4 run for 3 city school board seats

Four candidates are seeking three available seats on the Marietta City Board of Education.

Incumbents Don Atkins, Karen Burton and Wendy Myers are each running for second terms on the board, while local businessman John Lehman is looking to unseat one of them. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5

Don Atkins

Atkins, 73, worked for 13 years in the Partners in Education program with schools in Wood County while he was employed by Ames True Temper and was involved in Marietta City Schools when his daughter, Jennifer, attended. He served three years as the Harmar Elementary PTO president. He said he’d like to serve another term on the board to see projects started under his watch through to completion, including providing the latest technology for teachers and students.

“I’m in it for the kids,” Atkins said. “We’re in a technology world, and we need to have our students ready to go into that world.”

That does present some challenges besides just being able to afford the right equipment.

“We’re going to have to find some way to address … students who cannot afford computers,” Atkins said.

Atkins said he’s been actively involved in the district’s Building Bridges to Careers (BBC) initiative that is looking to revive the Partners in Education concept and working with businesses to tie what students are learning in with the needs and experiences of local employers.

While he acknowledges “there’s always room for improvement” academically, Atkins said the state report card unfairly compares the local district to far wealthier ones that can obtain whatever resources they need to help students.

“I don’t think it’s fair to grade us in here against a school like that,” he said.

Atkins also takes issue with the state school-funding system, which he said is “throwing a lot of red tape on us” that is costing additional money and diverting public funds to private and charter schools. While he appreciates the work of nonprofit, local schools like St. Mary and St. John Central, he opposes state funds going to for-profit entities.

Karen Burton

After 39 years as a teacher, 34 of them teaching first-grade at Barlow-Vincent Elementary, Burton, 74, enjoys dealing with schools and being a board member.

“I’m pleased with the direction our schools are going now, and I want them to continue in that direction,” she said.

Burton, who has two grandchildren attending Marietta schools, said the positive steps the district has taken in recent years include adding Chinese as a foreign language in addition to Spanish and the emphasis on career readiness through the BBC initiative and a new class added for sophomores at the high school. But she’d also like to see more courses offered, including another foreign language and electives like photography to draw students’ interest.

“We need to continue to try to improve the curriculum and offer more classes, which of course takes money,” Burton said.

Burton said she’s not sure where that money would come from, because she doesn’t want “to tax the people to death.” The district is seeing increases in state funding of 6.25 percent this year and 10.5 percent next year, but Burton said that system still needs to be improved.

“(Funding) needs to be equal all over the state of Ohio,” she said. “We aren’t exactly poor, but we don’t have a lot of industry anymore. … I think we need to pressure our representatives and so forth to get busy on that.”

Burton said her background in education is a strength she brings to the board.

“I usually get along well with people. I’m willing to listen. I don’t think we should make promises we can’t keep,” she said. “We are not a factory. We deal with people.”

John Lehman

The president of Alliance Industries Inc., a company that is a holder and affiliate of municipal and environmental equipment manufacturers, service providers and retail entities in several U.S. cities as well as in China and Latin America, Lehman, 52, wants to bring his business experience to the board.

“We need to take a detailed look at how well we are serving our ‘clients,’ our students, and we must clearly understand what quality of ‘end product’ – a properly-educated high school graduate – we are ‘producing,'” he said.

Lehman said he believes the board needs to take a more hands-on approach to overseeing the school system.

“By no metric have our results been acceptable in recent years, as evidenced by the subpar scores given to us by the state of Ohio recently,” he said. “The board is responsible for ensuring that an engaged, energized, results-oriented administration is in place and achieving at a high level the goals and objectives that the board sets out for them.”

The latest state report card, the first step in a transition to new, more rigorous standards, gave the district no higher than a C in the eight categories that were assigned letter grades. Individual schools posted some As and Bs.

Lehman said state funding of schools needs improved, but people outside the region often fail to recognize the different challenges facing a district in rural Appalachia compared to other parts of the state.

“We are going to be, largely, on our own for the foreseeable future,” he said. “I believe we need to look at more involvement of volunteers throughout the school system so as to take some of the pressure off of and to augment the permanent teachers and staff.”

Lehman pointed to the recently added weight room at the high school, funded entirely by donations, and said similar projects could be accomplished with the leadership of the board. Promoting charitable organizations like the Marietta High School Alumni and Friends Foundation and the Tiger Foundation Lehman and his wife started would be an asset, he said.

Wendy Myers

A member of the board for five years, Myers, 43, said she can look at things from the perspective of a businesswoman, mother and teacher. She’s the owner of Mitcham Group Apartments, has three school-age daughters and has been an instructor in research writing and English at Marietta College, West Virginia University-Parkersburg and Marshall University’s Point Pleasant, W.Va., campus, occasionally having high school students in her classes.

“So I know some of the challenges you face with students and motivating them,” she said. “Since I have kids in the system, I definitely have a vested interest.”

Myers said the board has made progress from a technological standpoint, employing Beachwood-based Smart Solutions as its IT coordinator.

Technology is “a huge area of our district that has never been budgeted for and never been planned for,” she said. “Now we have a plan to actually bring in computers. Every year, something’s getting refreshed.”

Myers wants to see a similar approach taken with the district’s facility needs.

Another challenge on the horizon is implementation of the new federal health care law. The district is facing a $2 million penalty because it offers employees what’s considered a “higher end” plan, Myers said. That means employees will likely see increasing costs and decreasing benefits.

“Even when our teachers weren’t getting raises, they knew they had a great health plan,” Myers said.

Finding enough money to do what needs to be done remains a challenge for the district, but Myers said taxpayers eased that burden by approving operating and permanent improvement levies in recent years.

“We’re fortunate in that way, but we do spend a lot less per kid than other areas with a bigger tax base,” she said.