently, is more on the state of the school’s and looking after the resources, such as teachers, that are afforded to the students.
“I know how difficult it is being a teacher and even more so in the public school system,” Pickering said. “From my perspective, the board’s focus is more on how the schools and their resources are being managed.”
Despite only being in his role for less than half his allotted term, Pickering does not believe that he will run for board again.
“I don’t have any particular reasons but I don’t think it’s something that I see myself doing again for another four years,” Pickering said. “However, I am very excited about two colleagues running for board and I know them both and I know that they are very dependable and hardworking.”
Pickering also mentioned that campaigning during his election was very different from the way Kirschner and Whitenack have gone about it.
“I was campaigning during COVID so I didn’t do much, I didn’t do so much house-to-house knocking,” Pickering said. “Most of my campaigning was over social media and the internet.”
Kirschner said that the “Lisa-Shanna” campaign has been underway since February.
“We’re done with the fundraising and paperwork,” Kirschner said.
“Our signs and merchandise should be active in the community within the next 10 days,” Whitenack added.
Kirschner said that it is vital for the pair’s campaign to connect with the community and gain their support.
“I can’t say for sure what our chances are, but our target audience is always the community because this board is for them and this school system affects them directly,” Kirschner said. “I don’t think being an Allegheny professor or a teacher, in general, gives me any sort of advantage or right to have this position.”
Pickering said that there is a general feeling within the community of seeing members of the Allegheny community as outsiders.
Whitenack said that she has not felt this directly from anyone in the community.
“I think my experience with public education and experience leading boards and committees makes me a good candidate rather than where I come from or where I work,” Kirschner said.
Despite not being Meadville natives, Kirschner and Whitenack have been Meadville residents for 15 and 13 years respectively.
Kirschner said that although she hopes many students and colleagues from Allegheny vote for her and Whitenack, she aspires to the support of members of the Meadville community.
Should the pair be successful in the May primary election, they will also campaign together for the final CCSD Board election in November.