Four seek seat on Fort Frye BOE
There will be at least one new face and one incumbent elected to the Fort Frye Local Board of Education in November.
Board President Johnna Zalmanek and 37-year member David White are seeking re-election, while Whipple resident Lloyd Booth and Lowell resident Stephanie Lang are making their first runs. There are three seats on the ballot; board member Lisa Perry decided not to seek a fourth term.
The district is going though some changes as an arrangement sharing administrative services with Warren Local Schools comes to an end. Superintendent Tom Gibbs left both districts for a job with Athens City Schools earlier this year, while Treasurer Melcie Wells is going back to Warren full-time. Stephanie Starcher was hired as superintendent, and a treasurer search is being conducted.
The district also faces a loss of $1.4 million in annual property tax revenue on the horizon as AEP’s Muskingum River Power Plant is shuttered.
Booth, 66, said he’s considered running for the board before and felt now was the right time.
“I’ve got the time to devote to it,” he said.
A retired salesman with three grandchildren attending school in the district, Booth has been active in the public as a founding member and president of the Highland Ridge Water Association.
“I communicate with the public very well,” he said. “My background in business would be a very good asset to bring to the board.”
Booth said he believes finances will continue to be an issue for the district, thanks in part to a state funding system that still doesn’t adequately provide for all schools.
“I’d like to assist in whatever way I can to remedy some of those” financial issues, he said, noting communicating with state representatives will be an important part of changing the funding system.
Booth said he doesn’t yet know how the district will address the loss of the AEP revenue. Asked whether a levy might be in Fort Frye’s future, Booth said that’s always an option a board must at least consider.
“It’s not a good thing but (may be) necessary,” he said.
Booth approved of sharing services with Warren, but said he feels “it’s the right time” for the district to have its own superintendent and treasurer again.
“I believe (the previous arrangement) was a good fit because of the personalities of the individuals involved,” he said.
Starcher was a good choice by the board, Booth said.
Booth said the education his children and grandchildren received and are receiving in the district was great. He said Fort Frye must be proactive to make sure its curriculum keeps up with needed changes.
“Hopefully, we continue to provide the best high school education possible, so the kids can advance to college … with a substantial background,” he said.
Lang, a 44-year-old radiologic technologist, said a run for the board wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision for her either.
“I’ve been contemplating this for a couple of years,” she said. “It’s because the kids are so important that I feel like it’s our duty as citizens to make sure they get the best education possible. It’s time for me to get out of my four walls and be even more proactive.”
Lang has a son who attends Fort Frye High School and a daughter at Lowell Elementary. She feels she’s developed a good rapport with staff members throughout the district. Other assets she believes she would bring to the board are good communication skills, loyalty and passion about the students.
“I’ve always been involved in my kids’ education,” Lang said. “That’s very important that the truth be brought forth in the classrooms.”
While Lang had no specific issues with Fort Frye’s curriculum, she said she’s concerned that history isn’t being emphasized as much as it should be in the nation as a whole.
Lang said she looks forward to the opportunity to work with Starcher and the other board members. She said she understands the role of the board.
“We do not run the school,” she said. “I am frugal in decisions that I make, and I would put forth my best effort to understand what it takes and what is necessary to make the school function at its optimal capacity.”
Lang said how the district deals with the impending loss of the AEP taxes won’t be up to her alone.
“It takes five people to make those type of decisions,” she said.
Lang is pleased that the district is going back to having its own superintendent and treasurer.
“I think it was a tall order for one person to oversee two districts,” she said. “It may cost more money out of pocket, but we may see better results (in) the quality of education as a whole.”
As he runs for another term on the board on which he’s served since the 1970s, White said he’s concerned about mandates and regulations coming out of Columbus and Washington, D.C.
“I believe in public education, and I don’t like what the federal and state rules are bringing down,” said White, who is retired from B.F. Goodrich. “It’s all coming down to testing. Children don’t need to be tested that much.
“We’ve got to give them every chance we can to learn everything they can,” he said.
White said state and federal government are getting too involved in education, putting policies in place that may make sense to them but don’t work in many schools. He pointed to the recently instituted third-grade reading guarantee, which requires students to be proficient in reading or repeat at least the reading portion of third grade. Repeating a grade can have “a psychological effect” on a child, but promoting them in other subjects but not reading doesn’t make a lot of sense either, he said.
White said districts must work closer with government entities to convince them not to keep handing down rules that change by the time they’re implemented.
White was pleased with how the sharing of services with Warren went and disappointed to see Gibbs and Wells go, noting communication with the public as just one of the areas improved during their tenure. However, he said the board didn’t consider sharing again and felt a full-time superintendent and treasurer were needed.
The board found the right person when it hired Starcher, White said.
“She’s a go-getter. She knows what she’s doing. And I’m 100 percent behind this lady,” he said.
Although the loss of the AEP funds is looming, White feels confident the board and administration can deal with it.
“With the proper management in place, I think we can bring it through,” he said.
The board president and representative to the Washington County Career Center board the last two years, Zalmanek, 36, said she feels the district is in a good place and she wants to continue the work she’s been doing.
“I feel like we have a really good leader (Starcher) in place,” she said. “She’s going to get Fort Frye up to standards with what we need to be doing.”
Zalmanek, a mother of three with two children attending school in the district, said her belief in communication and transparency motivated her to run for the board four years ago.
“If we’re going to do something, people need to know why,” she said.
But she said she also had to learn that sometimes the board can’t always take the path that might seem obvious because of state law and employee contracts. Some of those reasons may not be able to be shared with the public, due to public information exemptions.
“Sometimes the board’s hands are tied,” Zalmanek said.
Although the AEP money will be disappearing in the next few years, the board and administration have been planning for it, she said. The Duke Energy tax abatement that had been bolstering the district’s permanent improvement fund will be ending and that plant going onto the property tax rolls around the time AEP is leaving.
“It’s going to almost equal out,” Zalmanek said. “(But) in the long run, we’re going to be losing that check going into our permanent improvement fund.”
In spite of that, “we have no plans for any levy,” she said. “We’re solid with our buildings.”
Zalmanek said she’s also concerned about mandates coming from the state, including the new teacher evaluation system that will be much more time-consuming. She said the people who make decisions on items like that should pay more attention to feedback from the local level.
“We know what works best for our kids,” she said.