Voters on Nov. 5 will elect two members of the five-person Reynoldsburg City Schools Board of Education.
Incumbents Debbie Dunlap and Neal Whitman are each seeking a second four-year term on the board, which oversees the district and its nearly 8,000 students.
They are being challenged by Mandy Young, who is seeking her first term on the board.
Dunlap, 53, is a school volunteer and mother of three who works as a freelance writer and substitute teacher.
Whitman, 50, is a school volunteer and father of two who works as a lecturer in ESL programs at Ohio State.
Young, 40, is a school volunteer and mother of two who works as a lead teacher with KinderCare.
The candidates answered the following questions from ThisWeek Reynoldsburg News:
What is the greatest challenge/need facing the district and, if elected, how would you address it?
Dunlap: The greatest challenge that our district faces is creating a fair and equitable educational environment and that challenge is multi-faceted. First, we need to fund education fairly and equitably. Every year, districts in Ohio are forced to rely on inadequate funding from the state that was deemed unconstitutional more than 20 years ago. In DeRolph v. State, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the state's method for funding public education was unconstitutional, declaring that it "fails to provide for a thorough and efficient system of common schools" as required by the Ohio Constitution. The state was directed to find a remedy, but never did.
To that end, I have advocated at the state level for children in our district, writing letters to state lawmakers and providing written testimony.
Second, we need to provide for a solid foundation at each of our schools, regardless of location. To this end, I have advocated for new heating and cooling upgrades at all schools, LED lighting throughout the district, increased art and music offerings for all and interior upgrades to the Livingston campus, long-neglected. I will continue to address a continuity of curriculum, health and wellness offerings and co-curricular activities.
Whitman: Unfair allocation of resources across the district is just as big a problem as that of funding. Our district contains a single high school, split across two campuses, and it takes work to maintain a unified identity and level of quality when a school is housed in physically separate entities. The same goes for our six elementary schools and four middle schools and junior highs, which have been separate from the beginning.
Unfortunately, one high school campus and one elementary school have been perceived as the favorites, with the other buildings often not receiving the resources they needed and deserved. The problem was made worse by adopting the "portfolio model," a philosophy of pitting one's own schools against each other so that competition will improve them all. For such a setup to work, everything has to go right or else you end up with winners and losers in a vicious cycle -- as we did. It also ignores disparities arising from historical patterns of racial and socioeconomic segregation. I refuse to accept these inequities, and as a board member, I have supported and will continue to support getting all our school buildings on an equal footing.
Young: The greatest challenge that I currently see is how to adequately sustain the district while the community continues to grow at a rapid pace. Balancing enrollment and course offerings are two possible solutions to ensure smart long-term planning.
The most recent five-year forecast predicts a funding shortfall around the 2021-22 school year. How would you address the district's budgeting challenges?
Dunlap: I am proud that the district has been able to remain off the ballot for nine years, significant in this era of insufficient funding by the state. But as the cost of education continues to rise with inflation, and the state places a cap on our funding coming into the district, 2010 levy dollars (which do not increase but remain at 2010 "pricing") continue to dwindle.
As always, our trusted treasurer, in collaboration with the superintendent and the board, conservatively manages the budget as we do our best to serve our kids and community. We have worked hard to find alternative funding by aggressively seeking grant dollars, partnering with businesses and looking to alternative avenues like the Reynoldsburg Education Foundation, which I co-founded (launching soon).
We are also now better maintaining our facilities (so they will last longer) and are investing in smarter heating/cooling/lighting to save energy and money. I supported these measures in order to stretch our dollars. I will continue to advocate for increased funding at the state level, though, looking ahead to our community's climate as we plan (not react) to a possible levy in the future.
Whitman: When our last levy was passed in 2010, the district's goal was not to need another for 10 years. To that end, cost-cutting measures were taken that later proved quite expensive (in the form of a strike and failing infrastructure). During my term, things have improved. Our treasurer, Tammy Miller, watches our five-year forecast closely, as you can see, and never lets us get taken by surprise by a shortfall: We see them coming two years off.
Meanwhile, our business and operations manager, Chris Reed, has been eliminating many redundancies and inefficiencies and decreased his department's budget by 17% in his second year. An $11-million districtwide HVAC renovation that began as a dire emergency expanded to include installation of LED lights, and the combined project is already delivering energy savings. As a result, we are on track to exceed the goal; still, we are reaching a limit, especially as we remain "on the cap."
As a board member, I will continue to rely on the competence of Mr. Reed and Ms. Miller, while also continuing to advocate for fair state funding and supporting city government's efforts to bring new businesses into the district, which will increase our local tax base.
Young: The best way to address this is by working with our district's treasurer and administrators on a regular basis. The district needs to be proactive about our future spending and consider all potential impacts to ensure fiscal responsibility.
The district is piloting an all-day kindergarten program at two buildings this year and has said making it a reality for all Reynoldsburg children is a priority. However, money and space are at a premium; how would you address this issue, if elected?
Dunlap: Long before the overwhelming response to our all-day kindergarten pilot at French Run and Rose Hill elementary schools, we knew that all-day kindergarten was something that our parents wanted and that our community needed. This has been a long time coming. But as we launch these pilot programs and take note of their success, we must look to the challenges of finding space for a future rollout, along with funding. I have witnessed other districts expand to all-day kindergarten while enrollment was on the rise districtwide, leaving classrooms full, special teachers without classrooms and districts feeling the pinch.
We are currently experiencing our own enrollment increase and know that without proper evaluation and planning, we, too, will find ourselves in the same pinch -- which is not good for both teachers and students. The shifting of grade levels and reutilization of unused space are both creative approaches we have used more recently. Building is a last resort. But essential is a thorough analysis of current space and dollars now rather than later, which is where we are currently. Only after this thorough process can we move forward with an acceptable solution that fits our community.
Whitman: This issue isn't just about all-day kindergarten; it's about finding the resources to teach our growing number of resident students. We've gone from around 7,000 students when I took office to nearly 8,000 now. Our superintendent and his team are already addressing this challenge. Following board policy, they have been accepting fewer open-enrollment students (including returning ones), going from around 700 in 2017 to about 600 now. (Incidentally, this also affects funding, since 100 fewer open-enrollment students translates to a loss of more than $600,000 per year.)
To accommodate new elementary students, they moved all preschool classes into one section of our Summit campus high school building, which also allowed the piloting of all-day kindergarten. However, the preschool move is a temporary solution and they are looking at possible expansions at our Waggoner campus and elsewhere.
As for the money to pay for these things, it's worth noting that all-day kindergarten in the two pilot schools is funded by a federal grant, and it may be possible to find grants to pay for some of its expansion. I will support the resourceful actions of our administrative team, in addition to the actions noted in my answer to question 2.
Young: Communicating with nearby districts who have already made this transition is a must. Ideas that may work in one district may not work so well in Reynoldsburg, but communicating with nearby districts allows for more strategic planning of a project this size.