The Batavia school board will have at least three new faces when it convenes in May, as only one incumbent is seeking re-election.
Seven people are running for four 4-year terms.
They are incumbent Tina Bleakley, Jason Stoops, Susan Locke, Jonathan Gaspar, Michael Papka, Jim Karner and Garrick Grizaffi.
Locke was inspired to run by her experience three years ago when she talked to the board about her worries about increasing class sizes at her sons' elementary school. The board listened, and reduced the class sizes. “It made a difference. I thought then and there, 'This is something I may want to get involved with,' ” she said.
Stoops said he would bring a background in finance, budgeting and employment to the board. So did Grizaffi, an assistant superintendent in another district, answering a Daily Herald questionnaire.
“I believe the things we are doing there reflect not only our schools, but the community,” Bleakley said of the board.
Gaspar will retire as a teacher at Waldo Middle School in Aurora in June. He served on a parent advisory committee for Batavia High School. “The foremost thing is to be responsible to citizens with the tax dollars,” he said.
Gaspar said he understands the board's recent approval of a master plan to renovate the outdoors sports facilities at the high school. “I know people are going to take it the wrong way,” he said. “ ... But we have to think down the road.” The project would eventually benefit everyone in the community, he said. “But it is a wish list.”
Karner agreed. “I see the point of just getting the discussion started,” he said.
Several candidates praised Batavia's teachers.
“I think we are an excellent district because we employ excellent teachers,” Gaspar said, after first crediting family influence for a student's performance.
Stoops said that 40 percent of the district's teachers live in Batavia. “We should be proud of our retention,” he said.
And while all agreed the state conversion to common core standards will make for better comparisons of students' performance to their counterparts around the world, Papka, a professor, had one concern. “I think the curriculum needs to balance the encouragement of creativity and free thinking with the core standards,” he said.
Gaspar said he assumes the state will further cut what it sends to the district, and that must be taken into account when planning budgets.
Locke noted the frustration with the state. “Until the state decides on pension and funding, we can't make decisions on the budget,” she said.
Bleakley said the biggest issue coming out of budget cuts already made has been the increase in class sizes.
“The pension crisis is one of the biggest fiscal challenges schools will face since tax caps were mandated in 1991,” Grizaffi said.
The district's spending on a recent conference board members and employees attended was highlighted in a Daily Herald story in February.
“As a taxpayer, I was shocked and appalled,” Locke said. But she also said there is some value in networking after-hours at such conferences. “If I was expected to stay, I may not be able to afford the hotel.”
“Where do you draw the line for a dining expense?” Stoops asked, while saying the board is responsible to taxpayers “for every dollar.”
Gaspar was surprised the district didn't give those it sent a per-diem limit for meals. “That would be something to maybe look into,” he said. He also questioned whether the previous practice of having a vendor pay to take the attendees out to dinner presented a conflict of interest. But he too thought there might be value in having attendees stay overnight at the conference, for networking opportunities.
Karner said the article was “a great wake-up call for boards across Illinois.
“This is a different day and age. People are looking closely at how money is being spent in the districts. Its just important to be mindful of where we are spending,” he said.
Bleakley, who attended the conference, was succinct: “The community has spoken, and the board needs to revisit it. ... That's what will be done.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.