Nine candidates vying for four seats on the Urbana Board of Education gathered at Urbana University on Wednesday for a public forum sponsored by UU and the Urbana Daily Citizen. Over 50 citizens filed into the university Student Center around 6 p.m. to hear the candidates state their positions and decide which they would support at the polls Nov. 7.
Two additional candidates were not able to attend, but submitted statements to be read on their behalf. Following each candidate’s statement, members of the audience were able to submit questions that the candidates had up to a minute to answer.
Incumbents Alyssa Dunham and Tim Lacy are running for their seats, while current board member Jack Beard is not running for re-election. Current board member Darrell Thomas, appointed to the unexpired seat of Warren Stevens, has chosen to seek a full-termed seat.
“While on the Urbana Board, I have been on the levy campaign committee, the legislative and policy career tech committee,” Dunham wrote in a prepared statement read by her mother and former board member Cheri Hunt. “During this time, I feel I have listened to the concerns and issues of the community and voted in the best interests of the students, staff, and the district. When I came on the board I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I spent time listening and learning. During the past eight years I have learned a lot about what the board does, how they operate, what they can and cannot do. As a board, we want the community to see and understand what is going on in the district. I feel the relationship with the committee and the board has not always been the greatest, but I hope it will continue to improve. Also with the new school buildings we hope to get back those students that we may have lost so we will have more open enrollment then than those we are losing in the district. At times this has not been an easy task and I have spent time away from my family, but I believe that being on the board is something very important. I want to continue to do so if I am given the chance.”
Lacy thanked his fellow board members for their support and said he felt honored to be a part of this set of candidates.
“I think, like some of the people mentioned, that there are some difficult problems,” Lacy said. “But a lot of people have to understand that local government is very different compared to state and federal. Everyone has input and everyone has feedback, and it’s not easy and it shouldn’t be easy, but at the same time it takes a lot of giving as well as asking.
“Teaching is not easy, but at the same time I think that’s why I have so much respect for anyone who’s served on the board,” he continued. “Being a board member is not easy, but it is a blessing because you can give back to what you received as a kid … I want you people out there to know that if you have a problem you don’t have to be afraid to call. The only agenda I have is being there to help the kids and being there to support the faculty. The only agenda I have is to watch these kids get a diploma and then watching these kids get a college degree if that’s the route they want to take. But for them to do that in today’s society it’s going to take effort and hard work, and it’s going to require you and I being there for these kids.”
Laura Reed and Sarah Finch are competing for an unexpired term vacated by Warren Stevens following his death in a car crash in September 2016. This would be a two-year position.
Reed told a story about her parents growing up poor and being able to achieve their dreams only because of education. She said her platform consists of three things: marshalling time and resources, improving the report card, and looking at the safety both physically and emotionally of students and staff members.
“I am a retired educator,” Reed said. “I spent over 39 years in public education. Many of my friends are asking me why I’m doing this and the answer is very simple: I believe in education. I believe in public education. When we have strong public schools we open the doors for all our students to reach dreams and goals that if they don’t have education they can’t obtain.”
“I am interested in being on the board of education to help the students, teachers and administrators to have the number one facility and operation in our buildings and in our community,” Finch wrote in a statement read by moderator Steve Stout. “I feel being a board member a person should go to the position with an open mind to listen and make the best decisions for all involved.”
Other candidates include Jim Arter, John Birkhimer, Nicole Blair, Elizabeth DeWitt, Jeffery Michael Hepp and Amy Shaloo Paul.
Although every candidate stood before speaking into the microphone, Arter was the only one to walk into the audience and gesture as he delivered his message.
“I’m a lucky guy. I’ve spent over half a century of my life doing what I wanted to do, being permitted to be where I wanted to be,” he said. “Back in 1961 my mother pushed 5-year-old me onto a school bus for kindergarten. In 2013 I stepped down and retired as both a teacher and I stepped down from Urbana City School Board. I taught for 35 years, 4th through 8th grade, and loved it …
“In 2005 I decided to try something else, I ran for school board and I served the first of my two terms, eight years there,” he continued. “I used to walk door to door talking to citizens of a town trying to convince them to vote for a school levy both as a teacher in the towns where I taught and as a school board member in Urbana. For two years I was president of my teachers association. For two years I was president of the Urbana City Schools (teachers association). This is what I do, this is what I know, and this is where my passion lies, and that’s why I’m running again for school board.”
“I’ve lived in the Urbana school district since 1945, so I’ve been around a long time. I was actually born before then,” Birkhimer said, cracking several jokes about being the oldest of the candidates. “I’ve thought about it two or three times over the years about running again, but I decided not to do that,” said the former Urbana school board member. “But recently I was encouraged by some people to maybe consider it again, so I thought about it and decided to throw my hat in the ring. So here I am. I have no real motives for running. I don’t have any axes to grind or anything like that, but I just feel that I’m a pretty cooperative person and I work with others pretty well.”
“I’m a nurse, and for the last 15 years I’ve been working in intensive care units and with transplant patients,” Blair said. “For the last several years, though, I’ve been a quality manager for the transplant center of Ohio State. What that means is I specialize in process improvement, so I identify problems, I rally a team around those problems, and then I work together to create a solution that’s the best for the patient. I work with compliance with federal regulations in transplant, which is one of the most heavily regulated fields in medicine. These qualifications are what makes me a great candidate for the school board. As a mother of Urbana City School kids you can know that I will always have the best interests of the kids in mind, always, first and foremost. As a nurse whose role it is to be an advocate for patients, I will be an advocate for the children of this community and for the people that elected me into this position. As an alumna of Urbana City Schools, you can have confidence that I am proud of this school district and I am proud of this community, and I will do everything in my power to make it a successful school district. As a quality manager, rest assured that I have sharpened problem solving and critical thinking skills. When it comes to my reasons for running, my main emphasis is on this statement: I want parents to understand that they can be involved in every level and every aspect of their children’t education. I truly believe the key to a successful school district is to have families weaved through every aspect of that school district.”
“When I moved to Urbana 11 years ago, one of the first things I noticed and loved about this community was the Hillclimber pride that radiated from the community,” DeWitt said. “I now have children in the school district, and over the last few years have seen the community involvement and pride dwindle. Many classes’ field trips and extracurriculars have been eliminated. The community is losing faith in the district and is either moving their children out of the district or open enrolling. We need to regain the support of the community, and I believe that begins by being transparent and communicating and standing as a unified team.”
“My platform can be summed up in three words: communication, communication, communication,” Hepp said. “I spent four years working for the headquarters of the Air Force partly as a communications team lead. That doesn’t make me an expert or a trained professional of communications, but it was enough for me to be able to identify communication gaps. First, I believe we have an internal communications gap in the district. Secondly, I believe that we lack transparent communication in the district; the public is confused and uninformed about some of the decisions we have made. Lastly, I believe that we have a gap in professional communication entities outside of us. We need to build strong relationships with the city, county, state and other civic institutions that can help us fulfill our mission of education.”
“I’m a product of Urbana City Schools. My father graduated from Urbana and both of my children graduated from Urbana,” Paul said. “I firmly believe that the schools are the greatest asset that we have in our community. I’ve been in education for 30 years now. I spent 27 years as a classroom teacher. I taught grades 1st through 6th grade, I tried kindergarten for two and a half days but that didn’t work out so well, and I have taught a wide variety of subjects. I have taught gifted education, I have taught special needs students within the inclusion classroom, I have taught title one math, and most recently I have moved into administration where I now serve as a principal at Springfield City Schools in the K-6 building. I have a deep understanding of school law, school finance, and also current legislation for this coming down that affects our schools. My experience not only in Urbana but in other districts allows me to think outside the box, problem solve, and find ways that we can meet the needs of all of our students.”
“We’ve talked about the strengths and we’ve talked about the failures, but I think that one of the most important things is the community, and community involvement, because it takes a village to raise a child,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of pride still in this town. We have a great future ahead of us …
“Our focus needs to be the kids and the future of this country in every community,” he continued. “Since I’ve been on the board, which has been about a year, I’ve served as vice president on the board. I love this community, I have raised my children here, and I have thoroughly, thoroughly grown to love everyone and all the kids in this community. I’ve served as a football coach, as a basketball coach, as a camp counselor, as a mentor to any of the young men I’ve seen who need a mentor, and we all have to give that service. Should I be blessed to be re-elected I will continue to put the needs of the students first and foremost and make that my number one priority, as it already is.”
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-652-1331