Seven of the eight candidates for the Bethel Local Schools Board of Education participated in a Candidates Night on Sept. 27 discussing why they are running and commenting on a number of issues including district finances and ongoing teacher contract negotiations.
The program, held by the Bethel Township Historical Society at the Bethel School, also included a presentation on the proposed township 3.8-mill levy renewal and two candidates for two seats on the Bethel Township trustees.
The bulk of the program time was committed to the school board race in which eight people are vying for three seats including incumbents Joseph Solch, Brian Moore and Scott Hawthorn. Hawthorn did not participate in the forum, saying he had a prior family commitment.
Other candidates are Danny Elam, Jennifer Evans, Chase Heck, Jacob King and Julie Reese.
Among candidates opening comments:
Danny Elam, a 1973 Bethel graduate, retired from the district after the 2015-16 school year. “I decided to run for a school board position after hearing of many problems between the board and the community and experiencing the tension between administration and staff,” he said. Elam said he believes he is qualified for the position due to his experience as an educator, working with booster groups and his involvement in the 2012 fundraiser to remodel the school auditorium.
As a board member, he would work on problems such as pay to play, “extravagant” board spending, poor transparency at meeting and teacher negotiations. “I feel I can work in all aspects of public education,” Elam said.
Jennifer Evans is in her 20th year as an educator with the Tecumseh schools and has three children in the Bethel schools. “I think I would do well at the school board because I have dealt with teacher negotiations, I have dealt with board policy and I understand what teachers face on a day to day situation,” she said.
Evans said she ran because of issues in the community and between the administration and teaching staff as well as fees parents are expected to pay.
“I figured with my experience as an educator and being part of the Tecumseh Educational Association, I could possibly help the teachers … and make their work environment a little bit more pleasant,” Evans said.
Chase Heck is a 2016 Bethel graduate and a student at Wright State University. “I want to give back to my community. I often think of all of the amazing experiences Bethel and the staff here have given me over the years,” he said.
He said he believes his youth is his greatest strength as a candidate. “Having recently graduated from high school, I know what it is like on a day to day basis in school. I can relate with students and teachers on a much different level than everyone else because I was there not too long ago,” he said.
Heck said he would approach the job with an open mind.
Jacob King is fire chief at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. King said he is a leader, a great communicator and an effective team player. “I work extensively with multiple unions on a regular basis to establish appropriate practices in dealing with grievances, impasse panels and federal labor relations authority,” he said. “I think that allows me to have an outside look at the issues we are faced with our current board and our teachers’ union.”
King said that in his job he manages a $14 million budget for emergency services and had been responsible for other larger operations during his career.
Brian Moore has lived in the Bethel community since 2002. “This is the school I know … It is fantastic,” he said.
Moore pointed to the candidates listing challenges facing the district, challenges he said those candidates attempt to tie to the current board.
“I didn’t get on the board of education to fix a problem. I got on the board of education because I love kids,” Moore said, adding he has coached various sports and helped with auditorium project fundraising. “I am so proud of this school, proud of the school we just built and proud of the community … The challenges that we’ve had can be overcome. We can have continuous conversation,” he said.
Julie Reese, a Bethel graduate who worked more than 30 years at IBM, said she is running for school board because “I am tired of the wasteful spending by the current board.” She said the 100-year-old school had been largely ignored as far as infrastructure updates. “There’s many needed projects but we seem to be spending our money on showy items and decorative items rather than saving it for the truly needed items and those that are required.”
Reese said the public needs more information on where their money is going and the board needs to change the way it discusses items and gathers public input at its meetings. The district teachers “deserve to be treated with respect,” she said.
Joe Solch teaches at Wright State University. He said his top goal has been “to make the correct decisions for the best future of our children.” He pointed to three issues: pressure from enrollment, keeping abreast with technological changes and improving proficiency in state tests, a problem he said blamed on the state always changing testing.
Solch said he was “profoundly troubled” by “misleading and often hateful statements” that are being made on social media and in the public and mailed a four-page letter to township residents in response. “I ask you all, ‘How do you expect our children to be good citizens if they don’t get good examples of appropriate behavior?’ It’s all about the children,” he said.
The school board candidates were asked several questions including: in light of the yet unsuccessful negotiations between the board and teachers on a contract, to outline steps that could be implemented to improve staff morale and ease tensions.
Elam said the question was tough. “A lot of people have bad thoughts towards unions. I am a union guy,” he said. “We see it as an umbrella of protection not only our personal selves but also our financial selves.” Without information on what is taking place in negotiations, Elam said that “showing the staff loyalty” is important.
Evans said negotiating is tough and usually comes down to salary and insurance. “I have heard some rumbling in the community … when it comes to teachers, you have to be respectful to them … They have to feel comfortable in their workspace,” she said. The teachers are the “heart and soul” of the district, Evans said.
Heck said respect for the teachers’ hard work is needed but teachers and staff also need to respect administration. “It is a tough job running schools. It needs to be a degree of mutual respect and constructive criticism so they can build each other up instead of attacking,” he said.
King said he would establish a partnership council with a board member, union member, school principal and union representatives sit down and work out smaller issues after a contract is reached. “This is a great way to manage a contract and work with people,” he said, adding the partnership councils are common in governments.
Moore said the topic is difficult and morale is a big issue. He said a lot of things have changed in the district the past couple of years with a new superintendent, new administrators and now a new building. “It has been chaos. We are moved in and settled… Now we can focus on our house, look at our staff … and have opportunity to allow administration to address (issues such as morale,” he said.
Reese said to improve morale teachers need treated with respect. “The administration has effectively shut down the teachers from speaking their minds … They must have a voice,” she said.
Solch said the issue is difficult to solve. “The main reason why we have the morale problem is because we have a big problem with negotiations,” he said. Solch said the previous contract was problematic, causing issues now. “Until we solve that issue, it is going to be very difficult to do any improvements in morale,” he said.