Michael D. Clark reports:
It’s a small field of school board candidates this fall for Southwest Ohio’s second-biggest school system, but the stakes are large.
There is a controlling majority of three open seats on the five-member board that governs Lakota Schools – Ohio’s eighth-largest school district – but only four candidates are running.
The four handled questions from among more than 60 residents last week during a candidates’ forum. Many of those queries centered on the financial woes of the district, which has an operating tax hike on the Nov. 5 ballot and a losing record since 2005 of persuading voters in this Butler County community to pay higher taxes to cover school operations.
All four candidates support the tax hike but emphasized that should it win voter approval, it should fund strategically sound and long-term needs of Lakota.
“Our core business is inside the classroom,” said incumbent Ray Murray. “And the foundation for that are the three Rs of rigor, relevancy and relationships.”
Murray stressed that teachers are key to continuing Lakota’s academic success but they should receive “sustained professional development,” much of which has been cut in the historically deep budget reductions of $20.8 million in the last three years.
Lakota school parent and candidate Todd Parnell said investment in technology is pivotal.
“That is one of the reasons this levy is so important,” said Parnell, who, like Murray, is a business executive.
Parnell also said Lakota needs to do more for teachers to keep them from leaving.
“Other school districts are actively recruiting our teachers, and we need to do a better job of retaining them,” said Parnell.
Fellow incumbent Ben Dibble, who works as a business consultant, also talked about the importance of new learning technology but said such expansion is dependent on first improving Lakota’s technology infrastructure and making sure teachers are properly trained to use it.
“Technology doesn’t do us any good if you put whiz-bang tech in there and you don’t give teachers any help,” said Dibble. “And if we don’t have the wires in place, none of the technology will work.”
Damonte Cole – a 21-year-old general manager for Pizza Hut and a Lakota East High School graduate – emphasized his first-hand experience of being a student in the district during some of the recent budget cuts.
“I’m the voice that has been missing previously from board debates, the voice of the student,” said Cole.
Besides picking a board majority Lakota voters will also decide on a combination 5.5-mill tax levy, which includes a 3.5-mill operating levy and a 2-mill permanent improvement levy combined into a single 5.5-mill continuous school tax hike issue.
If approved, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $192 annually in taxes.