FORT WAYNE – Newcomers running for slots on the East Allen County Schools board have an opportunity to take a majority on the board with four seats up for re-election and two incumbents who have opted not to run.
EACS board members, who serve four-year terms, receive a $2,000 salary, $112 per board meeting and optional health insurance.
Janice Witte, current board president, moved out of the district she represents. If she wanted to run for another term, she would have had to run against board member Terry Jo Lightfoot, she said. District 4 representative Alyssa Lewandowski also chose not to run for re-election. Christopher Baker, an architectural firm manager, is running unopposed for the District 4 seat.
Lightfoot, who was awarded this years Outstanding Boardsmanship Award by the Indiana State School Board Association, represents District 7E and is running for her fourth term on the board. She said she would like to remain on the board to see through many of the changes the board has made in the past few years, particularly the districts redesign plan that closed and consolidated schools to address declining enrollment.
She said the board should concentrate on finishing what it started, as construction projects begin in the Woodlan and Heritage areas and buildings in the New Haven and Harding areas need renovations and improvements. In May, East Allen constituents voted down a building referendum for New Haven High School and the former Harding High School, now East Allen University.
As a former teacher, Lightfoot said she is particularly understanding to the challenges of being a teacher. She said she hopes to continue the districts positive working relationship with its teachers. Another priority for Lightfoot is her concern for kids.
I do believe that every child deserves the opportunity to achieve at their highest level, she said.
She said the district has improved its curriculum and used taxpayer dollars wisely with its redesign plan, allowing the district to keep fine-arts opportunities and fee-free extracurricular activities for students.
Vince Buchanan, New Haven Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, is running against Lightfoot. Buchanan has lived in the Leo-Cedarville area for 15 years and has a daughter attending Leo Junior-Senior High School.
Buchanan, who has served on other boards including the Indiana Restaurant Association, said he has an understanding of the oversight role a board needs to play and believes the current board isnt steering East Allen in the right direction. He said the board should create an environment focused on teamwork and collaboration.
We have great people in the system who dont feel theyre part of the process, he said. Its a top-down instead of a cooperative, collaborative environment.
He hopes to use his experience in business to create effective schools that attract students and strengthen East Allen communities by working with Superintendent Karyle Green and the administration on common goals.
Two newcomers will vie for the District 5R seat vacated by Witte.
Robert Nelson Jr. said he caught the fever to run for a seat on the board when he began attending meetings when the board was discussing a redesign plan.
Nelson is a graduate of Woodlan Junior-Senior High School and has been a coach in the district for about 10 years.
Michael Paff, a Leo graduate, is director of industrial operations with AWS, an employer of people with disabilities.
East Allen County Schools corporation as a whole is very fragmented, he said.
Changes at the state and federal levels have created uncertainty about the direction of the district, and the redesign plan further separated the communities in East Allen, he said. Paff wants to serve on the board to give back to the community and hopes to help unify the district and the board.
Its hard to bring good learning when morale is a problem, he said.
Paff believes the administration of both the district and schools must return to positive reinforced leadership to create a nurturing environment.
He also thinks financing is a major issue for districts across the state including East Allen, a district with a declining student population and decreasing funds.
Schools need to look at how to be better financial stewards, he said.
In the District 6R race, Arden Hoffman is trying to unseat Richard Allgeier, a member of the board for nearly 16 years.
Hoffman, an engineer, was born and raised in the district and graduated from Heritage Junior-Senior High School. He has also taught Junior Achievement classes for 25 years, giving him a firsthand look into the daily struggles of teaching, he said.
He hopes to help the board steer the district back on track. He said he hasnt completely agreed with many of the decisions the board has made but would like an opportunity to examine the reasons behind the decisions.
I need to get the facts before I can help, he said.
Like others, Hoffman thinks that unification of the district is one of the biggest issues it faces. He said all stakeholders need to help set common goals and work together to achieve those goals.
Allgeier said he hopes to remain on the board to evaluate Green, who was hired by the current board, and to improve communication within the district.
Information doesnt flow between groups, he said. There are too many surprises for everyone.
He said the district needs to continue to build relationships to improve communication.
Allgeier has a child with disabilities and has been an advocate on the board for students with disabilities, and as a longtime member of the board he said he has a handle on district operations and funding.
He said his volunteer positions, particularly with the Salvation Army, provide him even more experience in budgeting and decision making.