Portage Township voters to make selections for School Board
By John Robbins Post-Tribune correspondent October 21, 2012 8:06PM
Updated: November 23, 2012 6:06AM
Residents of the Portage Township School system will vote for two candidates to sit on the School Board in the November election. All voters choose from four at-large candidates and three District 3 candidates. At-large incumbent Debra Ekdahl faces challengers Leonard Clark, Rex Hood, Jr., and Ken Lorenz. The District 3 contest pits three challengers, Jessica Bailey, Billy Coker and David Czilli, in a race to fill the seat of retiring Board President Glenda Owens.
At-Large Candidates (vote for one)
Leonard Clark decided to run for school board after attending a board meeting last year. “I was taken aback by what I saw,” said Clark. The issue was the Portage Indian mascot. He supports keeping the mascot.
Clark said the mascot has always been special to him and inspired a life long love of learning the local lore and is a symbol of pride; fitting, for Clark was named Sagamore of the Wabash by former Gov. Evan Bayh. The heart of the matter though, he thinks, is that school administrators are deserving of the full support of board members. That is not what he saw last year.
“Academic administrators have dedicated their lives to education. It’s the role of board members to support the educators. They need to listen to those who serve on the front line,” said Clark
Clark sees the retention of qualified individuals as a big issue facing the school district. When vacancies arise Clark is in favor of broad searches to seek the most qualified people.
Ken Lorenz decided to jump into the fray in part due to some of the public squabbling among board members. “I hope to bridge the differences. I’m a unifier,” said Lorenz.
According to Lorenz, the school system faces continued financial struggles and he wants to explore ways to do more with less. He suggests that to save money the school system should rely more on in-house talent rather than turning to outside consultants.
Lorenz thinks greater cooperation between the school district and city can result in opportunities that will save money for both.
Lorenz wants to see a greater emphasis on hiring local people and on using local business whenever possible, putting the people of Portage first.
Rex Hood Jr., wants to be an advocate for students with special needs; a group he believes does not have adequate representation on the board. A Portage High School graduate, he works with students with severe and profound disabilities at the SELF School in Valparaiso.
As a board member Reed intends to listen to the concerns of parents and push Portage Schools towards excellence in the future.
The future he sees requires continued improvement to, and strengthening of, the quality of education in both vocational and college preparatory classes.
“The world is constantly changing and the schools need to change with it. Kids who don’t keep up will be at a disadvantage,” said Hood.
Incumbent Debra Ekdahl is seeking a second term as board member because she “loves working on the school board.” Being a teacher, she believes she contributes a needed balance and unique perspective that rounds out the experience of the other board members.
One of the issues Ekdahl pushed for during her first term was to improve the transparency of the decision making process of the board, which she feels has been successful. During her next term she wants to pursue greater community outreach so citizens can be better informed about the school system.
Ekdahl sees funding as a continuing issue and thinks tax cap and tax increment financing districts adversely affect school funding. She thinks a lobbying effort to pursue change at the state level is needed.
Ekdahl sees her range of expertise as a definite plus for the school board. She offers as an example her being one of only 16 teachers from across the state who sits on the Education Reform Cabinet. She sees her position on the cabinet as the board’s direct link to the Department of Education that most other school boards lack.
District 3 Candidates (vote for one)
David Czilli is running for school board to give back to the community and district.
Czilli views critical issues in the school system through the lens of a police officer, which he’s been for the last 22 years. School safety for students and faculty is the number one priority for Czilli. He hopes the recently implemented teen court program is a success and looks forward to working with the court and school administration as a board member. Czilli views the residency issue as one that needs resolution, calling for a better, speedier way for students and families to prove school district residency.
Financial issues concern Czilli and he says he will do whatever it takes to secure additional state funding. Of equal importance to Czilli is to make better use of what is spent. He wants to work with the city, especially over the issue of tax abatements, which reduce local funding for the school district.
Billy Coker is seeking a school board seat because he,“doesn’t like the way the state is taking funding from schools and giving it to charter schools.” The state imposes too many mandates, according to Coker, and he wants to restore more local control to the board, citing as an example new restrictions placed on teacher contract negotiations.
Coker firmly believes public education funds should be restricted to public schools and is against the use of vouchers to pay for education outside of the public system.
Coker sees the need for a new elementary school sometime during the next four years due to overcrowding and wants to explore all options for funding. Coker is also concerned about securing future funding to continue all-day kindergarten, since the state only guaranteed funding for the first year.
Jessica Bailey says running for school board is something she’s had in the back of her mind for a few years.
As someone with children in the school system she thinks it important parent’s views are represented on the board because they have direct knowledge of how policies and procedures work in practice. For example, she likes the new centralized registration process but thinks there are still a few snags to be worked out.
Bailey likes what she’s seen in the technology upgrades over the past year but technology remains a crucial issue due to the constant challenges of equipment and software upgrades. As an adjunct professor at a local college she sees first-hand the importance a superior grasp of technology is to students in their career and higher educational endeavors.
Bailey sees no single issue as dominating the future — that issues are continually changing, “You just put your all into dealing with them.”