Worthington Schools voters must choose from among six candidates for three school board seats on the Nov. 7 general-election ballot.
The six are incumbents Jennifer Best, Marc Schare and Sam Shim and challengers Nikki Hudson, Amy Lloyd and P.R. Casey.
A seventh candidate, William Scott Ebright, was certified and will appear on the ballot, but earlier this month he told ThisWeek he was dropping out of the race.
The six candidates answered questions about their qualifications; the district's master facilities plan and its costs; and the likely need for more voter-approved funding. Their responses have been distilled into the following capsules in alphabetical order, but their complete and unedited responses also are available.
Best, 59, is a self-employed Certified Public Accountant and was first elected to the school board in 2001. She serves as board president.
"I have had to make difficult decisions, including budget cuts and school closures," Best said. "I have worked hard to be objective and fair to students, staff and community in all decision making."
She said addressing the district's biggest challenges of fixing aging buildings and overcrowding are not easy.
"Our first step is to wait for our facilities task force to complete (its) study and submit a recommendation," she said. "Our facilities personnel then need to review the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission report in detail."
She said a plan is needed "so we do not leave the next generation with buildings in disrepair."
Cost estimates need to be made and the community should be educated on the advantages and disadvantages of moving forward with a facilities update, along with how to pay for it, Best said.
"Our five-year forecast shows an operating levy is needed in the next couple of years and a bond issue will be needed next year to deal with capacity and aging facilities," she said. "Running both together makes a lot of sense."
She said the district has a lot of options, including asking for an operating levy and delaying collection for one year or seeking an incremental levy.
Casey, 47, is a government attorney and a parent with three daughters in Worthington Schools.
"I have a combination of federal, state and local educational-policy knowledge that makes me uniquely qualified to serve on the school board," he said. "For five years I served as chief legal counsel to the Ohio Department of Education and State Board of Education.
"Locally, I have served for the past year as an appointed member of the Worthington facilities task force," he said. "I have the overall education policy and legal knowledge to effectively help students from day one."
Casey said the facility fix must be instituted "as quickly as possible."
"I supported the task force voting to focus on the K-5 plan that immediately addresses the overcrowding issue," he said. "That does not mean we can ignore our aging buildings. The eventual plan must provide enough funding to ensure our buildings are safe and secure for the children, while not overburdening the community as a whole."
He said he would support a levy on the ballot next year and believes the campaign should focus on data to support the facility plan and a specific amount of money articulated as necessary to pay for the plan.
Hudson, 45, is an intellectual-property, marketing and privacy attorney.
She said she has two children in the district and as a "vocal leader," she can "view matters holistically, consider different perspectives, act proactively and make informed decisions." She also is co-chairwoman of the facilities task force.
"I have developed a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing our district," she said. "I am willing to address tough issues and advocate for our students."
Hudson said there is no easy or inexpensive fix to the facilities problem.
"In order to solve aging facilities and overcrowding, plus keep costs under control, district leaders should deal with all issues in phases to avoid over-building and asking the community for more funding than is needed," she said.
Capacity issues should be prioritized and the first phase of the facility plan should focus on prioritizing the most necessary facility issues, she said.
Hudson said she hopes to convince voters to "understand the full picture" of district finances and why a levy or bond will be needed as soon as next year. She said expenses would increase because of increased enrollment and the need for additional staff.
"It is essential, however, that we do not sacrifice the quality of the education our students receive as we address the facilities in which that education is received," she said.
Lloyd, 39, is owner of the Sym-home residential-design firm and has served on the Worthington Architectural Review Board since 2008.
As a former employee of the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, Lloyd said, she has school-planning, design and construction experience.
Lloyd said her three children attend Worthington Schools and one of her children has dyslexia.
"I am very aware of the challenges that both parents and school districts have with providing services for students with special needs," she said. "I have worked for four years to encourage our district to make wellness, specifically in regard to school food, a priority."
She said the district could borrow only up to $100 million to fix facilities, even though the estimated facility fix is well over $200 million, and it would take creativity and collaboration to come up with a plan beyond traditional funding methods.
"I believe partnerships with the state for potential future funding is critical, as we will need that money down the road," she said. "I don't have all the answers to the funding questions, but I do have the tools and knowledge to ask the right questions."
She said passing a bond issue and/or operating levy in the near future could be challenging.
"Our district needs to work hand in hand with the community and communicate the district's challenges and benefits far louder than it does now," she said.
Schare, 58, is a software developer. He has been a board member for the past 12 years.
Schare said his experience could help solve district challenges.
"I've overseen periods of declining enrollment and increasing enrollment, a large turnover in district staffing and hired our current leadership team," he said. "I've overseen the unique challenges brought about by changing demographics and hired a treasurer who has brought transparency and discipline to district financial affairs."
He said the district faces three distinct problems: enrollment projections indicating a need for at least 600 additional elementary-school seats; aging buildings; and an imbalance in enrollment between the district's two high schools.
"I believe the most cost-effective way to address capacity and balance is a combination of new construction or renovation with some strategic redistricting," he said. "We should deal with aging facilities on a building-by-building basis, weighing the cost of maintenance and cost of replacement. I believe the issues can be addressed for well under $100 million dollars."
Original estimates put the facility fix at over $200 million.
He said effective state lobbying has brought the district more than $24 million in unanticipated revenue and "every dollar has gone to extending the operating levy."
"Moving forward, the current financial projection indicates we need new operating dollars in 2020, along with a bond issues in 2018," he said.
"Only two things convince voters to raise their own taxes -- trust and transparency."
Shim, 47, is an IT consultant and was elected to the school board in 2013.
Shim, who is board vice president, said the district is "in an era of tremendous enrollment growth, while experiencing continued cuts in state funding."
"My vast experience (with) our school district and its operations are crucial to ensure that the best decisions continue to be made for our thriving school district," he said.
As a parent with children in the district, he said, parents should have a voice in decisions.
He said he also serves as board vice president of the Family Mentor Foundation, a Worthington-based nonprofit that serves meals on weekends to students in need.
"My experience on the school board has shown me how important these wraparound services are, to ensure that our students have their basic needs met so they can thrive in our schools," he said. "The services our neediest students receive outside the school day are just as critical as what they get in our buildings."
Shim said the district's facilities master plan should focus on "our ABCs: aging facilities, balancing enrollment and capacity."
"This priority-driven plan should include the timeframe for all major renovations, repairs, additions and replacements," he said. "The plan must also factor in the financial reality of our limited funds."
He said district leaders must be clear and transparent when asking for higher taxes.