2019-05-15 / News

4 Vie for 3 Walton Board of Education Seats

Proposed 2019-20 Tax Levy Increase 2%, Public Vote May 21
By Lillian Browne

Candidates for the Walton Central School District Board of Education, from left, Dotti Howe, Mirranda MacDonald, Kevin Charles and Marilyn Lewis. Lillian Browne/The Reporter Candidates for the Walton Central School District Board of Education, from left, Dotti Howe, Mirranda MacDonald, Kevin Charles and Marilyn Lewis. Lillian Browne/The Reporter WALTON - Four candidates for the Walton Central School Board of Education - Marilynn Lewis, Kevin Charles, Mirranda Mac- Donald and Dotti Howe - participated in a ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum, sponsored by the Walton Parent Teachers Student Association (PTSA) on Monday, May 13.

Approximately 45 people attended the event where candidates answered questions from the public on a rotating basis.

Incumbent Marilynn Lewis said she is running for another term because she does not feel that her work on the board is finished. There are things that she would like to see completed, she said in her opening remarks; and, she said, “We are on a good course now and I’m very happy to serve again.”

Kevin Charles, an incumbent, is also seeking a second term as a board of education member. During his first term, he said, the board has “made good headway, despite some emotional ups and downs.” He would like to “keep pushing forward,” if reelected, he said.

Mirranda MacDonald said she is running for a seat on the board because the focus of the board of education needs to come back to students, teachers, staff and community members. “Our students deserve a quality education,” MacDonald said. “Our teachers deserve a contract and to be heard without fear.” Community members, MacDonald continued, deserve transparency with regard to how tax dollars are being spent.

Dotti Howe is interested in a position on the board, she said, because she specializes in school issues and is concerned that there is no management within the school district. “I think we are going to be losing some more administrators by the end of this school year,” Howe said, “And without management there isn’t any direction.”

Lewis is motivated to serve as a board member, she said, because she wants to see the school “as good as it was” when she graduated; and, she continued “I think we are on the right path to get there.”

Charles said he is supportive of the talented staff in the district and would like to see the board continue supporting change. He has a vested interest in the district, having children/students in the district, he said.

MacDonald said the success of students is her main focus and credited prior administrators with creating opportunities for student success. She is committed to keeping special education services within the district and “not vetted out” and to keep summer school funded.

Howe said the students, the teachers and the community-atlarge is her priority. She would like to support the board in understanding special education in the elementary school. “I think Walton has one of the best special education programs,” she said. When there are financial shortfalls, special education services are the first to go, in addition to programs like music and art, Howe continued. Her priority, she said, is supporting the whole child, not just the academics.

In response to the question, “How do you plan to increase transparency between the board and the public?” the candidates varied in their answers.

Howe said if people have questions they should ask board members, at a board meeting and not necessarily on social media.

Lewis said the current board has been very transparent. She’s received feedback, she said, that this year’s budget proposal information, mailed out to district voters, residents and taxpayers, has been easier to understand than in previous years. Speaking on behalf of the current board of education, Lewis said, if there is a question from the public that can be answered, it will be answered.

Charles said he was unsure how transparency could be improved because he felt the board is already transparent. There is some information that the board of education is prohibited from sharing due to confidentially requirements, he said. “I know a lot of times the public would like to have that information, but you just can’t share it.”

There is no instance that he is aware of, he said, where the board of education has denied someone information that they are entitled to.

MacDonald disagreed saying that the current board of education is not transparent. Not everyone can attend a board meeting, MacDonald said, and when questions are asked they are often answered, “We can’t answer that.”

MacDonald also criticized an aspect of hiring and interviewing for the administrative team. A candidate for the administrative team was interviewed for more than 11 hours, and later declined the position. “The board of education hires the superintendent and the superintendent hires the administrative team,” she said of the way she feels the hiring process should work.

A committee interview system is used which allows input from various district users, Lewis said. Howe said that input from others is great, but committees should not be part of the interview process. The district is paying the interim superintendent $650 per day and that is an indication that the board of education has faith in him to hire appropriate staff. “That’s what he specializes in,” Howe said, “and I would leave it to him.”

Candidates responded to a concern from a district voter about the current lack of administrators, including the lack of a permanent superintendent.

Charles said the district is doing everything it can to fill the vacant positions. However, he said, presented with the same facts and data, he would have made the same decision he did previously. “It’s not personal. You need to remove names and look at data.”

MacDonald said that though she did not see that data that the current board saw in order to make the decision to suspend former the superintendent (Roger Clough), she did see the seven-page document issued by the arbitrator that said there was not enough evidence for a case against Clough. “I do think it was a little bit personal and I don’t think the other administrators leaving was coincidental,” Mac- Donald continued. However, she said, the community needs to put the incident behind them and move forward. “We need to close that chapter, move on and focus on students, taxpayers, teachers and staff.”

Globally, Howe said, she believes employers are quick to terminate employees. Employers have gotten away from having conversations to see if situations can be fixed, she said.

“I don’t have any regrets about what happened,” Lewis said. “I did what my heart told me to do.” The decision (to suspend Clough) was made by the entire board, Lewis continued, not by one board member.

In order to re-establish stability in the district, a superintendent needs to be hired, MacDonald said. “We cannot keep having interims,” she said.

Howe said it is going to be difficult to hire administrators for the Walton School District. There needs to be corrective action in how people are treated - both within the district and on social media. “I don’t think people realize what they’ve done to this school,” Howe said. Prospective employers and employees use social media for information gathering and often base decisions on that information. “A lot of damage has been done.”

Lewis said stability will be reestablished by the people who are currently employed in the district and praised Interim Superintendent Larry Thomas for putting the district on the path to stability.

Charles said in order to bring stability to the district everyone needs to respect one another, from the board member level through the staff level. Consistency is key, he said. Though they are hopeful that new administrators will be hired before July, it seems unlikely, the candidates agreed.

* An archived video of the ‘Meet the Candidates’ event (in its entirety) can be viewed on The Reporter’s Facebook page.

The Proposed Budget

The proposed 2019-20 budget reflects a 4.22 percent increase in spending which will result in a 2 percent increase in taxes. Sixtyfour percent of the proposed budget will be funded by state aid, while 30.7 percent will be funded by district taxpayers.

Proposed total spending of $21,745,814 is $881,207 higher than last year’s budget of $20,864,607.

Notable increases include $134,670 in the administrative salary line items; $280,297 in employee benefits; $87,552 in pupil transportation and $200,432 in the “instruction” line.

To offset the budget, $717,767 will be taken from the fund balance, or unspent money from last year’s budget. The same amount was used to offset the budget in 2018-19.

The district is predicting a 10.22 percent increase, or $39,449, in undisclosed or “other” revenue in the proposed budget, which will further offset the budget.

The current board of education is also asking voters to approve an $8 million capital reserve fund; to lease three new school buses at a cost of $56,100 per year for five years and increase the Ogden Free Library’s budget by $1,831 to a total of $123,916.

The capital reserve fund is to be used for repairs, construction and purchase of equipment and to be sourced from non-designated fund balance from the general fund, state aid, interest income or any other lawful source.

Walton Central School District qualified voters will vote on the proposed budget and propositions and for three board of education members at the Walton Central School Bus Garage, Delaware Street, Walton, on Tuesday, May 21 from noon to 9 p.m.

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