All three Botetourt County School Board seats up for election this November will be contested, after seven candidates qualified to run by Tuesday’s deadline.
Beth Leffel, Dana McCaleb and Daniel Angell have qualified to run for the Fincastle District seat. John Alderson, who currently holds the seat, decided to retire after almost eight years on the board.
Leffel, 50, owns a scientific consulting firm focused on biodefense medical countermeasure development. She has owned the company for five years but has worked in the field for almost 30. She grew up on a farm in Botetourt County and is the daughter of Jack Leffel, a former school board member and representative on the board of supervisors who died earlier this year. Leffel’s sister, Anna Weddle, also serves on the school board, representing the Amsterdam District.
Leffel said she was driven to run for the board by its latest budget discussion, when members wrestled to close a budget gap and retain an agriculture teacher, a cut that was proposed by district staff.
“My passion is in the realm of keeping agricultural programs linked to STEM,” Leffel said. “I’m a scientist, so I have a biased interest in that. The two combine so well and there’s a lot of opportunity for synergy that we might not be taking advantage of.”
McCaleb, 49, works at the Virginia Department of Education Training and Technical Assistance Center at Virginia Tech. She works with 34 school divisions in Southwest Virginia to build action plans on how they can improve. Before that, she taught special education and English at James River High School for 15 years.
McCaleb said she wanted to run because she believes the school board should have a representative with classroom experience.
“We’re making decisions for the students, teachers and parents,” she said. “I think someone needs to have an in-depth knowledge of what those decisions mean.”
McCaleb has lived in Botetourt County for 25 years. Her husband is a deputy sheriff and her son attends James River High School.
Angell, 29, works for American Health Care in the human resources department and oversees benefits for about 2,500 employees.
Angell moved to Botetourt County with his wife, who teaches at Lord Botetourt High School, about six years ago.
“I think it’s important to have a business background on the board level,” he said. “I think that would be my biggest asset to the board and making our money go as far as it can.”
Angell said he would like to see the county work on its health insurance program for teachers, which is provided at no cost to its employees. There is currently only one plan available and he wants the board to reevaluate its current agreement.
Aaron Lyles and Tim Davidick have qualified to run for the Valley District seat. Michael Beahm, who currently holds the seat, decided to retire after about 25 years on the school board.
Lyles, 27, is a life insurance agent with Family Heritage Life. He ran for the school board in 2015 and lost to Beahm.
Lyles has lived in Botetourt County for six years. He said he wants to focus on the district’s aging infrastructure and improving its vocational training for students who don’t attend college. Infrastructure changes will be an expensive issue for the board in the coming years, but Lyles said he wants to make sure the board uses its money in a responsible and transparent way.
“I’m not going to always get it right,” Lyles said. “And people won’t agree with every vote I cast, but I want people to know that Botetourt County and their best interests will be at the forefront of every decision I make.”
Davidick, 49, is general manager at GexPro, a Roanoke electrical supply company. He has lived in Botetourt County for more than 12 years and had three sons attend Botetourt County schools. Davidick has served as a liaison between the school board and the Parent Teacher Student Association for about four years, he said. He attends most school board meetings, which piqued his interest in running when he learned that Beahm was retiring.
Davidick said he also hopes to address the system’s aging infrastructure and school bus fleet. Additionally, he wants to improve the district’s academic competitiveness so students have the best chance of getting into their top college choices.
“We moved to Botetourt because of the school system,” he said. “I want to see it grow and I think I can help with the growing need for competitiveness in academics.”
Blue Ridge District
Scott Swortzel and Matthew East have both filed as candidates for the Blue Ridge District seat.
Swortzel, 56, has held the seat since 2008 and will be seeking a fourth term. Swortzel, the second-longest serving member of the board after Beahm, said he could provide leadership as the board welcomes a new superintendent.
He hopes to expand the opportunities at Botetourt Technical Education Center and the partnerships the county has with Virginia Western Community College and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College.
“We’re well recognized for being a system that provides a lot of opportunities for our students and we never want to take our foot off that pedal,” he said.
Swortzel is an account management executive at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. He and his wife have lived in Botetourt County for about 24 years.
East, 42, has lived in Botetourt County for about 14 years. He is an accountant for Member One Federal Credit Union and previously worked as a deputy sheriff.
East said he is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and school security. He said the district’s budget will become tighter as school infrastructure continues to age.
East said the county has long talked of consolidating elementary schools to save costs, which he would consider if enrollment continues to decline.
“It’s about looking for alternative solutions instead of just asking for more money every year,” he said.
East would also like to install metal detectors at the main entrances of every school. He estimates it would cost about $6,000 per school, but the district could apply for state grants or find money in the budget after cutting other costs.