Chesterton Tribune



Four to vie for Duneland school board seat

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In the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, four Dunelanders--Rhonda “Rho” Turner Day, Bob Filipek, Alayna Lightfoot Pol, and Steve Rohe--will vie for the DSB’s open At-large seat. The Chesterton Tribune invited them to respond to candidate questionnaires.

The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved the right to edit for length.

(1) Age, place of residence, occupation.

Day: 49, Chesterton resident, Project Manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Filipek: 51, Chesterton, Energy professional.

Pol: 34, Chesterton resident, Educator

Rohe: I am 67 years old. I live in Porter and have for the past 40 years. I retired from Duneland Schools as Director of Safety and Security.

(2) Why are you seeking election to the Duneland School Board? (75 words)

Day: I am seeking election to the Duneland School Board because I believe my experience as a project manager and a parent could be an asset to the Board. I would be a leader in the process of making our schools the best in the state. I think there is an opportunity to leverage my experience in change management with multiple customers while managing significant budgets to bring about positive outcomes within our schools.

Filipek: I am an honest and fair individual who cares about my community. I have over 25 years as business professional and MBA from Indiana University. I volunteered for eight years as President of Trojan Basketball Club. I also volunteered as coach for various Duneland soccer and basketball teams for ten years. I am very active in my church. I want to work with the board and administration to support our teachers, parents and students.

Pol: I am seeking the open at-large seat in order to bring an experienced educator’s perspective to the Board. The Board hasn’t had that perspective in some time and could benefit from someone who understands how Board-created policies and regulations impact the classroom.

I will bring a different perspective to the district given my wide-range of past teaching placements outside of DSC mixed with my homegrown upbringing from within the district.

Rohe: I have been a Duneland parent, grandparent or employee since 1979. All five of my children went through Duneland and eight of my ten grandchildren are currently in Duneland. I have a personal interest in the schools. Above that, the majority of my life has been in service to my community beginning with service in the U.S. Army. I want to use my experience and abilities to serve Duneland Schools.

(3) What specific skill sets would you bring to the position? (75 words)

Day: I have 25 years of experience managing some very challenging projects for multiple industries. Some examples include; Internet changes to 150,000 United Airline’s users on the morning of September 11; Process training for non-English speaking users in Brazil; etc. Duneland has been undergoing some radical changes lately. As an engineering project manager, I would leverage my experience gathering input from stakeholders and balancing complicated budgets to perform smooth deployments of change.

Filipek: I am hard-working and I have served on a couple boards in the past and would use that experience on the school board. Since I would be new to the school board, I don’t have all the answers and would be willing to listen to all sides before I would make a decision. My decisions would be in the best interest of the students, teachers, and community. “Together We Make A Difference.”

Pol: I bring value in my ability to relate to both parents and educators when looking at issues and policies that affect each group. My comprehensive knowledge of research based approaches, curriculum, and a strong understanding of the functionality of classrooms will benefit future policy and budgeting decisions. I also believe my past experiences in diverse teaching settings will bring a well-rounded perspective to assist with the changing landscape of education here in Duneland.

Rohe: I am one of, if not the, senior School Safety Specialists in Porter County. I have served on a variety of boards and committees from the Town of Porter Economic Development Task Force in the early 80s through the Porter Storm Water Board to local community theater today. If I may believe others, I have an ability to bring calm to potentially volatile situations. By training and disposition I can "pour oil on troubled waters.”

(4) What priorities would you pursue if elected? (100 words)

Day: As a member of the Duneland School Board, I would like to focus on stakeholder communication and information transparency within the community. I want to ensure that all constituents have a voice when we deploy the changes necessary to continue to move our schools forward. A special needs family will be affected very differently than single parent family, which warrants serious listening to every situation. I want to perform reviews after each change made to ensure that we are getting the expected results in a positive way. Our schools should be in the highest demand of the state.

Filipek: a. School Budget. i. Collaborate with State legislators to improve school funding formula. ii. Renew the referendum to ensure an increase in our teachers’ compensation. iii. Explore Corporation partnerships & alternative funding sources. b. Address facilities and teachers’ needs. i. Provide resources to help teachers address various learning styles of the students. c. Attracting and retaining quality teachers. d. School Safety- Partner with local police & Porter County Sheriff’s Department to have them conduct safety audits on all our facilities and do annual updates to make sure we are compliant. Improve parent/student involvement and the communication process.

Pol: If elected, I would prioritize an evaluation of the procedures used to communicate between DSC employees, families, and the community. I would make school safety within each school another top priority. It is important that we look for common sense approaches to school safety and an implementation of proactive ways to mitigate school violence and other unwanted behaviors. I would also highly prioritize an evaluation of DSC’s approaches to instruction. I feel a balance between traditional and innovative methods is critical, while also adopting methods that promote critical thinking and deeper learning strategies over an increase of digital programs.

Rohe: One of my top priorities is to work for more local control for schools. Home rule is being enacted in places in the country and I'd like to explore that. I want to see that we continue to do all we can to keep students and staff safe while continuing the educational mission. I was dismayed that not one word to safety is in the four year Strategic Plan. The "business model" of running schools is creeping in, and I feel it is a cancer in our schools to be removed.

(5) The supplemental property-tax rate approved referendum in 2012-which took effect in 2013 and levied an additional rate of up to 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation on property owners’ tax bills-will expire in 2019 and the current School Board is exploring the possibility of setting a new referendum next year. Would you support such a referendum? Why or why not? (75 words)

Day: I am cautious to make a statement of endorsement on any spending referendum without knowing the details surrounding the cost and consequences. I fully supported the previous referendum and went door to door to communicate these details to our community. I support funding for the continued growth of our school and the continued support of our teachers and curriculum. Everyone benefits from a top rated school system. Stronger education leads to higher property values.

Filipek: I supported and will continue to support the referendum. School funding is complex. Before 2008, communities paid their local property taxes for a portion of the general fund and the state contributed. Then, the State cut what they were paying by 5% to all schools and said if you want to pay for it, you have to do it by referendum. We also need to work with State legislators to address the school funding formula.

Pol: I would support a renewal of the referendum to provide additional assistance and the expansion of best practices in the classroom, such as low student to teacher ratios, innovative curriculum options, and professional development, all of which directly impact the quality of instruction students receive.

This relatively small investment for an individual taxpayer would have a significantly positive impact on each student’s overall schooling experience and would add value to the greater community.

Rohe: Maybe. I think the Duneland Community will do whatever is necessary to maintain a quality school system. I also think the schools owe the community, especially those on fixed incomes, a duty to operate as fiscally responsible as possible. Are we concentrating on needs and not wants? If elected and able to look at projected scenarios with or without the referendum, I'll make my decision.

(6) Do you support 1:1 e-learning days--on four of which, in academic year 2018-19, K-12 students will not actually attend school but work on their devices from home--and the gradual phasing out of print materials? Why or why not? (75 words)

Day: I support 1:1 e-learning days. It’s the natural progression in integrating technology into the education process. Schools and businesses are expecting our students and graduates to function seamlessly in an environment online across the world. All of the top rated schools in the state have already adopted this process. I feel that the communication around the roll out could have been more effective and as a board member, this would be my focus.

Filipek: E-Learning provides our students with digital learning opportunities and also creates scheduling for professional development. With any new initiative, I believe that this year’s program needs to be seriously analyzed and evaluated, with parent, student, and teacher input. I believe that we should not completely phase out print materials. We should deliver a combination approach because students learn differently and screen-time overexposure can be an issue.

Pol: While I highly prioritize setting time for teacher professional development, I believe e-learning days should be reserved for secondary students and inclement weather days. Additionally, I disagree with phasing out print sources. Print sources must be an option if we are to truly take a blended and balanced approach to learning. I also feel strongly about the need of enacting a screen time policy based on the age and developmental appropriateness of our students.

Rohe: Yes. E-learning is the future. A decade ago while involved in planning for a possible flu pandemic, we dreamed of its abilities. We do need to make sure it is used so as to enhance a teacher's ability to teach and not hinder. As e-books cost less than hard cover, hopefully e-textbooks will reduce costs. I foresee e-learning allowing students to advance at their own pace.

(7) The School Board has promised to address, early in 2019, the question of whether Duneland Schools should continue to accept out-of-district transfer students and the transfer student policy in general. Are you in favor of accepting transfer students? Why or why not? (75 words)

Day: I am not in favor of open enrollment without additional structure. We need consistency in our teaching goals and strategy throughout our schools. We have a responsibility to those students and families that have become a part of our system, but we should consider new requests for out of district students more closely than we previously have. I do not believe students coming into our system beyond sixth grade would be appropriate.

Filipek: I have listened to community members and followed the board discussion regarding the transfer student policy. There are several issues that need to be addressed. The transfer students in Duneland that are here and succeeding in good standing need to be grandfathered into policy changes. Our first priority must be the students and families of our community. The policy needs to be tightened up and future transfer spots should be considered on data and availability.

Pol: Enrollment of in-boundary DSC students is down and has been on a downward trend for a few years now. The number of students transferring into DSC remains lower than the number of students we are losing. Although a very complex issue, it is in DSC‘s best interest to keep enrollment open at this time. The district needs to reevaluate the current policy and address the reasons families are choosing outside options for schooling.

Rohe: Yes, as long as class size is not adversely affected. We should be proud that people wish to come to our quality schools. In my experience, out-of district students have by-and-large been an asset to the student body.

(8) New legislation, HEA 1009 and HEA 1167, mandates that Indiana public schools must consolidate their various funds based on whether expenses directly impact students or directly impact operations. Duneland CFO Lynn Kwilasz has said that four currently distinct funds must be consolidated into two (while the debt-service and referendum funds will remain separate). What financial moves do you think the School Board could take to field these new budget requirements? (75 words)

Day: The changes to the school board funding requirements will provide greater flexibility to the overall budgeting process. It does not reduce the financial obligation of the board to track expenditures. It is important to understand the overall funds have not changed, only the categories in which they are tracked. The board must adhere to the same diligence when tracking individual line items regardless of the overall funds category where they reside in the budget.

Filipek: School funding is extremely complex and the changes made to school finances by HEA 1009 will take some time for the administration and board to understand. This will take at least one budget cycle. We as a board and administration need to monitor and understand this. We need to develop base line data from this first year and make needed changes. We need to apply consistent spending percentages from past budgets.

Pol: The state mandated switch from a previous organization of four funds to an Education and Operation Fund will require DSC to develop a strict long range plan for spending. Flexibility between the two funds could create a false sense of security and diligent balancing of the Operations Fund will be necessary. We should seek quarterly analyses of the two funds and make projections based on enrollment and other relevant variables to properly budget.

Rohe: 2019 will be a learning year for school districts across the State. It is my understanding that it will be easier for monies to be moved between the two funds, which should help. The key will be what is educational and what is operational. Certain things, transportation, are obviously operational while instructional materials obviously educational. The Board will need to create the two funds and decide which functions belong where within the new law.

(9) In March, students who participated in a school walkout to protest gun violence and to honor the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida were marked truant and assigned an “alternative discipline” that included writing a short essay or completing half an hour of community service. What are your thoughts on the administration’s response to the walkout? (75 words)

Day: My son helped organize the walkout in March and I was very proud of him. I hope we continue to foster environments that allow our students to peacefully engage in issues that affect them and teach them how to use their voices to bring about change. He understood that there would be consequences to his actions, and we support the decisions the administration made to control the situation while allowing for civil discourse.

Filipek: One of our most important goals for Duneland schools is to develop students into participating citizens that are engaged in democracy. Many of the problems that we face in our country are because of apathy. We need students to engage in the democratic process, objectively analyze all sides of issues, and to participate respectfully. The administration worked with students and made appropriate consequences that resulted in real world learning experiences.

Pol: I felt the administration’s response and requirements for participating in the walkout were fair. Requiring students to complete a written reflection or 30 minutes of community service not only ensured students weren’t arbitrarily skipping class, it also helped initiate important conversations surrounding the issues. I feel that it opened up a dialogue that may have been lost if students were only “punished” for participating rather than asked to reflect and share their thoughts.

Rohe: We want the students to be socially aware and socially active if they choose. Violence in schools is a highly emotional issue, one I've trained extensively to fight. There are also school rules. It’s my experience that students do not respect rules that are not enforced. The "alternative discipline" allowed a consequence to result without a suspension on the student's record and also made a disciplinary action a learning experience, as all discipline should be.


Posted 10/12/2018




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