Pickerington school board candidate Vanessa Niekamp said if she's elected, she will fight to restore traditional art, music, physical education and media technology to the district's K-4 classes, while also ramping up district-sponsored anti-bullying and drug-awareness programming.
Niekamp, 43, is among four candidates running Nov. 5 for three seats on the school board. She'll face off with current board members Clay Lopez, Cathy Olshefski and Lori Sanders, each of whom are seeking re-election.
A 15-year resident of the Pickerington Local School District, Niekamp is executive director of the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which regulates the funeral industry in Ohio.
She holds an associate degree in human resources management from Columbus State Community College, as well as bachelor's degrees in business administration and jazz performance from Capital University.
She and her husband, Philip, have two sons.
In part, she said she's running for school board to restore K-4 music, art, physical education and media technology to daily or weekly classes. Those classes were reduced following cuts the school board made in 2011, and now learning in those subjects is integrated into classroom instruction for other subjects.
"We are fortunate to have great schools in Pickerington, but I see room for improvement," Niekamp said. "I think our kids would benefit from having music, art, gym and technology in all grade levels.
"I believe we really need to focus on eliminating bullying in our school buildings, and make sure that drug (prevention) awareness -- particularly heroin -- is a top priority for our school system."
Niekamp noted she's been active in the Pickerington community, including membership in the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce and Pickerington Women's Leadership Coalitions. She's also third vice president of the Pickerington Lions Club.
In addition to restoring some K-4 curriculum, she said addressing projected deficits in the district's operating budget is a primary concern.
"According to (PLSD) Treasurer Ryan Jenkins' five-year forecast, the district will see an approximately $1.04 million deficit in fiscal 2015, and those deficits will rise to about $5.15 million in fiscal 2016 and about $8.44 million in fiscal 2017," she said. "Our district has a budgeting process that results in permanently 'living on the edge,' with revenues just matching costs. When hard times arrive, it is difficult for us to adjust for a variety of reasons."
Niekamp said the district should discard its incremental budgeting process, which seeks to incrementally add or subtract spending on each of the district's major expenses and programs. She said it results in "piecemeal changes to district priorities.
"The downsides of the incremental approach are obvious when they are compared with methods that are more tightly focused on value, such as zero-based budgeting, which asks managers to examine the services they are required to deliver and then build up their cost structure from scratch; or activity-based costing, which separates the costs of various activities within a business.
"Then, by looking at external benchmarks and generating ideas internally, managers search for ways to reduce the costs of these activities while delivering the same level of service. The goal of using these budgeting methods is to ensure that the organization aligns its costs with its strategy and most valuable activities," she said.
Niekamp said she would require all district leaders to undertake financial management training and ask the superintendent to bring in independent outside financial and business experts from the community to monitor district finances before a crisis erupts.
She added she would push for the development of multiyear financial projections with contingency plans that specify how the district will adjust if expected funding does not come through.