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New Hope-Solebury School Board candidate Mark Cowell combines skills of educator and business administrator

New Hope-Solebury School Board candidate Mark Cowell (Photo: Charlie Sahner)

New Hope-Solebury School Board candidate Mark Cowell (Photo: Charlie Sahner)

Mark Cowell is one of four Libertarian candidates running for New Hope-Solebury School Board. He lives on Hillside Lane in Solebury with his rescued cat Czarina, the first feline this self-described dog person has ever owned. Among his animal tenants are also 34 koi fish housed in an 8,000-gallon pond nestled among the flower beds and manicured lawn of Cowell’s home. Aside from gardening, he also collects clocks, mirrors and other antiques.

A graduate of Rider University with a BS in business administration and a Masters in educational administration, Cowell first taught math and science in Pemberton, NJ, and then became a curriculum supervisor and, ultimately, business administrator. When the district superindent retired, Cowell agreed to fill the position on an interim basis, although he served for several years more. Even after retiring, Cowell wound up working for the State of New Jersey as an educational fiscal monitor in Asbury Park, where he served for two years, followed by similar roles in Trenton and Camden.

I asked Cowell why he decided to run for school board, and he said candidly, “Having been a business administrator and superintendent, my neighbors have been after me for years to run for the board, and I said I would certainly do that once I was done working. I retired in May, and Alison’s sister lives down the street, and that’s how it started. A few days later there was a knock on my door and someone saying, ‘Are you really serious about running?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ I thought they meant next year, I didn’t know they meant right now. Some of my neighbors are not happy that I chose to run — they felt I should have run in the primary and not the way I’m doing it. And I said to them ‘I’m too far into it. I know too much now to just back out.’ And I think the district can use my skill set,” he explained.

“I’ve read some comments in the Free Press where people say Libertarians are against public education, which isn’t true. I don’t know much about Libertarians because I’ve only been a Libertarian for eight weeks. It doesn’t matter to me. And when this campaign is over, I don’t vote for parties, I vote for who I think are the best candidates. I vote for Democrats and Republicans and all the other parties,” added Cowell.

“I don’t think anybody really grows up thinking they’re going to get involved in politics, and I certainly didn’t, and I don’t think anyone grows up thinking they’re going to end up on a board of education either. There really isn’t a course you can take to prepare for it. So in my particular situation, I think I’m unique in that I’ve been a board secretary for 15 years, and have been the superintendent for five and a half years, plus being a fiscal monitor over superintendents and boards…I’ve already been a non-voting member of a board for 25 years,” he said.

And what does Cowell hope to accomplish if elected? “I’m an educator. I understand if you’re going to turn a district around, you’ve have to start with the young children — early childhood education, which is K-8th grade — and in my old district, I really stressed reading skills, reading programs, reading specialists, and six, seven, eight years later test scores for the district have really changed for the positive.

“So, I want to say yes, I’m a money person, I’m a geek when it comes to that, but I’m also the educator, and when I hear people say they want small class sizes, I’m for small class sizes, because I know you can’t put 25 pre-school or kindergarten kids in a room and expect them to learn, it’s just impossible. I think 18 kids in a first grade class is fine, and when you get to second and third there shouldn’t be 25 or 30 kids in a class. And even when you get up into middle and high school, don’t come to me and expect me to vote to get rid of AP classes — I won’t do it. Even if there’s only five kids in that class. It saves residents a lot of money for these courses that these kids can just skip. So I come from both sides,” he continued.

Cowell is acutely aware of the budgetary pressures facing the New Hope-Solebury school district, saying, “It”s hard to find money, because you want your students here to have the same things these big districts have — be it lights on a football field, be it advanced placement classes, be it a really top-notch chemistry labs and biology labs — all those trappings and the technology that goes with it. But where do you find that money? Ninety percent of that budget is fixed —  I’m talking about salary, pensions, utilities — things the district has no control over. I’m not running because of any problem I see with the educational side of the houses. I think the teachers are excellent and  I’m amazed at the poise and intelligence of our students. The only thing about the educational side is that I want to know how we’re going to maintain it, how do we keep upgrading our technology if there’s no money in the budget?”

Pension funding is another big concern for Cowell. “When I hear the parents say they we want to have new playgrounds, they want to have a gym in the lower elementary school, and they need to fix these athletic fields, and they want to have a new football stadium, and there are ADA issues, and there are security issues…all that costs money; they have the plans, but they don’t have the money to do it. Now it was suggested that when these bonds come due we can just can go in debt and fix all this. But my only concern is that you’re going into debt again, you’re taking $1.7 million out to balance your budget, you’re taking 1.4 million out of that same reserve to take care of the increases in the pension costs, and in five years you’re going to take out $2.4 million out of the fund again to fund the next five years of pension costs…I don’t think you can spend that money two or three times.

“You need to have people on that board who have a business sense, who can take a look at how we’re going to move the money around, to make sure that we can maintain this excellent school district, that our children continue to get the great education they’re getting, and we still have all those things that we need to have done, whether its a new football field, whether its a new gymnasium, whether its security, or whether it’s health and safety, we may end up having to borrow money to do that, but we have to be sure we can pay that bill,” continued Cowell.

“One of the things I think we could do is to name the stadium after someone who’s willing to donate enough money to do the job. Maybe somebody wants to have the auditorium named after them. You can name things after people and they can contribute millions of dollars if they want, so everyone is happy,” he said.

Added Cowell, “I’m not criticizing the superintendent or the business administrator, I think they’ve done an excellent job, but I think looking forward, the four of us bring a great skill set to the table so that we can maybe come up with different ideas. And I think the four of us are very collegial — we work really easily with people, I’m not going to sit there and argue with you because I’ve been the business administrator, I’ve been the superintendent, I know what it is like when you work on a board and they don’t work together. That’s not how you run a school district. Everybody forgets that a board’s job is to set policy — and the superintendent is responsible for developing the regulations to make sure the policies are implemented. Now, do we also make decisions on how to spend money? Yes, we do. But again, it’s that superintendent’s vision that comes to us, and we listen to the public, and we make sure the money’s in place to do it, then we vote on it,” he said.

So, what would Cowell’s first priority be if elected? “Well, for me, it has to be the safety of the kids. And the students’ needs come first, whether it be a football stadium or whether it be smaller class sizes, all those things are important. But you must prioritize those needs — you must say security of those kids comes first.”

About the author

Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein


  • To S. Governale who states that the bureaucrats in Asbury Park, Camden and Trenton were Mark Cowell’s excollegues,nothing could be further from the truth, because he was sent in by the State to hold these bureaucrats’ feet to the fire. And boy, he did! And by the way, I would love to see Concerned Parent identify himself/herself, and have S. Governale and Ronald Mund come to the next board meeting to give the Board their pearls of wisdom.

  • To the Concerned Parent who wants fresh ideas.If you came to the meeting sponsored by the League of Women Voters or even bothered to read the bio’s of the four running on the Libertarian Line, not only will you see ideas fresh to you and the district, but people who HAVE ALREADY implemented these ideas because of their extraordinary skills!

  • The situation is worse than adding just one more principal. Supt. Boccuti in one of his monthly reports stated that the district needs NINE more administrators on top of the present twelve and TWELVE MORE athletic fields in addition to the twelve we already have.Even though the district has 32 top of the line printers, I would venture to say that unlike Washington D.C., not a single one can print 100 dollar bills.

  • There is no comparison between the “Libertarian” team and the cross-filed team, when it comes to experience and maturity (and I don’t mean social maturity….I mean being seasoned by years of being in the business/educational/technology community). The Cowell, Marcus, Patel, and Savin team win hands down. And this is when we need their help and expertise!!!

    We really need to get the School Board’s priorities in order, instead of kicking the can down the road with more borrowing.Pension costs are going to do us in unless we think ahead and heave a strategic plan for the future.

    Two of the cross-filed candidates also want to add yet another principal position to the top-heavy administration slate. To that, I say, use whatever money we have to see if there is a way to reduce the class sizes in the lower elementary grades (especially K and 1). Another principal? Really? Wow, that’s something that should be cause for concern among the voters.

    You can have a generous benefactor for athletic stadiums, but school salaries come from taxpayers. Many taxpayers are on fixed incomes, and they should have an equal say as to how their money is spent.

  • I agree… another establishment candidate, and of Jersey at that! Let’s get some fresh ideas… our children need more!! An are like ours, each child should have an ipad at their desk and only first class infrastructure! How do we not have a gymnasium at the Lower? Really guys?.. where are our priorities, there are people in this community that are more concerned about their pet’s well being than our children!! C’mon!!

    • HUH? If you’re really concerned about your children’s well-being, then you should take a hard look at the tough decisions that lie ahead for the new school board.

      Don’t fall for catch phrases like “more community involvement” or “I love this school.” Who DOESN’T believe in that? Instead, ask yourself, HOW are the candidates going to address a $36 million budget, rising pension costs, smaller class sizes in the lowest grades, school safety, etc.?

      I got an email recently, that said to “vote for qualifications” not “friendships.” That really hit home. The Libertarians have my vote on Tuesday!

  • First of all, Mark Cowell is not my boy. He is his own man as is the other three on the slate. And as far as Mr.Cowell being a lifelong bureaucrat what’s wrong with that? At the end of the second paragraph,it states that he was a fiscal monitor straightening out fiscally irresponsible Asbury Park,Camden and Trenton.When a community such as New Hope Solebury is spending $36 million and taking in $34 million without even including the costs of a new teacher’s contract which will be retroactive,we are a sinking ship which will not be able to right itself unless Mark Cowell and his slate are voted in. Just compare the experience of this team verses the other team by getting yourself a copy of Bucks County Herald which came out today.

    • You are entitled to your opinion that we should aspire to the fiscal success of Asbury Park, Camden, and Trenton. At least Mr. Cowell is not under indightment as are many of his ex-colleagues. And the education bureaucracy is the problem, not the solution.

  • Now there’s a cogent paragraph, Mel! Your boy appears to be a lifetime veteran of the Education Industrial Complex. Not sure if an accomplished bureaucrat is what we need.

  • There is no doubt about it as indicated in the title of the article,”… Board Candidate Mark Cowell Combines Skills of Educator and Business Administrator” is the complete package as is the others on his slate- Niraj Patel, Stan Marcus and Howard Savin who will not have to spend a year(the time projected by the Pa. School Board Association)getting their feet wet. They can and will hit the ground running, because they alone have the proven skills to do so. Talking the talk -recognizing the challenges-without walking the walk doesn’t get the job done- having all of our students reach their maximum potential.

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