By Aila Boyd
Matthew East is running for the Blue Ridge District seat on the Botetourt County School Board because he wants to “give the system back to the parents.”
He is running against incumbent Scott Swortzel, who has represented the Blue Ridge District for three terms.
East, a William Byrd High School graduate, has been a Botetourt County resident for 13 years.
A graduate of Liberty University, he holds an undergraduate degree in business management and accounting and a graduate degree in management and leadership.
Having wanted to run for the School Board for quite some time, East said that he feels that now is the right time for him to throw his hat into the ring. He cited his two school-age daughters as being a motivating factor for his run. He said that he knows the struggles that both parents and students go through and wants to be there to support them. He added that he wants the parents of students in the division to feel “empowered” by ensuring that both the school administration and School Board are accountable to them.
As a firm believer in term limits, East has promised that, if elected, he will only serve eight years in office.
When discussing his opponent’s time in office, East said that he views Swortzel as having perpetuated the “status quo” for “many years.” “He’s had his opportunity to get accomplished what he wants to accomplish,” East said of Swortzel. “We need fresh ideas.” He said that because of the arrival of the new superintendent, Dr. Lisa Chen, and the potential for three new members to join the School Board that a lot of change is coming down the pike, which bodes well for the change he envisions. He added that his goal is to have the school division operate on a more “effective level.”
Looking ahead, East said that if he is elected, his primary focus will be on representing the citizens of the Blue Ridge District, but stressed that he will work to ensure that the views of the entire county are heard.
East outlined three main policy positions: school safety, fiscal responsibility, and facilities maintenance.
School safety, East said, is “very important” and that he wants “everyone to be safe.” In order to do so, he explained that he would ideally like to see metal detectors at the entrances of all county schools.
The current policy of pressing a button to request entry, he said, is too lax. He added that just because someone presses a button and identifies their reason for requesting entry, that doesn’t mean that they will go directly to the main office.
According to the figures he cited, each metal detector would cost between $3,000 and $5,000.
He also mentioned alarm necklaces that teachers could potentially wear and trigger if they detect a threat, which would alert local law enforcement.
“There are lots of things that can be done to protect students,” he said.
Ideally, he said, there should be “purposeful placement” of every dollar that the school division spends.
“I’m an accountant, so fiscal responsibility is a huge priority for me,” East said. “We need to make sure that our tax dollars are being spent correctly.”
He noted that because the school division’s budget takes up such a large portion of the county’s budget that there is a “huge responsibility to spend it wisely.”
He said that he would like for the maintenance of the county schools to be carefully looked at. He explained that the Blue Ridge District is “fortunate” because it’s getting a new school, Colonial Elementary School, but noted that the condition of other schools is of concern. Citing discussions that he has had with several parents of Lord Botetourt High School students, East said that it’s not out of the ordinary for water to be dripping from the ceiling. Although things like dripping water aren’t that consequential, he said, they eventually add up over time.
Additionally, he said that the question over maintenance costs versus consolidation should be considered, adding that declining enrollment numbers are of concern.