Bellbrook voters have choices in school board races

Bellbrook Intermediate released their students after the first day of school Monday August 17, 2020 JIM NOELKER/STAFF
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Bellbrook Intermediate released their students after the first day of school Monday August 17, 2020. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Voters in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district will cast ballots in two separate school board races in the upcoming election.

In the larger race, six candidates are running for three seats. Appointed incumbents Audra Dorn and Mike Kinsey, plus challengers Heidi Anderson and Keith St. Pierre are named on the ballot, while Joshua Pressnell and Katharine Kipling are write-in candidates. The three winners will serve four-year terms.

School board FAQ

According to the Ohio School Boards Association, local board members are responsible for hiring and evaluating the district’s superintendent and treasurer, engaging parents and community members, plus the long-term work of setting educational goals and policies for the district.

ExploreBellbrook school levy passes after three rejections

Board members vote on personnel issues, educational decisions and budget items that are presented by the superintendent and treasurer, but they do not manage day-to-day district operations. Board members are paid $125 per meeting, not to exceed $5,000 per year.

Four of Bellbrook’s five board seats are up for grabs in this election. Virginia Slouffman is not running for re-election. Board president David Carpenter’s term doesn’t expire until the end of 2023.

Audra Dorn
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Audra Dorn

Audra Dorn

Dorn, a contract negotiator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and parent of two Bellbrook students, said her top goal is moving the district away from recent turmoil and regaining stability. She says she’d lead by example — remaining calm, listening to everyone, but avoiding social media fights that have been all too common.

“That’s not how leadership happens or how you get things done in a real way,” Dorn said. “My slogan is ‘Be the adults our kids need.’ "

Dorn said reinstating some busing services “is likely prudent.” She thinks the district is lean on staffing and would love to see smaller class sizes, but she’s hesitant on further spending increases, saying the community can’t handle another tax levy before this seven-year one expires.

Dorn “reluctantly” voted for the K-6 mask mandate, calling masks a hurdle educationally, but necessary to keep in-person school going.

Mike Kinsey
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Mike Kinsey

Mike Kinsey

Kinsey, a software engineer and program manager for LexisNexis, also spotlighted community division over taxes and funding as his biggest issue. He said he wants district residents to stop fighting each other, and instead “come together in one unified voice and direct it toward our legislators in Columbus to have them fix how unfair our state funding is.”

Kinsey, a parent of two Bellbrook students, voted against Bellbrook-Sugarcreek’s current K-6 mask mandate. He said too many healthy kids are being quarantined, and families should be making their own health care decisions for their kids.

“I think that all of our neighbors are resourceful and intelligent enough that they can research all of these data and recommendations,” he said.

Kinsey said he’s happy that library and STEM cuts have been reversed. He said the district is strong academically, largely because of great teachers.

Keith St. Pierre
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Keith St. Pierre

Keith St. Pierre

St. Pierre, who spent 24 years as Bellbrook superintendent, wants to focus on long-range planning to give students the best, up-to-date learning opportunities for years to come. He said that requires input from teachers, administrators and parents, plus concrete action plans on things like improving academics and technology.

His other top issue is fiscal oversight on everything from academics to buses and roofs. St. Pierre said he wants to reinstate all of the district’s academic cuts for kids, saying if the planning is done right, that can be done with no new levy in the next seven years.

On COVID, St. Pierre said the district must “provide the healthiest, safest schools” by listening to health experts and parents, while continuously tracking local data.

“I bring the perspective of an experienced educator,” he said, emphasizing the importance of working with all stakeholders. “And I have a variety of experiences that will provide needed leadership.”

Heidi Anderson
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Heidi Anderson

Heidi Anderson

Anderson, a stay-at-home mom and former teacher, focused on school funding. She said Bellbrook should consider an earned income tax in place of property tax levies, but should also fight the state legislature for a system where funding is more equal for all districts (currently, poorer districts get more from the state).

Anderson thinks the school board is not open enough with information, saying “we should have 100% transparency in every aspect of our district.” On COVID, she said parents should be able to send their children to school with or without masks, with or without vaccination as they see fit. She said the school should offer an online option for those who want it.

Anderson said in a community where a lot of people move in and out, “I’m here for the long haul. This is my town, and education is my passion.”

Josh Pressnell
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Josh Pressnell

Josh Pressnell

Pressnell, a corporate chief technology officer and Bellbrook substitute teacher, said the district needs to rebuild trust with the community. He proposed an online dashboard with financial, academic and other information the community wants.

Pressnell, who was co-chair of the district’s tax levy campaign, said he’s developed a deep understanding of Ohio’s public education and tax systems. He said the district is doing a good job if it has solid educational outcomes for students, trust and engagement from the community, and support from school staff.

He said he’s been criticized over his children switching to a private school, but he said that was due to the district’s COVID response, which he said should be more data-driven.

“I’ve invested a large portion of my family’s time and resources into supporting this community at all levels,” Pressnell said. “(This) doesn’t impact my ability and judgment in making decisions that are good for the community’s children.”

Katherine Kipling
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Katherine Kipling

Katherine Kipling

Kipling, an Air Force branch chief engineer and mom of two students, said she wants to change three board policies. She wants to allow direct communication between the board and school staff, wants to reinstate busing services that were cut; and wants masking to be data-driven based on the COVID transmission rate in the community.

Kipling said she’s very analytical and willing to explain her decisions publicly more than the current board does. She suggested the current board is more right-leaning politically than the community as a whole, and she wants more balance.

“I know how to deal with controversy in workplace and how to communicate with people,” Kipling said. “Right now, the school board doesn’t listen to the community. … I know how to find compromise on polarized topics.”

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