Neale Dougherty is one of four Democrat/Republican candidates running for New Hope-Solebury School Board. He lives with his wife, son, daughter, two Newfoundland dogs and two Maine Coon cats on Greenhill Road in Lumberville.
Dougherty received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania, and works as a commercial insurance broker specializing in businesses with high risk exposure. He worked with Federated Insurance for 12 years before going independent as a registered broker dealer with LMK Insurance.
I asked Dougherty how he arrived at the decision to run for school board. “I was already attending board meetings, listening and observing. I was learning the issues that the school board is grappling with. It became pretty clear to me that I wanted to be part of the solution. So it was a natural progression — there was not a plan to run for school board –it was just time.”
“My wife and I are keenly interested in the academic quality of the district, it’s a big part of why we live here — our most important purchase was because of the school district, so it is important to us that this district be the strongest in Bucks County.”
Among major issues that Dougherty would like to tackle is the imperative that “the board act with financial discipline,” he said. “It has to have the discipline to say ‘no.’ There is a very tight budget, most of it is accounted for, and you have to navigate in a fairly tight space, so that when smaller issues or wants are presented in front of the board, you have to make a judgment: ‘Is this in the interest of the entire student body? Is this in the interest of all the stakeholders?’ And you have to have the discipline to say ‘no’ when it isn’t,” Dougherty added.
‘The academics are good. They need to be best, in my opinion. When you look at the demographics, when you look at the parental involvement of this community, we shouldn’t be scoring lower than Central Bucks, we shouldn’t be scoring lower than Council Rock, we should be the stand-alone number one.
“There has to be more emphasis from the board not only on academics, but also on helping and letting the administration and teaching staff do their jobs…that is critical. Those are the professionals. This is a board of directors, it’s not a board of executives. We’re there to provide guidance and help them do their jobs. To me, it’s so important that New Hope be recognized as the strongest academically, and when you look at the advantages we have over the other districts, we should be there…we shouldn’t be working to get ahead of them, we should already be ahead of them,” he asserted.
“A board also needs to communicate effectively and consistently with all its stakeholders,” continued Dougherty. “In this small community, there is a full range of opinions. I’ve heard many of them, and they’re all relevant; and they’re all stakeholders. If you operate just listening to seniors, or just listening to parents, or if you just listen to people who have a gripe about taxes, you’re not going to get the full picture — you’ve got to communicate with all stakeholders, and you have to be willing to listen to all stakeholders.
“And we need more people paying attention to the school board,” he added. “We need more people sitting in on school board meetings. You’d be surprised at the number of parents who don’t even vote for school board. We need more participation. The ‘lights’ issue was very important — it obviously hit a nerve with many people — but for me it was important as well because it was a good example of how the board has conducted itself and done its business, and they mishandled that pretty badly. And what’s a shame is that there are some strong, exceptional board members that got caught up in that mess,” said Dougherty.
“You know, this is a special community, this is an inclusive community, and this is a sophisticated community. It is a minimum expectation that the board would behave with civility always.”
Dougherty’s priority list if elected is direct and to the point: “Fiscal discipline, academics that are always strong and always improving, and communicating well with all stakeholders. The strength of the school district is going to affect everyone’s home value — everyone needs this district to be strong — the stronger its reputation, the better it is for all of us.”