Chesterton Tribune


Vote for one in atlarge School Board race

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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 questionnaires.

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

(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? (50 words)

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 involvement.

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 benefit.

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 words)

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 here.

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 school.

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. (75 words)

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’ give-and-take.

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 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 spending process.

(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 students.

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 and coach.



Posted 10/5/2012