Indiana’s urban school districts have struggled to cope with declining revenue, unrelenting pressure from the state and increasing student need over the past four years. Against those odds, Fort Wayne Community Schools easily won a building referendum, earned an A under the state’s new grading system and maintained enrollment against ever-expanding choice options to emerge as Indiana’s largest school district. The achievements signal strong board leadership, worthy of encouraging with re-election of incumbents Becky Hill and John Peirce.
Hill, a former non-profit director with a background in education, has proven to be an effective board member willing to listen and question the administration when necessary. She said the district’s financial viability is a priority in the next four years, requiring the board to ensure FWCS remains competitive and continues to improve. She also wants to see the district do a better job of sharing its success story with the public.
She represents District 3, which roughly covers precincts in the east-central portion of the city.
Hill has two challengers. Michael Davis owns an information technology company and has three sons, all Snider High School graduates. Kerry Señor Miller retired from Snider last year, where he taught Spanish and English. Miller would bring a sharper classroom perspective to the board, but the teacher/administrative partnership at FWCS is generally strong. His concerns for teacher morale are well founded, but the source of discontent is coming more from Indianapolis than the Grile Administrative Center.
Peirce is seeking a second term in District 2, roughly the northeast portion of the city.
His contributions to the board have been in community outreach. He took the lead in promoting the district’s $119 million building project, speaking to dozens of groups about the need to invest. Peirce continues to serve as the board’s liaison on the project.
I feel responsible since I carried the message to the community, he said. We need to be good stewards of the money.
As a consultant, Peirce has worked with Vision 2020, United Way and others to promote early learning in northeast Indiana – work that effectively complements the school district’s mission.
He’s interested in attracting more partners to support the urban school district, including counselors and mental health professionals who could support the work of classroom teachers.
His challenger, Glenna Jehl, is a real estate agent with Olinger & Associates, whose CEO is Jon Olinger, a former board member. Olinger lost his re-election bid to Hill in 2008, and his wife, Lisa, was elected to an at-large seat on the board in 2010. Jon Olinger, interestingly, coordinated Michael Davis’ election announcement at GOP headquarters. The Allen County Conservative Political Action Committee, a PAC created by conservative activist Ric Runestad, contributed to both candidates.
School board contests are hardly apolitical, but they should be nonpartisan. The blatantly partisan appeal Davis and Jehl have made to voters should be a signal that their primary allegiance would not be to FWCS students but to the party.
To maintain its steady improvement, FWCS can’t afford to have board members waging ideological and political battles. It needs board members committed to meeting the district’s goals of achieving academic excellence, promoting student and community engagement and operating with fiscal responsibility. Hill and Peirce best fit that description.
Steve Corona, who represents District 5 on the city’s south side, does not face a challenger. He has served for 32 years.
Monday: Indiana governor