Warren board: 4 run for 3 seats

Even with four candidates running for three seats, however the Nov. 5 election plays out, there won’t really be a new face on the Warren Local Board of Education.

That’s because the challenger looking to unseat one of the three incumbents – Bob Allen, Sidney Brackenridge and Bob Crum – is Willie Holbert, who served 11 years on the board before stepping down in early 2009.

The district is exiting a tumultuous period that saw voters reject bond issues for new buildings six times in three years and high school busing eliminated then reinstated as state funding changed and students left the district. Significant changes occurred over the summer as the board hired a new superintendent and principals and assistant principals at the high school and Barlow-Vincent Elementary School. One of the major issues on the horizon for whoever is elected to the board is the upcoming renewal of a $1.75 million emergency operating levy.

Bob Allen

Allen, a 56-year-old senior project coordinator with Triad Engineering, said he’s found serving on the board fulfilling and he wants to remain active in the district.

“We’ve addressed almost $3 million worth of capital improvement projects in the last four years,” said Allen, who has an accounting degree and serves as chairman of the board’s buildings and grounds committee.

The leaking roofs at Warren High School have been addressed over the last couple of years after the bond issue rejections and boilers are being replaced this fall at the high school and Warren Elementary School. The building and grounds committee maintains and prioritizes a list of needed repairs, with a focus on health, safety and the learning environment, Allen said.

Allen acknowledged the hard feelings that developed during the bond issue campaigns, especially after the elimination of high school busing.

“We unfortunately had to make some tough decisions as a board,” he said.

Although valuable to many residents, the service is not required under state law. Because of changes in state funding, the cut initially saved more money than anticipated, but that amount was reduced as students left the district for neighboring schools and online charters. It also created hardships for some residents, something all board members said they recognized.

In 2012, Allen joined board member John Nichols in voting to reinstate the service prior to last year’s bond issue vote, a move opposed by the other three members. All five voted to reinstate it if the bond issue passed, but after the latest rejection and more changes in state funding, the service was unanimously restored in May.

Allen said he hopes the disagreement over those issues won’t impact the pending renewal of the emergency levy.

“They’re separate issues,” he said. “If we lose that, we will have to go back to look at making cuts in all areas. It would be a very significant and negative impact to the district.”

Allen said he’s pleased with new Superintendent Kyle Newton and his efforts to accentuate the positive aspects in the district and reach out to the community. In addition to the facility needs in the district, Allen said he wants to continue to improve communication and integrate more technology into the classroom.

Sidney Brackenridge

A former treasurer for the district, Brackenridge, 66, said he’s running for a second term to “continue what I believe to be good progress so far.”

The district has weathered cuts in state and federal funding and made progress on improving its aging buildings with money saved by making cuts to staff and eliminating busing, Brackenridge said. And while not implying anything negative about the recently departed superintendent and principals, he said he feels the district is in good shape with its new hires.

“It’s new and fresh people that have adopted the (attitude) that they need to go along with the (new) state requirements,” Brackenridge said. “The board worked pretty well together this summer to deal with the changes in the administration, and I think eventually got the job done very, very well.”

Although Brackenridge said he believed cutting busing was the right thing to do at the time and was at first reluctant to reinstate it without the additional funding of a bond issue, he said “now is definitely the time to bring it back” because it improves the learning environment. At the meeting in which busing was restored, he noted the loss of the service was having a negative impact on some students.

Brackenridge said he does not think the past disagreements will impact the levy renewal, which could go before voters in 2014.

“This’ll be the fifth time it’ll be up, and I think people are comfortable with that,” he said.

Brackenridge said the board will continue to repair its buildings, but noted the impact can only go so far at the older facilities.

“It doesn’t change the educational aspect of it,” he said. “When you put in a boiler, replace a boiler, it heats the building,” but most of the buildings weren’t designed to have air-conditioning, which would actually increase educational time on extremely hot days, Brackenridge said.

Bob Crum

Crum, a 65-year-old insurance business owner, said he believes his experience gained from 10 years on the board, 24 years in the U.S. Air Force and eight years as vice president of enrollment at Ohio Valley University will benefit the board if he is re-elected.

Facilities will be an ongoing issue for the district, and the board must do all it can to maintain them with the money available, Crum said. Meanwhile, the district will be challenged to meet new state requirements for testing students and evaluating teachers.

“Sometimes some of the information that comes down from Columbus doesn’t necessarily fit our situation,” he said.

Crum said the district has great teachers and tying at least 50 percent of their evaluations to student performance could be problematic because “that’s not always under the teacher’s control.”

“Our teachers do a fabulous job, and our custodian people and our drivers, they do a phenomenal job with the facilities and the equipment that they have to work with,” he said.

Crum said it will be important to address wiring in the school buildings and provide students with the technology they need to be successful.

He also stressed the importance of renewing the levy.

“It’s important that that levy pass because it’s what we operate on each day,” he said. “I think the majority of individuals realize that we’re not asking for anything new. … Just because we disagree (on past issues) doesn’t mean we’re not family.”

Crum said he felt the board had to eliminate busing in 2011, but that it made sense to reinstate it this year.

“We never really wanted to do away with it,” he said. “The (state) budget looked a little bit better this year so we were able to make a trade-off” and decrease some of the building projects.

Crum said he is pleased with the district’s new administrative team.

Willie Holbert

Holbert, 55, served on the board for 11 years before stepping down in 2009 due to work-related issues.

“I decided to run (again) when I saw people leaving our district because of the poor decisions that the board of education had made,” said Holbert, who is employed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Eliminating high school busing was a mistake, Holbert said, and the board should have foreseen the impact it would have in causing students – and the state funding that follows them – to leave the district.

“They brought the busing back, but how about the loss of state revenue that we (would have) received?” he said.

While board members have repeatedly said cutting busing was a reluctant last resort, Holbert said it was a threat to get people to vote for the bond issue and it backfired.

Holbert said he has more experience on the board than the other candidates running and he would bring “leadership and stability.”

“Leadership, we have none on the board. Stability, we have none because we had five administrators leave the district,” he said.

Holbert said he’s spoken with Newton a couple of times and looks forward to working with him if he’s elected. But he said it’s too early to judge his leadership of the district.

“Right now, it’s a honeymoon,” Holbert said. “Wait until a crisis happens; then we’ll know what kind of leader we have.”

The renewal of the levy is vital, Holbert said; without it, the district will be cut to “bare bones” levels.

“We’ll be lucky” to pass it, given the recent history in the district, he said.

Holbert said that to overcome reservations people still have from the bond issue votes and the loss of busing, voters need to be educated about the need for the levy and the difference between the levy and the bonds.

“I want to have town hall meetings … and explain to them where we’re at and where we’re going to be,” he said.