Those running for Duneland School Board in the upcoming General Elections
are confident they can bring new energy and ideas to the front but all of
them agree on one thing – communication needs to improve in order to advance
the schools and the community.
All six candidates were present at Monday’s forum hosted by the Duneland
Teachers Association at Chesterton Middle School with DTA co-president
Michelle Bartles moderating. About 30 Dunelanders braved the windy weather
to hear the six give their views.
Running for the Jackson Twp. seat is incumbent Nick Jurasevich, who has
filled the seat for ten years, and his challenger Kristin Kroeger. William
Barkow, Dane Lafata, John Marshall, and Dan Vondrasek, Sr. are battling for
the at-large seat left open by outgoing school board member Janice Custer,
who is leaving after serving a total of 16 years.
All voters in the Duneland School District can vote in both races. Election
Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Candidates running for school board are all non-partisan.
Candidates – At large
Barkow said the major challenge facing the board would be to keep its
finances in line. He cited his 30-plus years of experience of budgeting work
at Bethlehem Steel and his MBA in business and labor relations from Indiana
University as skills to make him a qualified candidate. He has served on the
CHS Positive Life committee and Rebuilding Duneland Together. The board, he
said, needs to find a way to influence state legislators to improve funding
for schools and be there to support the Duneland teachers and staff. Board
meetings need to give the public a chance to discuss issues openly. “The
community needs to know what we are doing and why.”
Lafata, who owns Lafata Tax Service in Valparaiso, is a Duneland parent and
a CHS graduate. He said his motivation in seeking a board seat is to help
teachers like the ones who inspired him as a student and let parents know
the issues. Lafata feels the current board is too “closed and secretive” and
vowed to make the board approachable if elected. He said board meetings
should be streamed over the Internet for parents too busy make it to the
meetings. It should not be a big expense for the school to do so, he said.
Former school board member John Marshall, president of 1st American
Management Company, said the school corporation needs to make known its
short and long term financial planning. An active member in the community
since he and his wife moved to Duneland more than 20 years ago, Marshall
said opening up the lines of communication with parents, teachers,
administration and students is a must for a school board member who must
also “keep your pulse” on the community. He said the state of communication
between the schools and community needs to “drastically” improve and
residents should be able to address the board freely during meetings.
A diving coach for 38 years, ten of them at CHS, Vondrasek said he also
spent years as a security officer for the U.S. Air Force. He said he would
always have “an open door” for anyone with questions. Board meetings should
have a public comment time where residents can address their questions and
get answers. It is fine if the board cannot answer the question right away
just as long as they are heard, Vondrasek said. Teachers should have
contracts with the corporation and every check written by the schools should
be visible to the public, he said.
Jurasevich, a permanent deacon at St. Patrick’s, is seeking reelection to
add to his 10 years of serving the community and advance ways the board can
have a positive influence in the life of a student. Four components the
board should possess according to Jurasevich are honesty, leadership,
integrity and approachability. He encourages parents to join school
committees wherever possible to “get a sense of ownership” and he supports
transparency in the use of referendum funds.
Kroeger believes her 20 years as a change advocate for corporations will be
valuable to the Duneland Schools as she anticipates major changes are on the
way. She said her financial experience includes deposit conversions when
Bank One merged with J.P. Morgan, the largest in banking history. The
schools need to be proactive in communication, starting with the school
board, she said. In the future, Kroeger would like to see the board
regularly hold two public meetings, one specifically for holding open
discussion on issues while the other should be for conducting business. “We
need to do things differently and that’s why I am here,” she said.
to go forwards
When asked what would be their number one priority, many candidates said
they would work to restore what has been cut from the budget since 2008 when
the state ceased using local property tax to build the schools’ General Fund
and shifted toward income tax revenue.
Barkow said his top priority would be to start conversations with the
administration and the teachers in order to determine which directions they
would like to take.
Lafata said board meetings are sparsely attended and having a time for
public comment would get more residents to show up. He said he knows people
who had good ideas but did not get the chance to bring them before the
board. “We’ve got to find a way to knock down these walls that (block) these
ideas,” he said.
Marshall said the important thing to him would be to restore budgets to
where they were prior to 2008, including coaches and aides, using the money
collected from the 22-cent referendum. “To look forward, we need to look
back,” he said.
Also advocating use of the referendum money be transparent is Vondrasek. For
his part, Vondrasek said he would strive to make it so the superintendents
would not sit up with the board during a meeting as gives the appearance of
“cronyism.” In addition, Vondrasek said he would like to centralize the
administration combining the work of two or three current superintendents
Jurasevich pledged to do “whatever I can to be fiscally responsible” and
said the best thing the board can do is to support a positive education for
the students and “explore new avenues” to enhance that.
Kroeger recommends forming an action council to work with state legislators.
Disagreeing that the board “needs to go backwards to go forwards,” Kroeger
said the corporation would benefit from having a long-term vision planning
the next five to seven years. “The referendum is a band-aid. We need
something where we can show our return on investment,” she said.
Next, candidates were asked to tell what characteristics they would look for
if ever hiring a new or assistant superintendent.
Lafata said the candidate should have a background of leading a small school
successfully or be someone inside the School District.
Marshall said he or she would have to be creative with a solid financial
sense. They must also possess great communication skills and “be a
cheerleader for what we do here in Duneland.”
Vondrasek echoed Marshall’s comments and added if the board picks a new
superintendent the teachers should be allowed to weigh in on the process so
they can pick someone they are comfortable with.
Jurasevich said a superintendent should be a great communicator on all
levels and visit every building in the Duneland system to assess their
needs. The person should not be afraid to make unpopular decisions if he or
she feels it is in the best interest for the corporation, he said.
Kroeger said the superintendent must be able to lead people through change
and inspire employees by bringing attention to the district’s most distinct
Barkow said the prospective superintendent would have to be able to build
good rapport with the board through discussions and be aware of the
challenges before them.
Further questions posed to candidates included how bullying should be
handled and whether they favored expanding vocational trade classes.
Vondrasek said he is against bullying as it leads to other problems later in
life. He said vocational programs should be expanded as they would provide
each student with numerous skills that would prepare them for the future “We
all have our specialty and this is a specialty we need to have.” The board
can explore other ways to expand by partnering with community schools like
Ivy Tech, he said.
Jurasevich said there are clear guidelines against bullying already set by
the corporation but it does not address new types of bullying such as
cyber-bullying where students harass other students on social media
websites. Policies do need to reflect that a student can feel free to report
bullying confidentially without fear of ramifications, he said.
Kroeger said she has supported school safety by assisting the Duneland
Education Foundation in providing grants for anti-bullying in education. She
favors Duneland’s vocational programs and said the board should explore
implementing other programs within their means.
Barkow said vocational programs today should make more use of technology and
mathematics as jobs now require a variety of skills.
Lafata said an anti-bullying policy needs to be written in a way that
students can comprehend the many forms of bullying and not be “pigeonholed”
when reporting bullying.
Marshall suggested establishing a mentor program for bullied students as
well as a solid anti-bullying policy. He said Duneland’s vocational programs
now offer culinary and film classes and expanding to other programs is very
Essentially all candidates agreed on the question that teachers should be
offered coaching jobs before offering them to those outside of the school
corporation. Vondrasek said he would like job descriptions to tell the
difference between a level one, level two and level three coach.
The candidates also said they prefer to keep transportation, food, custodial
and technology services with Duneland employees rather than privatizing
In closing remarks, the candidates restated their positions that the board
should be loyal and open to the community in order to make effective and
responsible decisions, and to bridge the divide in community members caused
by the referendum which passed narrowly this year.