By JEFF SCHULTZ
and KEVIN NEVERS
In the general election on Nov. 6, William Barkow, Dane Lafata, John R.
Marshall, and Daniel Lee Vondrasek Sr. will vie for the open seat on the
Duneland School Board. Early voting begins on Tuesday, Oct. 9.
All seats on the Duneland School Board are non-partisan and all voters vote
in each School Board race.
The Chesterton Tribune invited all four to respond to candidate
The Tribune set word limits and reserved the right to edit for
(1) Age, place of residence, occupation.
Barkow: 70, Chesterton, retired from Bethlehem Steel and former Duneland
school bus driver.
Lafata: 31, Chesterton, computer programmer and owner of Lafata Tax
Service in Valparaiso.
Marshall: 56, Westchester Township, president of 1st American Management
Company Inc., a property management firm.
Vondrasek: 60, spare-time fossil hunter.
(2) What are your qualifications for service on the Duneland School Board?
Barkow: I have specific education, talents, and practical experience
useful in facing the challenges the school board is facing. My B.S. from
Purdue was concentrated in business training and testing; my MSBA and MBA
from Indiana University, in business and labor relations. I’ve served on the
CHS Positive Life Committee.
Lafata: As a business owner I am responsible for budgeting for the
success of the firm. As a computer programmer I have seen how technology has
changed the work environment. Also, in 2011 I was appointed to the Town of
Chesterton’s Tax Abatement Advisory Committee.
Marshall: I previously served as a School Board member for six years,
have achieved Master Board Member status with the ISBA, and am active in the
community and on several organizations which work closely with the schools.
I make decisions informed by my professional experience and by my community
Vondrasek: I have a strong background in business as well as 20-plus
years in law enforcement. Over the last 38 years I coached diving. I will be
working for families and kids, to bring them the best money can buy. I think
outside the box and believe in “Yes, we can.”
(3) Why have you decided to run for the board? (75 words)
Barkow: The School Board represents
the community in its desire and need to have tax dollars spent wisely to
educate its youth. The school board is not an honorary club of kindly
grandparents warmly basking in the glow of accomplishments of grandchildren,
nor should it be an extension of the state enacting the policies of the
downstate politicians. It represents the citizens and interests of Duneland
in promoting the future of the community.
Lafata: Since 1943, I’ve had grandmothers, mothers, aunts, uncles, and
brothers in the DSC. I currently have daughters, sisters, and cousins there.
I will have nieces in the DSC. I have lived the Duneland difference; I
participated in athletic teams, academic teams, and honors programs. I value
every opportunity I had with the DSC and want to make sure the students that
are coming through the DSC will have the same opportunities and more.
Marshall: I truly love being part of the educational process. To work
within an organization that helps establish policy that molds our
community’s future leaders, is one of the most rewarding things I can ever
do. When you work closely and regularly with these students, as I do, you
see firsthand the outstanding job our school system does and you can’t help
but want to participate in that process and improve it for our children’s
Vondrasek: Two years ago we were told that we welcome the competition
from the new Discovery school, and they are kicking our backsides with an
enrollment of a 100 new students. They are adding another grade and hiring
and we are cutting back. All of this could have been avoided if we had
someone to listen to the community instead of “Welcoming the Competition.”
Now it is time to start to win. I hate to lose.
(4) What specific priorities would you propose for action by the board? (75
Barkow: Effective school boards are not micromanagers. The School Board
should establish a vision supported by policies targeting student
achievement. Student achievement is not one-size-fits-all. Students vary
widely in background and abilities. Business productivity guru Charles
Deming believed that you must understand and control the variability of
incoming raw material in order to control and improve output. I believe that
schools are different from factories, but there is something to be learned
Lafata: I would set the goal of making all the Duneland School
Corporation Schools 4-Star schools. Currently only four schools achieved
this honor in the DSC. That puts us on par with the Penn-Harris-Madison
School Corporation and the Crown Point School Corporation. However, we are
behind the Carmel Clay School District (87 percent of their schools). We
need to learn from the teachers what each school needs to become a 4-Star
Marshall: Growth in technology is going to be critical, as is getting
creative with curriculum with teachers’ input. Maintaining and attracting a
superior administrative, teaching, and support staff. Working with
administration to improve the lines of communication from the bottom to the
top. Requiring and encouraging all staff to be part of the educational team.
Trying to provide the finest in education for our students while living
within the funding constraints placed on us downstate.
Vondrasek: I would like to see all school spending prioritized; all who
were laid off rehired; every expenditure and revenue posted on line. I want
the superintendents to sit in front of the School Board at meetings; sitting
with members sends a bad message. I want Dunelanders to be able to contact
any School Board member: open door policies to all. I plan on saving teacher
jobs. And recess needs to go back to 20 minutes.
(5) Evaluate the record of the Duneland School Corporation’s administration.
Barkow: We have very good
administrators. Not all would agree on specific issues and their viewpoints
must be heard also. The School Board must become data driven and reevaluate
policies to see if existing policies are giving the results we want. If we
see a need to change policies, then we must also reevaluate the
administrators to see if their philosophies are compatible with the School
Board’s direction. This requires transparency and both parties’
Lafata: The Duneland School Corporation’s administration has done a
great job. Only a few school corporations have received four 4-Star schools.
My daughter has everything she needs to be successful in her school. With
the change to state funding there have been many challenges and the Duneland
School Corporation’s administration has done whatever it takes to keep the
Duneland Schools some of the best in the state.
Marshall: As pertains to the financial management of the school system
during the recent funding crisis, our board has done a fine job. We were
more prepared for this shortfall than any school system around, after
previously making many reductions in expenses without harming programs and
education. There’s always room for improvement, with state test scores and
individual school ratings being two areas we should focus on. But generally
our administration has done a fine job.
Vondrasek: The football field: not managed very well, pushed too fast.
The referendum: agreeing to a bonus when we spent $50,000 or more was not
very cost efficient.
Building a high school in the middle of a swamp: priceless.
The board meets for one hour per month and they are not keeping their eye on
the ball. They are too dependent on the superintendents and don’t stop by to
see how the operation is working.
(6) How would you encourage interaction between the school corporation and
the community—taxpayers and parents? Do you support a public-comment item on
the monthly School Board meeting agenda? (75 words)
Barkow: Members of the school board must be approachable. You can
contact me at BarkowOnBoard@gmail.com I am promising to “Listen, question,
and respond.” I do support a public-comment item on the School Board’s
meeting agenda. Yes, sometimes some person may take advantage of that to
rant, but there may be germs of truth that should be heard. We are
representing all the community.
Lafata: Yes, I support public comments at board meetings. Not only does
the public have concerns the board needs to hear, they will have several
good ideas for the board to consider. To encourage interaction, I would like
to set up a website so the public can view the meetings at home. I
understand how being able to view the meetings while getting a child ready
for bed would be a great opportunity to stay connected.
Marshall: As a past member I remember sitting at school board meetings
and seeing maybe three or four people in the audience on most nights, which
was discouraging. Encouraging parents to get more involved in parent/teacher
organizations and providing an inviting atmosphere for parents and taxpayers
to attend board meetings would be beneficial. I would support a
public-comment item on the agenda with questions limited to that evening's
business and addressed by the superintendent.
Vondrasek: The community should feel the School Board listens to their
ideas. And acts on them. The meeting is the people’s meeting; all have a
right to be heard. We may have to change a few bylaws but I can see giving
the public a 10 to 20 minute block, for any person to have a say on that day
as long as they also understand they may not get an immediate answer.
(7) How transparent should the use of the school referendum money be? Should
the Citizen Review Committee meetings be open to the public? (75 words)
Barkow: I believe that taxpayers should know how their money is being
spent. Closed doors invite abuse of trust.
Lafata: The use of the referendum money needs to be transparent. We have
been given a gift from the Duneland community, they voted to increase their
taxes for the good of the local schools. We owe it to them to show that this
money was needed and well spent. The Citizen Review Committee meetings
should be open to the public and should be viewable online for the community
members that cannot get away during the meetings.
Marshall: The current administration has always been transparent during
the budget process in late summer and fall. The board’s budget meetings are
open to the public and there is currently a public-comment portion during
the process that few take advantage of. I would want the committee meetings
to be as productive as possible. The public should feel free to communicate
directly with individual committee members without having to attend meetings
away from family.
Vondrasek: I would place a huge spot light on the budget. I don't just
want a few people to go over the spending of the new tax. I would like
everyone to go over it. I will insist that the Citizen Review Committee be
open at any point in time. This way everyone will feel they can have some
input into the taxes and keep a eye on their taxes as they go though
(8) Do you approve of the specific Duneland budget cuts since the state’s
funding formula was changed in 2008? (75 words)
Barkow: I could not at this point
catalogue all the specific cuts since the state’s funding formula was
changed. I generally believe our administration did the best job possible to
meet the goals. To get involved in the specifics gets close to micromanaging
which I believe the board should not do.
Lafata: While I never like to see staff positions ended or unfilled, I
do believe the School Board did the right thing after the state’s funding
change. Duneland receives $4,971 per student; this is under the state
average of $5,664. Being able to maintain our students’ level of education,
while being in the bottom half of the per-student funding, shows the
Duneland School Board has made the difficult decisions they needed to make.
Marshall: The cuts since 2008 have mostly gone unnoticed by the
community and were made without affecting education. Necessary cuts to
operational expenses, staff, and benefits protected core education and only
after these moves were exhausted did the referendum become the only choice
left to protect jobs and programs. The system got as lean as possible across
the board without drastically affecting classrooms. I approved those budget
cuts, which is not to say I liked them.
Vondrasek: Cutting teaching staff is not how we do it, we don't trim a
tree at the roots, and I think more administration positions were saved
under the good old boy act.
Although the board has cut their pay, as I have heard, I want the board to
do what I'm going to do and not take pay or insurance. Do we pay insurance
to a part-time worker?
(9) With the money from the referendum, should the schools work to restore
positions and programs which have already been cut? (75 words)
Barkow: The schools should not
automatically restore any programs that were cut just because the referendum
passed. Things change. There may be other projects or programs that have new
priorities. Every program should be reevaluated. The evaluation may not take
as much time as there is experience with the old program, but restoration
should not be automatic.
Lafata: Yes. In the last two years the Duneland School Corporation has
abolished 35 positions. Seventeen of them have been teachers. That leads to
larger class sizes, less one-on-one attention for the students, and less
individual help for students. There is nothing more important than teachers.
As for the programs each one needs to be evaluated on how it benefits the
students involved. Many of the programs are needed to create well-rounded
Marshall: We heard during the referendum process that the General
Fund—88 percent of which goes to salaries, benefits, and programs—was hit
the hardest and that if the referendum didn’t pass, staff, benefits, and
programs would be lost. So in my thinking, 88 percent of the referendum
funds should go to restore eliminated positions and programs. The Duneland
Difference, bottom line, is about quality education and those professionals
lucky enough to be part of the process.
Vondrasek: Yes, I did not want to see anyone laid off, the positions
that were lost in the previous cut should be the first back, along with the
programs. Then I would like to see us hire veterans to the roles of teacher