Four candidates are vying for two seats on the Big Walnut Local School Board of Education on Nov. 8.

Four candidates are vying for two seats on the Big Walnut Local School Board of Education on Nov. 8.

They are: Lurley Hernandez, of Miller-Paul Road; Robin Justice, of Hartford Road; Mindy Meyer, of Centerburg Road; and Andrew Wecker, of Patrick Road.

Hernandez is a 10-year district resident and a homemaker. She serves on the Harlem Township zoning board. She is a former district bus driver. She has “two children who graduated from Big Walnut and five who are currently students,” and said she has a “good perspective on the district’s successes and challenges.”

Hernandez said she entered the race because she “wasn’t getting the level of service (she) wanted from the board,” such as board members “answering basic questions such as procedures for contracting or bidding and for staffing or about decisions made by the board.” She also wants to “see better public access to information on the (district) web site.”

A 24-year district resident, Justice owns a trucking company and farm with her husband, Kevin. She said her volunteering with the district has provided her insight into how it works and her family business helps her “look at spending and (income), how much things cost and where you need to cut things if you have to.”

Justice said she entered the race because she has “two kids still in school,” has lived there for 24 years and has “a passion for the community and school and want to see it grow well.”

Meyer has lived in the district for five years. She is a stay-at-home mother and Mary Kay sales director. She said she has “knowledge about school finance and policy” from working on campaigns for a district bond issue and three levies, providing her with “insight to ask questions that go beyond those asked by someone with only a basic understanding.”

Meyer entered the race “to see that the kids in (the) district receive the best education possible given the available resources.” She also wants “to see that levy last the five years it was intended to last” and “improve communication between the district and the community.”

Wecker is an attorney who has lived in the district for five years. He said he has a “grasp of what is needed to operate and maintain large buildings” and understands “the value that a good school system can bring in terms of encouraging businesses to expand or locate in (the) community.”

He entered the race “to keep Big Walnut’s focus on its students and to see that the five-year emergency levy passed in November 2010 lasts five years.”

ThisWeek asked the candidates what is the district’s most pressing need.

Hernandez said, “I am concerned with fiscal responsibility. Since about 2006 we began outspending our similar school districts on our per-student spending on administration. Spending $193 more per pupil than our similar districts in 2009, which equates to over $500,000 based on our student population of 2,917.”

Justice said, “Funding to keep the schools going without having to go to the (voters)” is the district’s most pressing issue.

Meyer said the most pressing need is “providing the best education that we can for the kids in our district with the financial resources we have.”

Wecker said “staff bargaining agreements are up for negotiation in the spring of 2012. If the rule of thumb is staffing makes up 80-85 percent of the cost of operating a school district, the outcome of those negotiations, combined with a rebound of the national economy at some point, will determine whether the five-year emergency levy lasts five years.”

ThisWeek also asked what the candidates think can best maintain services amid shrinking state funding

Hernandez cited, “Fiscal responsibility: streamlining, consolidating administration; putting our resources like our teachers to the best use; investigating potential cost savings available through expanded use of technology such as online text books and email rather than paper notices; and creating an atmosphere to engage our employees to come up with ideas to minimize waste in day to day operations.”

Justice said the district must “research every area and see where the cost-effectiveness is and try not to let it be a direct impact on children. If you have to cut costs, cut them where there is the least effect on the children.”

Meyer said, “As with most service-oriented businesses, which school districts are, 80-85 percent of the cost is salaries and benefits of the employees. We have quality teachers and staff, and we have them with average salaries on the low end when compared with other districts. With declining revenues from the state and county tax collection locally, it will be imperative to keep salaries and benefits in check. Additionally, (we) need to express great concern to the state about unfunded mandates that are passed along to school districts.”

Wecker said, “We need to hold the line on staffing and administration costs to spend as much of the education dollar in the classroom. Big Walnut has to compete against Olentangy, Westerville and New Albany to recruit and retain teachers. It doesn’t hurt to remind parents and students that education has to start and end in the home. Our kids need to work at their studies, come to school ready to learn, and respect their teachers and classmates.”