When a bipartisan commission recommended that all school board elections take place in November, the intent was to increase voter interest and participation. For Southwest Allen County Schools, the switch already has resulted in more candidate interest – four years ago, three incumbents were uncontested, while this year six candidates are vying for three seats.
Two are incumbents, John Blum and Mark Gilpin, who continue to represent good choices for voters. First-time candidate Meagan Milne is a promising newcomer for the at-large seat now held by John Bloom, who is not seeking re-election.
Blum, a commercial banker with JPMorgan Chase, is seeking his fourth term in District 1; Gilpin, a partner in Applied Technology Group, is seeking a fourth term representing District 2. Both have children who graduated from the district, and Gilpins youngest daughter is a sophomore at Homestead High School.
In citing accomplishments, Blum points to academic programs, including the districts literacy focus, technology program, gifted and talented instruction and a new Project Lead the Way engineering program at Homestead.
Blum said he has helped the board find the right balance between needs and wants compared to cost to taxpayers, noting that the district has excellent facilities but schools that arent unnecessarily lavish.
His challenger, Joseph Greco, also is the parent of SACS graduates. Business development manager for Steel Dynamics Inc., he would bring strong financial oversight skills to the board.
Gilpin has faced some criticism because his company won a $726,000 contract for a new districtwide phone system in 2009. But Applied Technology clearly was the low bidder, the bid process appeared to be carried out with total transparency, and Gilpin took care to remove himself from any contract discussion or board votes related to it.
Renewal of the general fund referendum that has allowed SACS to maintain smaller class sizes and enhance its instructional offerings is the key issue in the next term, Gilpin notes.
Its imperative for the district to pass it again, he said. We cant wait to start talking about it in four years.
Attorney Jason Kuchmay also is seeking the District 2 seat. The Fort Wayne attorney is a good candidate, with three children currently enrolled in the district and interest in raising the level of transparency.
The districts strong academic and financial positions serve as strong arguments for maintaining stable board leadership, but newcomer Milne could be a strong addition to the board in the at-large post. Formerly an attorney with the Indiana Court of Appeals, shes now an active volunteer at the two SACS schools her children attend, as well as a board member for the regional Girl Scouts council.
Milne has experience as a parent and volunteer with the high-performing Carmel-Clay schools, and suggests that she can bring ideas to Southwest Allen to raise its quality.
Sherry Chapman, an employee of Woolman Financial Group, lost her re-election bid two years ago to Tim Loomis. She also is seeking the at-large seat. Chapman was a dedicated board member with close ties to the community, but the open seat represents a chance to bring new perspective to the board.
Each of the challengers raises good questions about district transparency. Minutes of board meetings include very little detail and board presentations – including budget information – arent available on the SACS website. A school district that prides itself on technology investments for students should be at the forefront of making public information accessible online.
Thursday: East Allen County Schools