The upcoming election of three members of the Lakota Board of Education is a pivotal vote that could change the majority of the five-member board that oversees Ohio’s eighth largest school system.
Six candidates are seeking three open seats. Incumbents Ray Murray and Todd Parnell are facing challengers Jason Baldwin, Kelley Casper, Ernest Gause and Brad Lovell.
The Journal-News asked each candidate to respond to three questions. Their responses were edited only for brevity. For more information on each candidate and their full responses, view the online Journal-News voter guide at vote.Journal-News.com.
1. Why are you running and if elected, what major issues do you plan to make a priority if you win a seat on your local school board?
Jason Baldwin: I'm running for the school board because I don't believe that Lakota is using all of the available resources to make the district better than it is today. I would reach out to more area businesses to try to get interest in providing students with internships, co-ops, apprenticeships, job shadowing, etc. opportunities. I would also reach out to local businesses to see if they would be willing to donate supplies, time, knowledge, etc. to the school district. My other priority would be to look at increasing the busing opportunities in the district so that more students can get to school safely and cut down on traffic during pick-up and drop-off at the beginning and end of the school day.
Kelley Casper: I have always been passionate about education and have been working as a volunteer in Lakota for the past 16 years. My priority will be to see that each young person in Lakota has the tools they need to compete at the next level whether that is college, military or the work force. I am committed to being fiscally responsible by finding creative ways to do this while living within our means as a district.
Ernest Gause: I have been an educator for over 25 years. If elected, I plan to focus on the following: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I would champion that the Lakota School District track how students are performing in these key areas year over year. That will allow for a greater focus on student achievement and their transition into post-secondary institutions of higher learning to include universities and colleges, military and trade schools. More Academic Resources and external Partnerships: I would add classroom aids in classes that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to build skills to succeed in college, military and trade schools to give them a solid academic foundation.
Brad Lovell: I have been a proud member of the Lakota community my entire life. Not only did I graduate from Lakota, but I also had the privilege of working for the district as an elementary principal. After leaving my role as a principal to work in the private sector, I realized that I had a unique opportunity and voice that could be of real value on the board of education. Thanks to our current board leadership, our district is in great financial shape and has recently tapped one of the best leaders in the nation to lead our schools. With that being said, I also believe that it is time to prioritize the evaluation of K-12 programming in an effort to enhance and foster innovation in student learning.
Ray Murray: I am running for re-election to the Lakota School Board to help build on the success and excitement that has re-energized this great district. After years of hard work I can honestly say that our future as a district has never been brighter. We have hired the best Superintendent and Treasurer in the state of Ohio and quite possibly the entire Midwest. Optimism and enthusiasm is high and our expenses are low. However,for some years now, the staff and their concerns have not been heard. Now more than ever we need to make sure that our staff knows how much they are valued and make sure they have a say in the future of our district.
Todd Parnell: I am running for re-election to the Lakota School Board to continue the incredible progress we have made over my first term. The district is in the best financial shape in its history and we have had NO tax levies nor do we expect any in the next four years. We have made great strides in increasing student opportunities through curriculum adjustments and internships with local businesses. We have brought Lakota to the forefront of technology and we have also retained and hired the best and brightest teachers, administrators and Superintendent anywhere. I am a fiscal conservative. As a business person I bring a very no nonsense approach. My experience in the corporate world along with my education helps maintain a very effective balance on the Board that the community desperately needs.
2. What challenges most concern you in your local schools and what proposed solutions will you champion in trying to persuade your fellow board members to join you in solving those challenges?
Baldwin: I believe that the biggest challenge for the school district is how to remain competitive in Ohio with decreasing funding from the state and federal agencies. I believe that the best way to combat this is to create more partnerships with businesses in the Lakota School District as well as the Greater Cincinnati Area to provide opportunities for students as well as providing various types of donations to the school district in order to save time and money as well as provide more opportunities for Lakota students to learn and become engaged outside of the classroom. I also believe that as the community learns more about our financial status, there will be a strong push to bring back classes and other services that were cut in the past 7-10 years.
Casper: Ensuring that our students are prepared for jobs that haven't even been conceived yet, that technology is a priority and that we continue to hear what our community wants for our schools. While I make no promises I will work with my fellow board members and listen, with an open mind, to create a cohesive board that allows our superintendent to lead Lakota into the future. Thinking outside the box to create solutions to address parental concerns such as transportation and additional time for specials in the elementary schools.
Gause: 1. Dependency on Levies to address fiscal responsibility. There has been a significant spike in cost to include procurement for goods and services, technologies and service contracts with the Lakota School District. There has been no plan to offset costs that are increasing year over year. I would champion a complete review of all services and expenditures.
Lovell: The biggest challenge in any public school is keeping pace with innovation in both teaching and learning. As a board, we need to continue to think creatively about how to equip our staff to educate all students through new and innovative ways. Our staff is our greatest asset as an organization. As we build trust through relationship, organizational culture will improve and innovation will happen.
Murray: The over emphasis on state testing coupled with recent budget reductions has severely limited student opportunities in art, music and Physical Education. I propose that the Board and staff work collaboratively to find ways to repurpose resources so we can offer these valuable programs to our kids. Here are some reasons why we must: Musical training helps develop language and reasoning. It also helps to develop a mastery of memorization and increased coordination. Art educations fosters bright, creative and socially engaged students. PE helps with motor skills development and helps to create a healthy child.
Parnell: We need to make sure to maintain our fiscal responsibilities. The district is in the best financial shape in its history and we must strive to keep it that way. We have built cash reserves that should last for many more years. We have a rapidly changing demographic. The poverty percentage has increased; the number of ESL students and other subgroups has dramatically increased as well. We need to make sure that opportunities for a top education are available to ALL students. I think the development of a new an updated strategic plan will be a top priority. How do we increase effective parental involvement? This would be a part of the Strategic Plan that we are developing.
3. What changes — if any — in state school regulations and requirements would you like to see and why?
Baldwin: I would like to see the requirement for state testing to be terminated. I feel that if you meet the requirements set forth by the state and school district, then you should be able to graduate regardless of what some test says. I would also like to see more money funneled back into education. Money was cut from the budget during the Great Recession to provide tax breaks for businesses to attract and keep them in Ohio. Now that we've recovered, I feel that the state can redirect more funds back to education to help increase funding from the state in all school districts.
Casper: I believe in accountability but I think there has been too big of an emphasis on testing. I am glad to see the state moving in the direction of decreased testing and would continue, as a board member, to monitor any further changes. I would like to see there be more alternative pathways for graduation requirements especially for those students who struggle with the traditional route.
Gause: Some of the issues that I would like to see changed are as follows: 1. A repeal of the Common Core standard, allow education to be managed at the local level. 2. Busing for High School students to allow for greater flexibility of hard working families.
Lovell: As a district we need to celebrate student achievement in all areas. Often, district success is pigeon holed into what the state tells us through scores from state assessments. I would challenge district administration to embrace new ways of showcasing the work that is being done while advocating for continued changes in state testing measures. With that being said, data is important and we should continue to embrace certain measures, like diagnostic testing, to help out teachers better understand individual student needs.
Murray: 1) Ohio has a questionable teacher evaluation system that uses as one factor the standardized test scores of students. There are far too many factors in a student's life that affect their scores on tests. Many of these factors are out of the teacher's control making it grossly unfair to the teacher. 2) Ohio's scandal-ridden charter school sector needs to be overhauled. Far too often public schools are seeing their budgets cuts while these poorly regulated schools are reaping the benefits of public money to support them and their vouchers systems.
Parnell: I think we all agree there has been too much State Testing and that in many cases it has been too narrowly focused. I understand the need for testing but we cannot have so much testing that it forces teachers to change what they do. Not every kid is the same and they may be great in Art but not-so-great in Math for example. This needs to be taken into consideration. There are proposals at the State Level to streamline testing and make it more accurate. I think we need to look at alternative sets of graduation requirements that are based on students and their skills. I also believe there will be further changes to the State Report Card Metrics. There seems to be some growing push-back from districts across the state and I am seeing more and more Superintendents speak out.
Two local groups are hosting meet the candidates events for this year’s candidates to the Lakota Board of Education. Both events are open to the public.
The West Chester Liberty Chamber Alliance event will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Lakota Central Office, 5572 Princeton Road in Liberty Twp.
Lakota East High School’s student news magazine, SPARK, is hosting a second session at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at Lakota East Freshman School, 7630 Bethany Road in Liberty Twp.
Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and hear from each candidate on the Nov. 7 ballot about their stance on education and district issues.
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