Dayton school board candidates answer questions at a September 2019 public forum. From left are Will Smith, Gabriela Pickett, Dion Sampson and Joe Lacey. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

Dayton schools candidates take stands on academics, taxes, safety

Candidates will take part in a forum on Tuesday at downtown library.

By early January, all seven seats on Dayton’s school board will have changed hands in the past two years. On Nov. 5, voters will decide which three candidates (out of four) will help guide the school district for the next four years.

Since the last school board election two years ago, Dayton Public Schools has hired a new superintendent, new leaders of most administrative departments, revamped teacher training and closed two schools.

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Against that backdrop of change, candidates Will Smith, Dion Sampson, Gabriela Pickett and Joe Lacey are running for board seats, with Pickett and Smith running as a team. Voters can choose any combination of candidates they want. The winners will join board members William Harris, Jocelyn Rhynard, Mohamed al-Hamdani and Karen Wick-Gagnet, who are halfway through their four-year terms.

Dion Sampson

Academic efforts

Asked what change would most improve student students’ academics, Lacey and Pickett gave related answers. Lacey said smaller class sizes (which would require more teachers) would give students more individual attention and make teachers’ jobs more attractive. Pickett said the key was hiring more teachers and staff, then paying them and training them well.

Smith offered a laundry list of ideas, from setting high goals, to keeping stability in school staffing, to offering better extracurriculars and wraparound social services, to building community trust, and more.

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Sampson quoted an education maxim that schools have to address Maslow (students’ most basic human needs), before they can get to Bloom (the hierarchy of ways that students learn).

Joe Lacey

“When students are hungry, with no running water, or no place to sleep, then their academic performance is going to be compromised,” Sampson said. “Providing wraparound services for our students will require the work of not only the school district but also the community.”

Budget/tax levies

Smith said there may need to be a tax levy soon, but open, transparent discussions about the state of the district, keeping community poverty in mind, would have to come first, to build trust in the board and the district.

Sampson said he would need more information about DPS’ fiscal state and the rationale for any levy before making a decision. Lacey said given the district’s $100 million surplus this summer, he wouldn’t ask for a tax levy.

“In the past few years, overly conservative budgeting and forecasting has led to an unnecessarily large surplus,” Lacey said. “I have supported tax levies for our schools in the past but for now I see no need for a levy.”

Gabriela Pickett

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Pickett said she does think DPS should pursue a levy in the next two years, but only after an audit that would show taxpayers where the district has been spending its money.

On changes in spending, Lacey and Pickett both said spending increases should align toward their stated academic goals – with Lacey pointing to hiring more teachers and Pickett calling for investment in teacher pay and training.

Sampson said DPS should evaluate administrative expenditures to see if all the current staff are truly needed, a point Lacey agreed with. Sampson also pushed for better resources for teachers, given the wide variety of learning styles among their students.

Smith said DPS should look into funding restorative justice and trauma-informed care practices in schools, reading programs, and restoring arts, music, and other extracurricular opportunities.

Will Smith

School safety

All four candidates suggested DPS increase its use of restorative justice after incidents of misbehavior. It’s a model where the parties meet after an incident, have guided discussion on the harm that one or both caused, and look for solutions together. Sampson called it one of the most important ideas of his campaign.

Pickett said DPS should focus on day-to-day safety issues, calling Dayton schools “pressure cookers” given all the trauma kids face.

RELATED: DPS makes major changes to high school busing

“I think that we rely too much on suspending kids to solve problems,” Pickett said. “Sometimes suspension or expulsion are necessary tools, but I also see many situations where conflicts could be solved with mediation or restorative justice practices.”

Smith said the district can do more on safety, adding that a key issue is taking concerns from students and parents seriously. Lacey said he generally thinks the district is doing enough on student safety, but could add more training.

Most important idea

We asked each candidate for “the most important idea of their campaign.”

Sampson said properly used restorative justice practices improve behavior and school culture and create better educator-student relationships. He said the key is devoting resources to training so the program is implemented effectively districtwide.

Lacey cited his willingness to speak up when others will not, citing previous school board votes where he was the lone “no” vote. He said it shows his independence, and that he’s not beholden to anyone.

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Pickett repeated her call to hire more teachers and classroom aides to lower classroom sizes, as well as increasing pay to attract skilled educators, and building a program to encourage more DPS students to become teachers here.

Smith didn’t choose a single topic.

“The most important idea of my campaign is that we must be intentional in creating a positive, inclusive, equitable, goal-achieving educational culture within the district through transparency, accountability and engaging the entire community,” he said.

Early voting is already under way, and election day is Nov. 5.

SCHOOL BOARD FORUM TUESDAY

The four candidates running for three seats on the Dayton School Board will take part in a forum from 7-8 p.m. on Oct. 22 at the main branch of the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third Street, Dayton.

The event is hosted by The Greater Dayton Area League of Women Voters, the Dayton Daily News, WHIO and UpDayton. The candidates are Joe Lacey, Gabriela Pickett, Dion Sampson, and Will Smith. WHIO TV’s Jim Otte will moderate the discussion.

You can learn more about the Dayton School Board candidates and other races and issues on the November ballot in our interactive voters guide at vote.daytondailynews.com

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