Upper Arlington News

Candidates agree: District finances are a priority

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Finding ways to tackle the high cost of education is something all three Upper Arlington school board candidates agree should be a top priority.

Eric Colombo, Matt McClellan and Carol Mohr, are running in the Nov. 5 election for two open school board seats. Those seats are currently filled by board President Robert Arkin and Marge Pizzuti. Both have served on the board since 2001; they opted not to run for re-election.

* Colombo, 42, said he is a lifelong resident of Upper Arlington. He graduated from Upper Arlington High School in 1989.

He is a vice president with Commerce National Bank, with 22 years of experience in banking and financial services. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and finance from Ohio State University in 1994.

"I have a deep understanding of the community, a strong financial background and a vested interest in our schools," he said. "My family has deep roots in Upper Arlington and I want to leverage those relationships and my substantial knowledge of our community to maintain the tradition of excellence in our school district."

Because of his financial background and banking experience, he said he will be able to bring insight to discussions regarding sound business practices.

"I will provide prudent financial stewardship of our district's resources," he said.

Colombo said the major challenges facing the school district include the rising cost of educating each student, increasing expectations of the community, society and global community and constantly changing government regulations.

He said the district will have to find ways to save money even if voters approve the 4-mill operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

"The economy has negatively impacted everyone over the last several years," he said. "I have witnessed numerous companies making the tough, but needed decisions to find efficiencies and reduce expenses. We will have to think outside the box and find savings that will not hinder our mission to provide every student with the quality of education we have come to expect."

Colombo said partnering with other districts and sharing services, plus asking residents and businesses for in-kind contributions, could help find some of those savings.

He said district leaders need to take into consideration the effect of budget cuts on students.

"However, there must be a measurement of the return on the community's investment to our students," he said. "Spending cuts will have to be made and the programs with the least amount of return and student impact will be first.

"I truly believe that the district produces a well-rounded student," he said. "My priority would be to maintain our ancillary programs in the arts and languages and our technology."

Colombo and his wife, Megan, have six children, ages 2 to 15.

* McClellan, 46, said he has lived in Upper Arlington since 1978. He and his wife, Kristin, are both graduates of Upper Arlington High School. They are the parents of four children, ages 14 to 22.

Mrs. McClellan is a teacher at Tremont Elementary School.

He has been president of Miles-McClellan Construction Co. since 2006.

"I feel that I bring a strong combination of business background, history of board leadership and passion for the schools," he said.

McClellan said he has served on more than 15 boards and held leadership roles on eight of them, including the Civic Association Board, the Community Investment Corp. and the Upper Arlington Boosters.

He said the two primary issues facing the district include the 4-mill tax levy and Ohio Department of Education changes, including the new teacher evaluation system and the school district report card.

"There are many questions raised about the cost of our education compared to other districts," he said. "The 2013 tax levy has been proposed at a lower level and for a longer time period -- a good start.

"Now the district office needs to address the concerns raised by Educate UA and other taxpayers," he said, noting that Superintendent Paul Imhoff and Treasurer Andy Geistfeld "have started this open communication process and I believe the UA taxpayer, myself included, like what we hear."

He said mandates from the state, such as the teacher evaluation system and the new report card, are "an attempt to measure the success of a school district."

"Heavy emphasis will be placed on test results," he said. "It will be a challenge for administrators and teachers to implement the programs necessary to be successful while not forgetting about the whole student."

McClellan said he believes the district has earned the taxpayers' trust.

"Our school district has been acting fiscally responsible and Moody's has assigned the district its highest rating -- AAA. Only four school districts received the highest rating in the state of Ohio," he said. "The last tax levy for the schools passed in 2007 and was for three years' operations. That was turned into five years of revenue through sound financial management.

"Currently, the school district is asking for 4 mills for four years and history demonstrates it will manage its money appropriately."

He said district revenues are essentially fixed.

"We don't have a lot of business growth in UA and our revenue comes primarily from real estate taxes on our residences," he said. "Given that, focus needs to remain on reducing expenses."

* Mohr, 48, holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said she has "a strong interest in youth and education."

"I believe I bring strengths to the school board in knowing about college and career readiness," she said. "Because I am an alumni interviewer for MIT, I get to meet many of our students with an interest in science and engineering and hear about their experiences, both inside and outside the classroom.

"I would be a resource to the board on the many opportunities, scholarships and grants available for further study for our students," she said.

Mohr runs Carol Mohr Editorial Services and is a textbook and journal editor. She also presents ACT Boot Camps at high schools throughout Ohio for test prep seminars.

"I would welcome the opportunity to join the three remaining school board members to support the district's ongoing commitment to ensuring the highest quality education for our community's children in the most financially prudent manner," she said.

Mohr and her husband, Bill, have two children, ages 19 and 23.

Her two children graduated from Upper Arlington High School and she has been involved in a number of parent association groups connected with the school district.

She said the district's primary goal must be "to provide an excellent education to all learners and to prepare our students for college and careers."

"These are tough economic times and there have been significant reductions in funding to the Upper Arlington schools from the state, and that money is not coming back," she said.

"At the same time, the new school standards being developed at the state level bring uncertainty as to how our schools will be judged compared to other districts."

Mohr said she is a strong proponent of the 4-mill tax levy.

"I believe the community and the schools are partners," she said. "The district is asking the community to support the levy this fall and in return, the schools are promising to save $4.5 million over the next four years through initiatives like the efficiency project and shared services with the city of Upper Arlington."

She said finding ways to save money should not mean affecting a quality education.

"It is critical that the schools save money in efficiencies without impacting the student experience," she said. "Opportunities exist in the areas of equipment, supplies and services."

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