Sherri Dorsch, Stephen Fujii and Andrew Wecker are campaigning for a single available seat on the Big Walnut school board.
Wecker, the incumbent, will appear alongside Dorsch and Fujii on Nov. 5 ballots in the Big Walnut Local School District.
ThisWeek Delaware News posed two questions to each candidate. Here are their responses:
What is the biggest issue facing Big Walnut schools right now, and how would you resolve it?
Dorsch: The major issue facing the Big Walnut Local School District is growth in the community.
Changes to infrastructure are underway, but as our community continues to grow, the district will be tasked with finding ways to stretch resources while maintaining the quality education that Big Walnut has become known for.
If elected, my financial background will help me work with the other board members and administrators to find the best approach to balance the financial burden on local taxpayers while continuing to drive the mission of the district.
Additionally, I will work to collaborate with local leaders to ensure that the district's needs are being considered as they are faced with development opportunities, with the hope of influencing decision-making.
Lastly, I will communicate with teachers, administrators, parents, business owners and other community members to encourage transparency and trust between the district and the community.
Fujii: The biggest issue facing Big Walnut schools is striking a balance between the excellent educational opportunities we provide while maintaining economic stability amid the unprecedented growth in the district.
My experience working with districts across Ohio and throughout the country will provide a foundation for meaningful networking and unique, solutions-based thinking for Big Walnut.
As we continue to grow, communication will remain a challenge. The district's Eagle Examiner has been a positive enhancement to communication; however, more is needed. Facilitating authentic conversations between board members, district leaders and the community is a strength I bring to the role.
Finally, it is vital that our community's growth does not distract the district from its core mission of inspiring and guiding every student to reach his or her maximum potential. Providing a quality education in a safe, respectful and healthy environment for students and staff is critical today.
I have a track record of supporting educators' efforts to personalize, engage and grow young people to thrive in an economically complex and challenging world. We must face these challenges and support our educators in recognizing the unique gifts of every child.
Wecker: With the 0.75% income tax and AEP substation, Big Walnut can handle growth. In the last 10 years, Big Walnut absorbed 32% enrollment growth with just one request for new operating money.
Yet we're still outgrowing existing facilities. Delaware County is a rapidly growing county in a state experiencing much decline elsewhere, leaving us largely on our own. Under state and local policies, developers help pay for infrastructure like roads and sanitary sewers, but not necessarily any extra for schools.
But as a friend tells me, people would pay to have our problems. He's an engineer and a family man from Steubenville. For those who want no growth, he volunteers to take them to his hometown.
It may be that we don't resolve as much as manage this. Going back to just after the outlet mall, the Big Walnut governing team has worked to increase awareness among the county, municipal and township officials making infrastructure, incentive and land use decisions.
What can the school board do to properly manage growth in the district?
Dorsch: The Big Walnut school board must be proactive in managing growth.
This involves not only collaboration with our township and village leaders, but also a measured approach toward financial projections for the district with considerable effort given to finding ways to cut costs in areas that have a lesser return on value to ensure that high value areas are not jeopardized.
To maintain quality, Big Walnut must continue to be innovative in educational instruction to increase student engagement, which can only be accomplished if the district continues to focus on the recruitment, retention and development of quality teachers.
Most importantly, the district needs to effectively communicate these efforts across the Big Walnut community in an honest and clear fashion to secure communitywide support. As a CPA, this straightforward sharing of information is something that is an integral part of my interactions with my clients, and just one of the ways I believe my professional experience will benefit the Big Walnut school board.
Fujii: As the district prepares for growth, it is important to maximize resources. As a member of the school board, I will focus on maximizing impact within appropriate means.
Boards of education in Ohio are challenged by antiquated funding models. Ultimately, relationships the board creates and fosters with the community, local and state government and businesses are its greatest assets in managing district-wide growth.
Proper planning and advocacy are critical to ensuring opportunities for students. The community expects excellence. Having served multiple districts in central Ohio and in my professional role working with more than 30 districts across the state of Ohio (and more nationally), my experience has equipped me to serve on the board and to leverage these relationships for the benefit of our district.
A common mantra in BW has always been, "as the schools go, so goes the community." Balancing growth and community values with providing the very best academic opportunities for students is vital to moving our district forward. Our community, our families and our students expect excellence.
As a member of this community, I, too, share those expectations and have the experience, insights and vision to deliver on them.
Wecker: I think we need to continue working with other local officials to help them better consider how their decisions impact a school district shared by six very different townships and two municipalities.
We also need to engage members of the public to help them better understand that while the board often has the responsibility of responding to growth, we do not have much authority when it comes to growth, either what sort or how much.
After that, we have to update our enrollment projections more frequently to determine whether our existing operating and capital issues that voters have approved are enough for our students. It takes a great deal of communication to avoid surprising people, and I think we do a good job of that with our online presence, social media and the monthly Eagle Examiner newspaper.