By JEROD CLAPP
CLARK COUNTY —
Money is largely on the mind of candidates running for one of the four seats on Greater Clark County Schools’ board of trustees, especially with a shortfall of about $1.1 million on the forecast for the end of 2013.
Three incumbents will defend their seats against one challenger each and three are running for the seat that current board member, Ernie Gilbert, is leaving behind.
Christina Gilkey, the current board president and district 5 seatholder, admits that her race against former Courier-Journal columnist Dale Moss is going to be tough, but she said she thinks she can make it through.
“In the last 18 months, we have really begun an upward trend,” Gilkey said. “We’ve righted the ship, we’re making great headway in regard to achievement and I feel like we’re on the verge of really doing some great things. I think it would take me another four years to really complete what we’ve started.”
Gilkey voted in favor of removing the previous superintendent, Stephen Daeschner, and voted in favor of bringing Andrew Melin on board with the district.
The 44-year-old said she’s finishing her college degree in psychology at Ottowa University. She said while Moss has been around the district a lot with his work, she’s had the opportunity to learn how the board works.
“The one very obvious difference is my experience,” Gilkey said. “I can tell you, my first two years on the board were a steep learning curve. One big difference is I’ll be looking at things with experienced eyes where it would be baptism by fire for him.”
She said she’s helped get the district on board with forming a strategic plan to help continually move the district forward. But she also said in matters regarding the budget, she trusts the administration that the board hired.
“Our only real role is to support and work with the superintendent and the [chief financial officer, Tom Dykiel],” Gilkey said. “It’s their job to get us where we need to be with our budget. We have to communicate, we have to meet and we have to hold them accountable to get us
where we need to be. There’s some really good strategy and planning going on right now. Dr. Dykiel is going to present something to us Wednesday night that’s going to give us a $400,000 savings.”
Her opponent, 59-year-old Moss, said he’s lived in Jeffersonville all his life, graduated from Jeffersonville High School and wrote his Indiana column for 25 years at the Courier-Journal. He said being on the school board is something he’s always wanted to do.
“I don’t have a big bucket list but I have always wanted to be on it, and specifically so I could do something in honor of my father,” Moss said. “It’s something I wanted to do and it’s a tribute to him, and the time worked. Once I decided to do it, I started asking people what they think the issues are, and it became clear to me that the school board itself is something that frustrates people.”
He said the dynamic of the board, with its tendency to meddle in day-to-day affairs, is something he hopes to see change if he’s elected. He said he wants the board members to work better together and get along with each other better.
“I think it ought to reflect our community at its best and I don’t think it’s done that, does that now or has done that much over the years,” Moss said. “I don’t have any other agenda in terms of wanting to get someone hired or fired.”
He said though he may not know the specific ways to fix all of the district’s financial problems,
he knows an enrollment loss of about 100 students last year has hurt the district. He said he hopes he can get more people coming to the district through his work if he’s elected.
“I think Greater Clark has some really neat things going on, but the enrollment is dropping and that’s something we’ve got to turn around,” Moss said. “Families want to send their kids to Greater Clark, but I think we need to improve our image and you can’t do that if you keep re-
electing the same people.”
In district 7, Becka Christensen is working to keep her seat. The 52-year-old Jeffersonville High School graduate said she’s an independent business owner who’s served on a number of community boards. She said parents and students aren’t the only ones who need to be
represented on the board.
“I’m a very simple person, but I’m here to represent the taxpayers,” Christensen said. “Only 70 percent of the voting population have children in the schools. I’m representing the taxpayers, the ones who want to make sure their tax dollars are being used wisely.”
She said though not everyone in her district has children in the school corporation, it’s as important to them that their schools are successful as it is to parents.
“I need for the community to get behind the schools whether they have children or grandchildren in the schools or not,” Christensen said. “I need a total commitment from the business community to the private sector, churches and organizations. I need everyone to get
behind these schoolchildren as our funds continue to get cut.”
She said support from the entire community could help enrich education for students. But she said there’s still a lot of work to be done to complete the work started by the rest of the board and the previous superintendent.
Her opponent, Teresa Bottorff-Perkins, said she’s also had a lot of experience with education. The 64-year-old former teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent in New Albany-Floyd County schools, said she wants to see what she can do to help alleviate the budget issues in Greater Clark.
“We’ve got this huge budget issue looming,” Bottorff-Perkins said. “We are spending more money than we are taking in. I’ve worked several years in New Albany under those circumstances and trying to get the budget under control. All public school systems are going through this and you have to look at where and how you’re spending your money.”
But she said getting a close look at every account in the district’s budgets is also key.
“I think we need to get a thorough understanding of the accounts that exist,” Bottorff-Perkins said. “There’s certain accounts like the general fund... I think that’s about 90 percent of the budget goes to teacher, administrator salaries and benefits. A clear understanding of the budgets that now exist for the different accounts. We have to sit down with them one at a time.”
She said looking at everything from travel expenses to spending on supplies will help keep any cuts away from teachers and their classrooms.
She said in her time at board meetings at New Albany-Floyd County schools, she’s learned how to behave as a sitting member. She said some of the information given to media by Greater Clark’s board members may have hindered some of the work they were trying to do.
“I sat at the board table for 16 years in New Albany Floyd County and attended the executive sessions,” Bottorff-Perkins said. “I know how a board is supposed to approach their boardsmanship. One of the things that has bothered me about Becka and some others on the board is the fact that there’s information that comes from the press inappropriately. You have a communication coordinator, you have a superintendent [to handle that.]”
She said getting sensitive information out can cause dysfunction on a board.
In district 6, Jerry White, the mid-term appointee to the seat, said like Gilkey, he trusts in the district’s administration to lead the board through the budget problems. He said though that’s true, he does believe it will be difficult to keep those cuts from staff since most of the general fund is made up of salaries for staff.
The 57-year-old Jeffersonville High graduate said he’s served on a number of boards in the county for charitable groups and worked for his family business, A.C. Upholstery Company and owned it for 15 years.
“I feel that with the things I’ve just mentioned about my background in business and serving on different boards and with people on boards to affect positive outcomes, I have a lot to offer in decision-making abilities…,” White said. “I see the education of our children as the future of our American way of life and our society. If you do not educate the children so that they can go out and be positive in the workforce… that they can be active and positive adults in society.”
But he also said his history of fundraising with charitable groups shows he could work to do much the same with the board.
His opponent, Alice Dorman Butler, regularly attends board meetings and has a background in public and corporate accounting. The 63-year-old Jeffersonville High School graduate said she knows the cuts that are coming will be difficult, but she thinks she can offer some perspective on where they can come from to deal the least damage.
“I think they’re going to have to look at the budget line by line and be willing to make some cuts, even though they’re going to be difficult cuts,” Dorman Butler said. “They’ve said they don’t want to do anything to hurt any group of employees, but at some point, somewhere down the line, someone’s going to have to feel the pinch. It’s just on and on and on with everything that’s brought before them for potential ways to save money, they’ve turned it all down. I think the cuts need to stay far away from the classroom as possible, but they have to be significant.”
She said the work that’s been done in the district in the way of academics has been incredible in the last three years and she hopes to see that trend continue under the new leadership.
The district 2 seat that Ernie Gilbert is leaving behind has three challengers.
Vickie Boisseau, a 59-year-old Jeffersonville High School graduate and Greater Clark Education Foundation board member, said her work in raising money for the district has given her some perspective on what's been going on for the last several years.
“Definitely, we’re going to have to deal with the budget,” Boisseau said. “That seems to be first and foremost on everyone’s list. I think the drop in enrollment is something that we’ll have to take a look at and there’s been some discussion on class sizes. But every child goes through our system to prepare for the life they’ll have after they leave Greater Clark.”
She said she thinks she’ll provide an analytical look on every situation the board encounters with the budget and otherwise and that she’ll be able to work with the rest of the board to remedy the district’s problems.
“I just feel very passionate about being the type of board member that will be a person who is willing to listen, be a team player, evaluate and take action,” Boisseau said. “I think all of those things do constitute being a good board member and being very loyal.”
Boisseau’s daughter, Erin Bojorquez, is the district’s supervisor of communications and public relations.
Tony Hall, a 55-year-old Charlestown High School graduate, is also going for the district 2 seat. He said he worked in the district for 33 years teaching computer courses, coaching, and as an athletic administrator.
He said enrollment is also a concern of his and something he hopes can be solved to also alleviate some budget concerns.
“If we’ve lost over 100 kids and don’t really know why or how we’ve lost them, we need to find out,” Hall said. “When the state releases the money, that’s about $5,500 per student. Why is enrollment declining and what can we do about that?”
He said technology is something he thinks the district needs to broaden, like Charlestown Middle School’s One to One program, that put laptops in the hands of each of its students on a trial basis.
But he said he’s glad to see the district get a strategic plan in place. He said that could also help with a long-term look at what the district will do to figure out its financial issues.
“I think one thing they’ve established now is the strategic planning,” Hall said. “That’s going to help if we have a plan in place to look and see how we’re going to finance those plans and that would help with a long-term budget. We just have to make sure we’re spending money wisely and it’s being spent to the people that affect the students the most.”
Fred Krenke, a 68-year-old retired teacher, said he’s worked in a lot of capacities for schools, including textbook adoption committees, school evaluations and other areas. He said he wants to continue to better the district in student achievement and other areas.
“I think Greater Clark, as good as it is, can be better,” Krenke said. “I understand what the challenges and concerns of the district are, one being student achievement, another being finance and the last being public relations. I have some ideas on how we can make those more
effective and better.”
He said bringing in more revenue for the district should be a paramount concern and every way that can be done should be seriously considered.
“I know the superintendent is looking at trying to acquire some of the [tax increment finance district] funding,” Krenke said. “I also know the greatest percentage of the budget is made up in the salaries of teachers, administrators and classified personnel. I know there’s a plan in place to settle the contract for the next few years with the teachers. But I think the high end salaries, and the administration, need to be looked at. Maybe consolidate the instruction and possibly take the week down from five days to four.”