LOWER SALEM -Potential Fort Frye Board of Education members were asked about reducing health care expenses, whether they want to see new school buildings in the district and if they would vote for themselves or their constituents Monday, in a Meet the Candidates night held at Salem-Liberty Elementary.
The five candidates for three open board positions answered audience-submitted questions in front of a crowd of about 40 people Monday, in an event hosted by the school's PTO.
Running in the Nov. 3 election are current board members David White, of Lower Salem, and David Vandenberg, of Lowell, former board member Lisa Perry, of Lowell, and Johnna Zalmanek and Letha Haas, both of Lower Salem.
KATE YORK The Marietta Times
David Vandenberg, center, answers a question Monday during a Meet the Candidates Night at Salem-Liberty Elementary featuring the five candidates running for three Fort Frye Local Board of Education seats.
Board President Zack Waite's term is also up at the end of the year but he is not seeking re-election.
Both newcomers to the race criticized the current board Monday and said they have heard numerous complaints from district residents about its decisions.
"I am not satisfied with the current path our district is on," said Zalmanek. "(If elected), I will strive to re-build trust, respect and confidence ... and to gather the facts and be sure I am correct before I speak."
Letha K. Haas, 12410 State Route 821, Lower Salem
Lisa Perry, 9684 State Route 60, Lowell
David Vandenberg, 5460 Lowell Hill Road, Lowell
David White, 72 Germantown Road, Lower Salem
Johnna G. Zalmanek, 5744 Germantown Road, Lower Salem
Zalmanek said she has gained a lot of knowledge about how the board operates by attending nearly every meeting as well as many policy and other subcommittee meetings held by the board.
Haas said she was concerned about student academics in the district and that helped prompt her decision to run.
She criticized previous board members for having a "single-minded eye toward balancing the budget" and also seemed to disapprove of a recent board decision to outsource management of the district's food services.
"Outsourcing ... hands money to companies who have nothing to do with Fort Frye," she said. "It can only be a last resort."
Perry also said she felt there were "some problems in the district" and said she hopes to be part of the solution.
She previously served on the board for eight years and has a lot of relationships still with the staff in the district, she said.
"Those of you who know me know that I'm willing to listen and that I want to do what's right for the district," she said.
Current board members David Vandenberg and David White said they've been working to get the district moving in a positive direction.
"I think over the last four years there have been a number of board accomplishments," said Vandenberg, who is concluding his first term as a member. "We've improved the financial forecast ... we were looking at a $1 million deficit and now we're forecasted to be in the black."
Vandenberg also pointed to a plan for academic improvements and pointed out that change is sometimes difficult but is the only way to make progress.
White, a board member for 33 years, said he's always had the policy that if it's not good for the children, he'll vote no, even if he's the sole "no" vote.
"A lot of times it's a one to four vote," he said.
He makes it a priority to keep up-to-date with the many laws the district must follow, he said.
"They change constantly, but we must follow contracts and follow the laws," he said.
Four of the five candidates clearly said they would be opposed to asking for a local share of funding so that the district could work with the Ohio School Facilities Commission to construct new schools. Zalmanek said she would seek out the opinions of the community.
"People are losing their jobs and having a hard time making ends meet," said Perry. "I can't imagine asking taxpayers to dig a little deeper to pay more for new buildings. We need to work really hard to maintain what we have."
Vandenberg said the board is trying to find a way to get state funding to renovate buildings rather than replace them, particularly since the OSFC would only fund one new elementary school in the district for all 600 elementary students.
"Columbus is dead wrong on that," he said. "They don't take into account the size of our district."
Most of the candidates agreed that they were concerned with changes that were made in the district this school year, including new bus routes, school start times and a change in open enrollment policy.
"We have to evaluate, ask why things are done," said Zalmanek. "We can't just hire (a superintendent) and leave it at that."
White said he did not support the changes made this year and felt the board and public were not enough a part of the process.
"Communication has broken down," he said.
Vandenberg said he had heard criticism in the past that the district wasn't moving forward so the board looked for someone willing to make changes when they hired Superintendent Matt Dill last winter.
"Changes are tough but we have to bear with it," he said. "I understand that it's fast-maybe too fast for some people."
All the candidates promised to vote based on the residents' wishes and the best interests of the students.
It's not something she feels is always done now, said Haas.
"I'm certainly seeing voting that isn't reflective of the taxpayers in the district," she said.