|Otsego candidates divided on issues|
|Written by By MARIE THOMAS Sentinel Education Editor|
|Friday, 30 October 2009 11:00|
School finances and the location of elementary schools are key issues in candidates' bids for seats on the Otsego Board of Education.
As an incumbent on the board, Daren Garmenn, of rural Grand Rapids, has made it clear he supports one new elementary school in Tontogany. He is seeking a third term on the board.
Joining him on the issue are William Gase and William Wynn, both of rural Bowling Green.
Brad Anderson, Weston, prefers community schools but doesn't think it likely that voters will support the cost of building new schools in each community.
Mark Tolles, Grand Rapids, has voiced support for community schools, and both he and Anderson are members of the Otsego Citizens for Neighborhood Schools which campaigned against the closure of Weston Elementary.
Judith Snyder, also of rural Bowling Green, has said there are more questions that need answered before she supports either idea.
Three seats on the board are available as members Lisa Hatfield and Kurt Dickey are not seeking another term.
Candidates, listed alphabetically, have expressed the following opinions:
Anderson, a 1990 graduate of Otsego High School, said that if it is financially feasible, a centralized campus would work. "But if it's financially feasible, community schools would work."
He has taken issue with school officials' change of tune in the spring, first stating a school would close in August, then changing the message to a school would close if the levy failed.
"I don't like that the school in the town that I'm in closed, but I wouldn't have liked Haskins closing," stated Anderson, who has two children currently in school. But just because he doesn't like it doesn't mean it wasn't the right decision, he added.
He also isn't happy that the board bypassed voters to finance a new elementary.
"Major financial decisions should be put before the voters," he stated."
Anderson, who is employed as a pest control specialist, said he would like more information on the budget savings from closing Weston Elementary, as well as what would be saved by closing Grand Rapids and Haskins schools.
He said he thinks part of the problem with getting taxpayer support is a trust issue with the current school board. He said neighborhood schools is a polarizing issue, and he has seen unprofessional actions from both sides.
Board members, he added, need to be more accessible. "I want my voice heard. I want to let people know that, if I'm elected, you can come to my house and knock on my door and stand on my porch and I will talk to you."
Garmenn has voted for a centralized campus, using low-interest loans and a lease-purchase option in order to fund the facility without further burdening taxpayers, and continuing in the state facilities program that is providing 55 percent of construction costs.
"It's a positive in terms of educational opportunities, it's a positive in terms of financial benefits for the district," he stated about having all students preK-5 in one building. "A central campus isn't a perfect thing for every school district," but based on Otsego's financial situation and declining enrollment, "it's the right thing to do."
Not only would it allow teachers to share resources, one elementary would alleviate the ongoing issue of equalizing class sizes, he continued.
Garmenn, a facilities technical leader with Libbey Glass, pointed to the lack of taxpayer support for recent operating levy issues, and said he is aware that with so little business in the district, property owners bear the brunt of school funding.
"In a perfect world, we would all like to have community schools. But unfortunately, this district is not known for having extra operating funds ... so we have to do our best with the money we have."
He is seeking another term to continue working to provide the best education available to Otsego students and make decisions in the best interest of the entire district.
"I understand how the system works, and I also understand you can't be a good school member and have personal agendas and special interest groups telling you what to do. You have to be able to work on the board and support the entire district."
Garmenn, who is a 1978 Otsego graduate, has two children in the district. Since 1999, he has served on the district's cost containment and continuous improvement committees.
Gase has lived in the district for 10 years and has three children attending classes in Haskins.
After watching the district install modular classrooms at Haskins to accommodate student population, "I think it's best to get everyone into one (elementary) building," he stated.
He said he has heard opinions, pro and con, on funding for the new elementary, and he is relying on the elected board members to make the right decisions for the district. "With the information they had at hand, they made the decision that was in the best interest of the taxpayers to save the taxpayers money."
The board's decision to move forward with alternate funding options - and not take the issue to voters - also kept state funding a viable option, he said.
The school board was not required to go to voters with the question, Gase pointed out. "We elected these officials to make a decision for the best interest of the school district."
Voters, he added, had a chance in May to support an operating levy that would have kept the three elementaries open; to him, the failure of that issue sent the message that a central campus was the preferred option.
Gase is an accountant and vice president of Tireman Auto Service Centers based in Toledo. He recently chaired a health care options committee to collect data for future negotiations with district unions. He also serves as a captain on the Washington Township Fire Department in Tontogany.
Snyder is a secretary for Bowling Green Schools, is a business owner and a past tax preparer.
She said there are changes needed on the school board. "I just felt that this was time for me to do this," she said about her campaign. "I think it would give the people a good choice, and I think we have some very good candidates."
She is withholding judgement on whether a central campus is the right decision for the district until more questions are answered.
"You have to have a good place for your kids, but you also have to work for your community too," she said. "There's so much research and questions that still need to be answered before Otsego makes a big step" toward a centralized campus. "I'm not comfortable with the information that's been given out."
She is worried there are too many strings attached to the state funds available for construction, and said she felt that way even when the new high school was built. A veteran of the construction industry, Snyder said a building's looks should take a back seat to function and efficiency.
She has questions on the lease-purchase plan approved by the current board, as well as busing issues with a central campus and how the district will pay to operate the new school. She also voiced concern over the impact the loss of elementaries would have in their communities.
Whether she prefers a central campus or community schools: "I can't say yes and I can't say no at this time."
What she does want is to make sure "what we get is what we need."
Snyder said, if elected, she also knows that the new school board is going to have to do "a real sell job" to get citizens to support another tax levy.
She has lived in the district 35 years and has been an active member of the Wood County Beef Producers, Beta Sigma Phi, and Flying Quail chapter of the Penn-Ohio Model A Association.
Tolles is a lifelong district resident, graduating from Otsego in 1975. He has three children attending Otsego Schools.
For him, having a central campus is not a good idea, given past ballot issues that offered that option, along with a new high school, failed at the polls.
He also thinks there will be a lot of dissent in the district over the decision to fund a central elementary without taking the issue to voters, and the new school board will need to work at rebuilding community trust.
"What's good for the community is what's good for the district," not the other way around, Tolles stated.
He said, given the state of the economy as well as school funding support from Columbus, now is not a good time to take on any additional costs, including construction of a new school.
"I don't see how we're going to afford the payments on a new building at this time."
He favors reopening Weston Elementary, and keeping schools in Grand Rapids and Haskins. Building new schools in the communities, however, will need to wait. "Right now, we aren't in a strong enough economic condition to come out and ask for what we need." The district, for now, needs to use what it has. "We should be providing the best that we can provide, what we can afford," Tolles said.
A member of Citizens for Neighborhood Schools for several years, he said he was prompted to run for school board because "I'm really, really concerned about this issue on the funding and mandates from the state." He thinks additional pressure for boards of education is needed before the legislature provides adequately for schools.
Tolles, an attorney, has been village solicitor in Milton Center and is a past city prosecutor for Bowling Green. He also is active in his support of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Wynn is a member of management in the automotive industry, and he has two children at the junior high school. He said he is running for school board to make sure students are in the best learning environment possible, and to represent taxpayers by making sound financial decisions.
"I'm not disgruntled," he said about his opinion of the job the board has done and the decisions that have been made.
He admitted it would be nice to have elementary schools in each community - Grand Rapids, Weston and Haskins - but a central campus is much more efficient. And there are merits other than just financial for have one elementary building, including allowing teachers to share ideas and materials, which benefits all children, Wynn said.
The option provided in May to keep buildings open with passage of the tax issue showed him, as a voter and taxpayer, the board was willing to do what the community wanted.
Well aware that additional operating funds will be needed in the future, Wynn said he hopes residents remember that operating monies are an issue separate from whether there is a central campus or not.
"The central campus is a separate issue than the need for near-term operating funds," he stated, adding he was worried the two issues would get tied together. "The need for operating funds was there" before the issue of elementary schools.
Wynn is a member of the Haskins Parents Association and he coaches sixth-grade girls basketball and softball. His goal if elected is to make decisions that are best for students and taxpayers. "That's the bottom line. To make Otsego Schools the best possible ... for the students and the taxpayers."
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