Crowded field for Hamilton school board talks district issues at forum

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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There are 8 candidates seeking 3 open seats on Hamilton's Board of Education.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The largest field of candidates for any school board race in Butler County this fall jostled to stand out in a Hamilton school board election forum Tuesday evening.

The eight candidates — vying for three seats on the Hamilton Board of Education — crowded into City Council chambers downtown and made their cases for why voters should put them on the governing board of the 10,000-student school system.

The forum, which was attended by an audience of more than two dozen, was sponsored by the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and the Journal-News.

ExploreMORE: Learn more about each Hamilton school board candidate in our online Voters Guide

Candidates were quizzed on a variety of subjects including: their priorities should they be elected to the five-member board; what they considered the largest challenges to Hamilton schools; and what role they envision the board should play in the overall economic development of the city.

When asked about the biggest challenge facing Hamilton and Ohio schools, most of the candidates cited the locally hot-button issue of mandated state testing of students.

“We are not teaching students, we are programming them to take tests,” said candidate Zipporah Samples.

Steve Isgro echoed a similar stance, saying “(state testing) is not fair to students and it’s not fair to teachers. Let them teach.”

Candidate Louise Jewett called for a shift toward allowing teachers more freedom to teach in their classrooms “rather than focus on testing.”

ExploreMORE: Hamilton school leader blasts state’s report cards in letter to residents

Anne Vaaler Mills addressed teacher retention in the Hamilton Schools, saying, “if we want to be successful, we need to be able to keep the teachers we have.”

And Chris Mate said, “teacher retention is very important. We need to support staff … teacher morale is very important.”

Candidate Laurin Sprague was unable to attend in person but participated via a phone link. He said the city school district must do more to help students from low-income families, adding “we have quite a few students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

ExploreMORE: Hamilton City Schools rolls out first food truck

Robert Weigel cited Hamilton’s recent performance on the annual state report card that showed improvement in 18 of 23 academic areas measured by the Ohio Department of Education.

“We have seen academic gains … we are clearly on the right track,” said Weigel.

Patrick Wagonfield’s responses included his stance on the importance of school security.

“Teachers and students deserve school environments that are safe and conducive to learning,” he said.

ExploreMORE: Hamilton school board extends superintendent’s contract

Of the 10 public school districts in Butler County, Hamilton’s board race with eight candidates is the largest slate of office-seekers for a local school board.

Lakota Schools, which enrolls 16,500 students and is the largest district in the county, has six candidates seeking three seats.

Hamilton City Schools has an annual operating budget of $125 million and is among the city’s largest employers — employing 1,300 teaching and non-teaching workers.

Ohio school board members serve four-year terms and the boards hire district superintendents and treasurers, while overseeing and deciding on the spending of millions of tax dollars as well as whether their districts will seek school tax hikes from local residents and businesses.

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