Volunteers stump for elected Valparaiso School Board
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3154 August 5, 2012 7:08PM
Judy Allen of Valparaiso knocks on doors Tuesday evening looking for petition signatures trying to move Valparaiso to an elected school board. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
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The Valparaiso School Board is expected to hire an interim superintendent at a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the administration building, 3801 N. Campbell St.
Updated: September 7, 2012 6:03AM
VALPARAISO — With a complete exodus of top administrators, support for moving to an elected school board has intensified.
The mid-July resignation of Lynn Kwilasz, the Valparaiso Community Schools chief financial officer, brought the total to four key administrators to leave the district in recent months.
Superintendent Andrew Melin left in the middle of his three-year contract last month to take a superintendent’s job in the Greater Clark County Schools in Jeffersonville.
“This was a crown jewel of education, and now we can’t keep an administrative staff in place,” said Kevin Cornett, one of the leaders of a petition drive he hopes will lead to an elected board.
Of 293 districts in the state, Cornett said Valparaiso is one of a dozen with an appointed school board. Four of the district’s members are appointed by the city council and the fifth is named by the Center Township Board.
On a recent summer evening, supporters donned green and white “Yes to an elected school board” buttons and fanned out into a subdivision south of Glendale Boulevard. They carried petitions and sought the signatures of registered voters to initiate an elected board.
Supporters including retired Valparaiso High School teacher Debbie Fray said the district’s $3.2 million budget deficit, disclosed last year, caught her attention.
“There’s a cloud of dysfunction that manifested itself to a degree that something has to change,” she said.
Most of the petition supporters point to the makeup of the board as one of the issues.
Cornett said board members have stubbornly gone their own way despite the wishes of the public.
“I think they’re aggressive and don’t want to be challenged. Parents have pretty much been ignored,” Cornett said.
“I don’t think the best candidate has always been selected,” said Bob Cotton. “I’m deeply concerned by the lack of advocacy and direction of public finance.”
School board members have said the administrators took other positions because they represented a step up the ladder for them, not because of problems in Valparaiso.
Dianne Henderson didn’t hesitate to sign the petition Cotton handed her.
“I think voters need the ability to select our board, it became evident with mismanagement the past two years. ... The appointed system is a dinosaur,” she said.
Deena Lawley, the mom of a Northview Elementary School first-grader and Valparaiso High School graduate, said she favors an elected board, too.
“I think everyone is concerned about our schools. To hear aides being let go and no supplies, it boggles my mind,” she said.
Cornett said the petitions just “start the conversation” of moving toward an elected board. By state law, the group needs the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters or 3,000. There are about 30,000 registered voters in Center Township, according to the Porter County Voter Registration office.
From there, the signatures are verified by the clerk of the Circuit Court.
The group is proposing an alternate plan that expands the board from five appointed members to seven elected members to serve four-year terms.