School board candidates share thoughts on education

COLUMBIA CITY — Parents, teachers, and interested community members met in the high school’s auditorium Tuesday evening to hear five of the nine candidates for the WCCS School Board tout their views, motivation and experience that will make each of them the best candidate on Nov. 2.Hosted by Rick Kreps of The Post & Mail and September McConnell of the Whitley County Community Foundation, Don Armstrong, Chris Bechtold, Timothy Bloom, Eric Horvath and Brooks Langeloh introduced themselves, briefly answered two of 12 possible questions, and made closing remarks, all in about an hour’s time.All candidates had a chance to consider the questions ahead of time. After introductions, Kreps first drew Armstrong’s name to answer the question, “School districts face a host of legal issues. What is the role of a school board member in dealing with legal issues?” Armstrong noted that while legal issues are not pleasant, the board must be prepared to handle them through the proper channels — evaluate the policy, ensure it’s carried out, work with the administrators, resolve the issue quickly. He said he is “proud” to be part of a board that is democratic in their policy-making.Horvath’s name was called to answer question 2: When looking at the major issues in a school district, how does a school board effectively implement long range planning? The key to Horvath’s response was basic follow-through — “look at it as a project,” he said. Determine beginning and end points, create timelines, assign tasks, appoint a leader, and by the end, “do it!”Bloom responded to question 3, “How important is technology integration for WCCS?” While he admits it’s not his forte, Bloom recognizes the increasing role technology must play and the critical involvement of parents and community in assuring WCCS can offer technology integration to students.In response to the question, “What is your understanding of 21st century education and what is the school board’s role in providing the means and opportunities for a 21st century education?” Bechtold stressed the responsibility of the board to support teachers in having the freedom to implement creative ideas, such as the new Eagle Tech program.Question 5 was tossed to Langeloh: What ideas do you have as to how to gain more funding for operating expenses for our schools? His response? To partner with local business, seek foundation grants—not government grants that cost more taxpayer money, and streamline the school’s operating efficiency.Round 2 of the questions went similarly—Bechtold started with question 6, “What innovative ideas do you have to improve student education?” Again, he turned to the teachers—“assur[ing] teachers of my full support to come up with creative ideas . . . and the flexibility to try something new.”Question 7 seemed the least favorite but Bloom handled it matter-of-factly, using the law to point out there is a place to propose a referendum. He described the two circumstances where state law requires a referendum: (1) when revenues must be increased for the general fund, and (2) when there is an increase in the capital fund above $2 million. He stressed the board’s responsibility is to lay out the options and justify to the community the need for a referendum.Langeloh, when asked, “what role do you perceive teachers and staff should have in making policy decisions?” responded that they should be involved. The board is responsible for giving them what they need. “We’re a team and we have to listen to everybody.”Armstrong, in response to what he sees happening with school funding, replied that while the general fund is set at the state level, “we have to be frugal within the bounds of money we have.”Finally, Horvath closed the question session with his response to, “What do you see as the future role of school boards?” He doesn’t see drastic changes, except doing more with less—“work smarter.” Armstrong, Bloom, and Langeloh bring school board experience and perspective to the table, while Bechtold and Horvath bring fresh energy and passion for what they all agree is most important—the students.