Westerville News & Public Opinion

Three announce joint run for Westerville school board

Past levy opponents say their team would establish a majority, capable of enacting real changes

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Three Westerville men have announced that they will run for the Westerville Board of Education as a team, saying electing them jointly is the best way to effect change in the district.

Jim Burgess, Luke Davis and John Sodt are running on a "Students First" platform, which they said means making all management decisions based on how students would be affected in the classroom.

"We want to give voters a choice: Do you want to make a change, or do you want the status quo?" Sodt said. "I think we can do better."

Burgess agreed, saying district statistics show room for improvement.

State data show that 40 percent of Westerville graduates who go on to college need remedial courses, and 12 percent of third-graders don't pass state tests the first time, they said.

"It's not being talked about. It needs to be brought to light, and a plan needs to be put in place to get it fixed," Burgess said.

Under their plan, Burgess, Davis and Sodt said they would change the way the district does its budgeting process to get a concentration of dollars in the classrooms, providing tools and programs teachers and students need to be successful.

Sodt said the district needs to create a "reverse budgeting" process, where they budget first for all student programs and tools and work their way out to other costs.

"If you run out of money, you have to make changes with the outliers, not with the students," Sodt said. "We pass levies, but we see student programs cut."

Burgess, Davis and Sodt said they have the business and management experience to help the district run more efficiently.

Burgess, a father of three Westerville students, runs his own IT firm. He has worked for several large companies, including Sterling Commerce, NCR and IBM. He has volunteered with the Strawberry Farms Civic Association, Habitat for Humanity, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and as Sunday school coordinator for Grace Brethren Church.

Burgess is the director of the Westerville TEA party.

Davis is the father of three Westerville students. He is a quality assurance and compliance coordinator for Abbott Nutrition. He is the former president of the Tanager Woods Civic Association and is an active volunteer with Grace Fellowship Church, as well as a member of the Blendon Middle School PTO and Hanby Elementary School PTA.

Sodt is the father of four Westerville graduates. He is a former U.S. Air Force weapons intercept officer and retired as an IT consultant for the state. Sodt now runs his own business, Midwest Deferred Compensation Advisory Service.

Sodt volunteers as a financial counselor for the Vineyard Financial Ministry.

All three have been attentive to school district issues over the past several years, attending school board meetings, talking with board members and asking questions of district administration.

They have been active in opposing recent school district levies, and backed a repeal of school levy millage last fall, with a citizens initiative that was knocked off the ballot in a court challenge.

"We have a great school system, and we believe it can be better," Davis said.

In addition to pooling campaign resources and efforts, running jointly for the board is important, Sodt said, because if all three are elected, it would give them the majority on the five-member board needed to enact change.

Burgess, Sodt and Davis join four other announced candidates in a race for three open board seats Nov. 5.

The Rev. Rick Vilardo, Tracy Davidson, Robert Edwards and incumbent board member Kevin Hoffman previously announced their candidacies.

School board incumbents Kristi Robbins and Denise Pope are not seeking re-election.

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