BOE Candidates Appear At Forum

ST. MARYS — A group of local school board candidates participated in a debate Monday evening.

The seven candidates competing for the two positions on the St. Marys Board of Education participated in a debate sponsored by the St. Marys Education Association to a crowd of residents, teachers and students.

The debate was monitored by Randy Elsass, who questioned candidates Ronda Shelby, Ken Koverman, Josie Slater, Brian Little, Bob Valentine, Keith Jacobs and John Lampert.

Shelby is a retired teacher from the St. Marys City Schools, Koverman is retired from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Slater is a volunteer at St. Marys Primary School, Little is an Auglaize County Sheriff’s deputy and a 1988 graduate of St. Marys, Valentine is a St. Marys resident since 1973 who used to own a photography studio, Jacobs is a 1996 graduate of St. Marys and Lampert is a 1979 graduate of St. Marys who is employed at Crown Equipment and who was a former St. Marys Board of Education member from 1995-03.

Elsass asked the candidates the following eight questions: How do you balance the obligation as a school board member to what’s best for our district and what’s best for the community with your obligation to the voters as an elected official? What is your position on shifting the use of public tax funds currently supporting public schools to pay for tuition at private and parochial schools? What are your two main objectives if elected to the board? Do you have specific changes you would like to make in the curriculum, and if so, what? Give us your understanding of the status of the athletic complex and how it should proceed from here financially and procedurally. What is your position on Senate Bill 5 on the November ballot? Since money is in short supply, and it is necessary to make substantial cuts in the expenditures of the district, what areas would you cut first and what areas would you seek to preserve? Describe your personal experience and involvement with the public schools within the past five years that would qualify you to be a school board member?

Jacobs led off with the questions, noting he wants to be a liaison between the school system and the public, Valentine said he wants to restore the communication with the public, Little noted the board’s first obligation is the “best education possible for our students” and keeping the voters and community informed of why the board makes the decisions it does, Slater said her obligation “will always be to the children of the schools,” Koverman said he wants to hold the superintendent and treasurer responsible for the district, Shelby noted “if it’s good for the school, it’s good for the community and if it’s good for the community, it’s good for our kids” and Lampert said the welfare of the students “should always be first.”

The voucher bill, also known as House Bill 136, received opposition from all the candidates.

For the objectives, Little said he hopes to get a school superintendent who works with the employees of the district and the community.

“The superintendent should be well liked and well respected and also an effective superintendent,” he said, also noting the community needs to have a board they trust and respect and who keeps them informed. “We need to get a handle on the spending and finances of the school board.”

Slater said she hopes to improve the relationship between the board and the public and between the board and the teachers, while Koverman said the board needs to select a superintendent  to lead the district in the coming years — a superintendent who will be out in the public.

Shelby said her goals are stability and trust, as well as open communication.

“We need to be available and be good stewards of our dollars,” she said. “We need to get our house in order — the teachers, the administrators, the board, they have to be on the same page.”

Lampert said his goal is for the board to earn the trust of the voters and be able to pass an operating levy. He also stressed using the leftover LFI funds to reduce the district’s debt.

Jacobs said his top priority is keeping the focus on the education of the students and open communication between the board and the community, the board and the teachers and the board and the students, and he also noted the “anti-trust” issues between the board and the community.

“By keeping the students’ education the top priority, we could solve these issues,” he said.

Valentine said there is currently indifference shown to the public and a tendency of issues being decided upon before the board meetings. He also said the district needs to intensify certain areas of academics.

For changes in the curriculum, Slater said she would like to see the grouping of performance levels, especially in reading and math, in the elementary classrooms, Koverman said he is comfortable with the current curriculum and Shelby noted the state’s required curriculum has “little wiggle room” but suggested the district look into different instruction, such as blended courses and using technology. Lampert said he would like to see nothing major but maybe the test scores to improve, while Jacobs said he was not sure how much the district could do because of state standards but to bring it up with the teachers. Valentine reiterated improving the intensity of academic areas like math, science, American government and communication skills. Little noted the district’s current use of waiver days to align the curriculum and also suggested talking with the teachers on changes they would like to see in the curriculum.

For the athletic complex, Koverman noted the district’s current status of the field being improved and installed and the complex being proposed. Shelby said she would love to see a new stadium, but the district isn’t ready financially at the time. Lampert said, as he understands, there are more improvement things the district can do first, and the district should take the leftover money from the project and use it toward maintenance and paying down the debt. Jacobs said if the district is able, it should move forward with the plan, while Valentine reiterated the “public was assured the LFIs would not be spent for athletics” and suggested the current board place a temporary moratorium on the project until the new board is in place in January. Little said he understood there are still unpaid bills and projects that haven’t fully been completed.

“I believe we need to finish those,” he said, suggesting the district take the leftover money and pay the bills first. “I would love to see a new stadium, but at this time we don’t have the money to do so, and I think we should wait.”

Slater said she believes the district should wait on the project and not commit any more money toward it and remain with the current stadium location.

For the question on Senate Bill 5, all candidates opposed the bill — with some noting they agreed with parts of the bill — except for Slater, who said she feels the “good outweighs the bad” and who noted she believes public employees should not be allowed to strike.

For the question on what areas to cut, Lampert, Jacobs and Little said they would have to look at the budget, noting it was hard to answer the question without the budget in front of them. Valentine said there “are areas in which we could save dollars without affecting the curriculum, teachers, staff and administrators to assist in determining cuts,” while Slater said she would go through every line in the budget to eliminate anything that wasn’t necessary before eliminating any programs, Koverman said he would want to meet with the board members and the administration to discuss the cost savings measures in place and Shelby stressed protecting the quality of instructors and not cutting personnel.

Lastly the candidates thanked the SMEA and those who came out to the debate Monday evening and Elsass for monitoring. They also noted their ties to the district — the majority have children and/or grandchildren who have gone through or who are going through the school district.

The seven candidates are competing for the positions currently held by board of education members Craig Gottschalk and Rees McKee. The candidates are part of the Nov. 8 election.