Valparaiso reappoints school board member
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent June 23, 2014 8:38PM
Updated: July 25, 2014 6:33AM
VALPARAISO — The four candidates for an open spot on the Valparaiso Community School Board fielded questions submitted by the community Monday on everything from what books they’ve read to whether to put more emphasis on people and programs, or buildings, in 21st Century schools.
In the end, the Valparaiso City Council voted 5-1 to re-appoint Karl Cender to the four-year post, citing his financial background as a priority as the school corporation navigates a coming referendum and ever-constricting funding. His second term starts July 1; he is the CEO of Cender and Company in Merrillville.
Councilman John Bowker cast the lone no vote. Councilwoman Deb Butterfield participated by phone and, under state law, could not vote.
“I see a lot of financial challenges coming forward,” Councilman Joey Larr said, noting the referendum and tax caps. “Of the four candidates, Karl has that expertise beyond the other candidates or anyone else in this room.”
Cender touted his financial experience as guiding the school corporation to a no-cost $12 million bond to tackle deferred maintenance in the district’s buildings.
“School finances are a very complex area and have a great impact on our schools,” he said, adding they are a long-term issue and he doesn’t expect an increase in state revenue to schools.
Council members applauded the strength of the four candidates, and encouraged the three who weren’t selected to apply again.
Bowker preferred Jennifer Bognar, who works for Porter County Education Services and has two children in the Valparaiso schools. Councilman Michael Baird also spoke in favor of Bognar, though he ultimately voted for Cender.
Baird was impressed with Bognar’s background and experience, as well as her grasp of the issues facing the schools.
“I don’t see any hesitation on Jennifer’s part to stand up and be heard,” he said.
Though Bognar has one child at Central Elementary School and another went from there to middle school, and in the past has been a proponent of keeping the building open, she changed her mind after talking with its principal and teachers.
“It cannot be feasibly updated or changed to meet the needs of 21st Century students,” she said, adding it needs another elevator, more bathrooms and walls moved. “I do not believe that is the best use of our dollars.”
Also receiving high marks was Maria Luisa Garcia-Verduga, a Spanish professor and department head at Purdue University Calumet. She was lauded for her worldview and broad background.
Also under consideration was Darren Clauss, an art teacher at Taft Middle School in Crown Point.