Voters in three of Botetourt County’s five districts have contested school board races this November. Seven candidates are competing for the Fincastle, Valley and Blue Ridge district seats.
One candidate from each district — Daniel Angell , Aaron Lyles and Matthew East — created a joint ticket called “Botetourt United” to promote fiscal responsibility, which they said is greatly needed in the school division.
Daniel Angell 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. He said he also would support adding a deputy to every school.
Beth Leffel owns a scientific consulting firm focused on biodefense medical countermeasure development. 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.
“My passion is in the realm of keeping agricultural programs linked to STEM,” Leffel said. “The two combine so well and there’s a lot of opportunity for synergy that we might not be taking advantage of.”
Leffel said she is concerned about the age of the school district’s buildings and sees a need to put together a capital improvement plan that can address some of those issues.
Dana McCaleb 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 believes the school board should have a representative with classroom experience. She has lived in Botetourt County for 25 years. Her husband is a deputy sheriff and her son attends James River High School.
“This is not about politics to me, it’s really about education,” she said. “I just want the best possible outcome for students and our community.”
The Fincastle District’s polling places are at Eagle Rock Elementary School and Fincastle Baptist Church. John Alderson currently represents the district and is not seeking reelection.
Tim Davidick is general manager at GexPro, a Roanoke electrical supply company. He has lived in Botetourt County for more than 12 years. Davidick has served as a liaison between the school board and the Parent Teacher Student Association for about four years, he said. He previously coached recreation league sports and served as a leader for Scouts BSA Troop 584 in Bonsack.
Davidick said he hopes to address the system’s aging infrastructure and school bus fleet. He also 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.”
Aaron Lyles is a life insurance agent with Family Heritage Life. He ran for the school board in 2015 and lost to Michael Beahm, who is retiring from the Valley District seat. Lyles has lived in Botetourt County for six years. He said if elected, he would hold mobile office hours in coffee shops and continue to hold Facebook live events.
Lyles said he wants to improve vocational training for students who are not pursuing college. He said he sees the declining population in school age children and the need to encourage families to keep coming to Botetourt County.
“I think we have to make sure we’re making smart investments,” he said. “We have to fix our infrastructure and make sure it’s fiscally responsible.”
The Valley District votes at Troutville Elementary School and Read Mountain Middle School.
Blue Ridge District
Matthew East 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 he would consider consolidating elementary schools to save costs if enrollment continues to decline.
East said he wants to give parents a voice and work for the betterment of students.
“There’s not a lot getting done,” he said. “And we need our school board system to progress and not just to be a rubber stamp for what the superintendent wants.”
Scott Swortzel has held the Blue Ridge District seat since 2008 and will be seeking a fourth term. 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.
Swortzel, the second-longest serving member of the board, said he could provide leadership and history as the board welcomes a new superintendent.
If elected, 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. He said it’s important to keep up with changing industries.
“We want to continue to grow and evolve and make changes to curriculum so our students are learning the best and have the best opportunities,” he said.
The Blue Ridge District votes at Colonial Elementary School and the Rainbow Forest Baptist Church Youth Center.