PERRYSBURG - Three veteran school board members are facing challenges this election season from four other candidates looking to claim their seats.
Gretchen Downs, Valerie Hovland and Mark Schoenlein, all 12-year board members, will square off Nov. 5 against Lara Martin Lengel, Cal Smith, Sue Larimer and Jason Decker.
Downs, currently board president, said being a member is challenging, especially considering adjustments by the state to funding, teacher evaluations and other standards.
"There are always constant threats to education," Downs said. "I think education is changing so much right now, and it's very exciting to stay on top of the changes. Lots will be good, some will be cumbersome, but we'll all get through it."
Downs said the district is also facing a great challenge in increasing enrollment, likely making a new school a necessity in the next several years. The district has added temporary classrooms, "but that's really an expensive Band-Aid to put on," she said.
Downs said Perrysburg has proven its commitment to an academic focus, allowing teachers more time to collaborate and pushing for further staff development.
"I believe heart and soul that public education is inordinately important," Downs said. "I think it's the backbone of your community, the future for your community, and the future for these children. I think you should run (for the board) because you have a passion for public education, and you want to see it flourish in Perrysburg."
Both Downs and Hovland, vice president of the board, mentioned the hiring of Superintendent Tom Hosler as one of the district's biggest accomplishments.
"He has district in the right direction," Downs said.
"I could go on and on" about Hosler's value in Perrysburg, Hovland said.
"You can't find somebody who will work harder," she added.
Under Hosler's leadership, the board is more student-focused than ever, Hovland said. Also, when considering its low cost-per-pupil ratio, Perrysburg schools provide the "best bang for your buck," she said.
Hovland, an attorney, said whatever the district does in regard to class size - whether it's a new building, a staggered school schedule or year-round classes - community members will ultimately select the option they think will best solve the problem. She said members of various sectors of the public have been collaborating as part of the facilities team for more than a year to study possible solutions.
"They have given us alternatives they think will work; however, it is up to voters whether they want another school in our district."
Schoenlein said he wants to "follow through" on things like implementing changing state requirements and overseeing recent levies for which he helped garner support. He said there's concern from some taxpayers about how their money will be used, and Schoenlein wants to make sure it's handled responsibly.
"I feel responsible for that, so I want to be around to make the sure the money's used in a good way," he said. "I want to follow through with what we started."
Schoenlein, a project manager with Owens-Illinois, said his professional experience managing people and budgets brings a good complement to those on the board who have worked in education.
In regard to any new school efforts, Schoenlein said he thinks it's important to listen to the committee formed of members of the public who toured school buildings and worked to get a sense of how the district's facilities are presently used.
Expectations of a new building should be tempered, as citizens have already been asked to support large recent levies, he said, agreeing that waiting until the newest elementary school is paid for makes sense.
Two of the four challengers ran for school board seats in 2011. The two current board members who won in that election, Barry VanHoozen and Walter Edinger, each earned about 27 percent of the vote. Lengel and Smith won support from about 24.5 percent and 21 percent of voters, respectively.
Lengel, a communications professor at Bowling Green State University since 2002, said she would seek to offset state funding cuts by fundraising and grant writing, two areas where she has experience. She suggested that her time as a BGSU department chair puts her in the best position to work with the district as it implements the state-mandated Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. The mandate is "problematic," she said, because local teachers should have a say in how their evaluations are conducted.
New common-core standards also put the district in the position of making a required adoption, which is another area Lengel said she has positive experience. While serving as a professor in London, she worked under England's national curriculum, something she said helped make that country's students "some of the smartest in the world."
Lengel said she values public service and looks to the school board as a way to give back.
"As a person who has devoted her life to education, I see this as a very important way to serve my community."
Smith, who is president of Bowling Green accounting firm Radel, Smith and Associates, said his own background would bring "financial expertise" that the board needs. He supports an audit of the school district to find opportunities for savings, as well as a program to begin teaching finance to children at younger ages, meant to promote other positive lifestyle habits.
"I think that's a blind spot we're having in our education, and I'd like to see that added."
He is critical of the board's move to employ a development director to raise money for the school district, saying it would have been better if the Perrysburg Schools Foundation had made the hire.
Smith and Larimer suggested that the best time to build a new school would be several years from now when Ft. Meigs Elementary School is paid off. Then, voters would be asked to support a new tax at the time when an old one is coming off the books.
Larimer, a substitute teacher and quiz bowl coach at Bowling Green Christian Academy, said the key to her approach would be diligence.
"I don't like taking things at face value," she said. "I like to take what somebody says or shows me and really dig into the answer."
Larimer said the current board does a good job of showcasing the education Perrysburg schools provide, but members could do a better job communicating and being available to members of the public.
"I have found people feel the school board isn't approachable and doesn't communicate well," she said. "I was a little surprised when I started hearing that."
She said she supports assigning each board member a region of the city from which they would be responsible to accept comments and ideas.
Like Smith, Decker touted his financial experience as a benefit to the district if he's elected, as well as his perspective as a parent of two young students.
"The reality is, we're in tough times where taxes by and large are affecting everybody negatively. They're not going down," said Decker, who is director of accounting for Therma-Tru in Maumee. "Getting on the board and being within the system, my financial talent would help to analyze where we're spending our money."
Decker said voters narrowly supported the last levies due to the threat of reduced state aid looming. But with reports suggesting Perrysburg will see increased funding in under the latest model, he said he would look into whether some of those collections could be reduced.
Decker said reducing collections would show the community a "good faith effort" in the event they're asked to pass another levy for a new school building.
"It's reached the point where really good people have to step up and get involved" with the school board, Decker said. Current members have "had their time," and "it's time to get some fresh perspective in there," he added.