Six candidates are running for the two expiring seats on the Olentangy Local School District Board of Education.
Six candidates are running for the two expiring seats on the Olentangy Local School District Board of Education.
ThisWeek asked the candidates two questions - why they are running for office, and if they support the efforts of board member Jennifer Smith, who frequently casts lone dissenting votes on board actions.
Julie Feasel, 42, of Holderman Street, Lewis Center, a resident of the Olentangy school district since 1997, is seeking re-election.
Patrick Grubbe, 44, of Woodstone Drive, Lewis Center, has been a resident of the Olentangy district for nine years.
Dave King, 62, of Lakeview Drive, Powell, has been a resident of the Olentangy school district since 1986.
Mitch Kon, 51, of Cardinal Hill Lane, Powell, has been a resident of the Olentangy school district for 13 years.
Lynne Schoenling, 48, of Ridgewood Avenue, has been a resident of the Olentangy school district since 1999.
Jay Siefring, 35, of Hunters Bend, Powell, has been a resident of the Olentangy school district since 2006.
What is you reason for running for office?
Feasel: I was appointed in 2006 (and in 2007 ran unopposed to fulfill the rest of that term). Since then we've been through a superintendent, two interim superintendents and another superintendent. Now that we've got stability I feel like we can accomplish some things. I'm not done in my leadership role with the board.
There's still a lot of work to be done in containing costs and improving academics. I can still contribute.
Grubbe: There needs to be more fiscal accountability. There tends to be a liberal approach to how the district handles its finances. In our current economic times we're giving out 2.8 percent raises to our administrators and we're ginving our treasurer three raises and a bonus within 10 months. We're creating new administration positions (in the main office) and we're looking at a shortfall of $1-million from our state revenue as well as $2-million the next year. With all that happening we've got to manage our income a lot closer to the vest.
Also, transparency of the board has been a big concern. I've attended meetings for about 19 months. I've seen violations of the Sunshine law particularly with the superintendent search.
I've seen a board that has a hard time communicating if somebody brings up an issue they don't like. They don't want to discuss it. Issues should be out on the table, having intellectual dialogue because everybody comes from a different perspective in a very large district such as ours.
Academic improvement is a huge thing to me. In the recent July Ohio Board of Regents report on the first year of college students and remediation rates, we have a (combined) 34 percent remediation in math and reading. We need to have more emphasis on core curriculum.
King: (My son) and his friends were provided enormous educational opportunities with the Olentangy schools and I'd like to see that be enhanced and maintained at the excellence level that the students enjoy, but it also has to be sustainable. As a board member I can work toward excellence that is sustainable in a similar manner that I've done for years on the (district's) development committee.
Kon: About two-and-a-half year ago after the controversy over the books, I started going to those meetings because they were discussing pulling off these books from the summer reading lists. I thought that was a terrible decision. But what struck me was how that decision was made - there was no discussion, no discourse, and no participation in what was a pretty big deal which is taking books off the list.
That got me interested in the workings of the board and I've been going to those meetings for that past two to two-and-a-half years. I've seen places where there could be improvement and I thought I could help.
The three top issues are: how do we continue to maximize the educational experience of our kids; how do we continue aggressively manage finances and 'admins' with all the funding and financial issues of a growing district; and the third point is I don't think our board is operating at a high level. I've noticed two years of bickering and pettiness. We all as taxpayers, kids and 'admins' need a board that's operating at a higher level.
The requirement of the board is to operate at a high level, communicate with the community and each other, with respect and civility. I'm just not seeing it. As a result we're not addressing issues one and two.
Schoenling: Based on my experience as a long time business owner, I have a clear understanding of fiscal issues and how and where to most efficiently spend moneys and where not to spend moneys. I also have a unique understanding of children and their education needs based on my experience as a juvenile attorney.
I'm also running because I believe in the district, its excellence and I think it can be even better. I bring a point of view that has not necessarily been presented to this board in quite some time. I not only have a child who's going to be a part of this district for the next ten years, but also have a strong sense of the legal issues. I understand the Sunshine laws, what it takes to balance a budget and what children need because I work with children directly, and I understand employment issues because I've been doing employment and contract issues for my business clients for the last 19 years. I know how to negotiate both private and union contracts.
Siefring: The primary reason is I supported the levy in March 2008 and after it passed I committed myself to holding the district accountable to spending the new source of tax income.
Over the last 18 months of attending board meetings and being a member of the (district's) cost efficiency subcommittee, the things I've seen this board approve, the lack of communication amongst board members and between the board and the community and the overall lack of oversight relative to the way this district spends money is exactly why I'm running for school board.
The secondary reason would be tied to the lack of discussion and "thought leadership" around the current educational status of the district. While we've received excellence with distinction six years running we still have an all-too-high remediation rate and that's never been brought up in the 18 months that I've been attending board meetings. The remediation rate is the number of students that have to take remedial math or reading their first year of college because they are not prepared. Our ACT score average of 23 - while in line with peer groups - doesn't get you into Ohio State; a 27 is needed and that hasn't been brought up in the time I've been attending.
Some allege the school district has pro-Jennifer Smith and anti-Jennifer Smith divisions. Do you see this division and to which category to you belong?
Feasel: I don't think there's people division but there are philosophical divisions. I am pro public education, pro Olentangy - always believed in making the best decisions that's going to benefit the majority of our population.
One board member can't do anything by themselves; it takes collaboration and compromise to get things done - you have to be open to that as a board member - we're not there as in so and so's group.
You can't come in with an agenda, because you're just one person - if you come in with an agenda you'll feel defeated; you have to come in open minded. That doesn't mean you can't have your own ideas.
I've implemented work sessions for brain storming - looking at new ideas and vet out different proposals and have good conversations. The board meeting is to conduct the business of the district.
Grubbe: I'm a pro Patrick Grubbe and Jay Siefring candidacy. I believed there's an anti Jennifer Smith. I don't believe this an actual pro Jennifer Smith. I'm one of the candidates being painted as pro Jennifer Smith.
All five board members offer a lot and I believe all five should be listened to.
Do I agree with Mrs. Smith? Fifty percent of the time, as I do with the other members. I'm going to vote what's right for the district, what's right for my kids and everyone else's kids and nobody is going to dictate my vote.
King: I don't belong to any category. It's about sustainable excellence and enhancing the excellence of the district. It's not about any individual. I don't pay attention to things like that. It's a group and you don't worry about any perceptions of factions, you set those aside. I'm thinking about how you collectively work toward enhancing the district. It's not about being for or against somebody, it's about we are all here for the same reason - to enhance our school district at the best value that's affordable. Let's make that happen, each of us with our own role - the superintendent, the treasurer, volunteer committees and the board.
Kon: I've heard about the division. I haven't seen anything printed I'm for or against. I'm squarely in the middle. I'm an independent voice that has the potential to help at the board level.
To me the key is you should be neither. Jennifer is a person who was fairly elected to the board and has the right to speak her mind.
It makes me think of the quote by Voltaire - 'I disapprove of what you say but I'll defend your right to say it' - I think we forget that.
An example of the discourse: contracts are talked about at the board level. Jennifer has asked to see the contracts before voting. Another board member Dimon McFerson said he doesn't want to see the contracts; they're 1,200 pages, he needs to defer to the key people. Both are totally right and both are totally right within their responsibility.
Then we get into the discussion that the server wouldn't send it.
There shouldn't be an anti or pro anything as we run. We're all running what we can independently bring to the table, but we need to figure out how to get along.
Schoenling: I fall in neither category. I fall in the category of the kids. You just hit the nutshell of why I'm doing this. Based on my limited exposure to this board I came to a quick conclusion that we're losing sight of what this is supposed to be about - the students in this district. It isn't supposed to be about one individual board member, whether he or she is liked or disliked, whether he or she has factions in his or her corner or not. It's supposed to be about these children who are supposed to have five reasonability minded intelligent people operating on their behalf whether they're in consensus or not, but in a civil manner in order to bring about positive future growth for these kids. I'm not in any corner when it comes to any individual board member, I'm absolutely for these kids. They need leadership in their homes, schools and in their school board. I've seen what happens to kids when adults bicker and argue about stupid idiotic nonsense.
Siefring: I absolutely see the division amongst the board and the district. I hear about the division in the community, and I belong to neither faction. I'm an independent thinker.
I'm confident her heart is in the right place. Her style and the way that she delivers her ideas, concepts and challenges needs a lot of work. Conversely since I've been attending board meetings she's never been respected by anyone on the board.
In the community, Patrick Grubbe and I are being linked to a Jennifer Smith, which is unfortunate because Partrick and I got to know each other because we both attend board meetings. Our kids are the same age in the district. He's on one side; I'm on the other side of the district, yet we're both seeing and experiencing the same thing on both sides of the district.
There clearly is a faction of pro Jennifer and anti Jennifer in the community and potentially among candidates. I have no alliance and allegiance to anyone. I'm an independent thinker. I'm going to apply my common sense, ask my questions, do my due diligence before I vote or make a decision on an issue and whether I agree with the other four board members or not I'm going to vote on what I believe is the best for the community and the students.