Clark-Pleasant school board candidates say growth a top issue

The top job of the Clark-Pleasant school board in the coming years will be to make decisions regarding opening or expanding schools, and staffing them, as the number of students continues to climb.

Both candidates for an at-large seat on the ballot this year said they are prepared to tackle the many questions that the five-member school board will face in terms of whether to build a new school or expand a school and how to pay for operating and staffing the buildings in light of financial restrictions brought on by property tax caps and Greenwood’s tax-increment financing districts.

A study completed a year ago showed that the number of students attending Whiteland schools doubled since 2000, and another 1,300 students were expected to enroll in the coming decade.

All voters in the Clark-Pleasant school district can cast a ballot in the race for the at-large seat being sought by former coach and athletics director Vernon “Butch” Zike and parent and former Central Nine Career Center teacher Brian Bair.

Zike, a current school board member who was a longtime teacher, coach and athletics director at Whiteland schools, said if re-elected he would continue to be responsible to taxpayers and look at all options. He cited recent redistricting and reinvesting money, and the possibility of expanding a school, rather than building a new school, as examples.

Zike said he welcomes the growth in the school district rather than the school face the challenge of a declining enrollment. Relationships with the neighboring city and towns that approve new residential developments, Greenwood, Whiteland and New Whiteland, are key, he said. The school district should work to have a say in the type of growth that is approved.

Bair, a technical engine trainer for Cummins Crosspoint who used to teach at Central Nine, said figuring out how to pay for schools and teachers due to the growth is key. He wants to make sure the school district maintains an acceptable student-to-teacher ratio.

Both school board candidates said that improving student achievement would be the main focus if elected.

Zike said his approach as a school board member is to set aside the funding for programs, and hold administrators accountable for academic achievement. Bair, too, said he would make sure that all employees and facilities have what they need to accomplish achievement goals.

Zike said, if re-elected, he would draw on his experience as a teacher, administrator, coach and athletics director when making decisions. His 40 years in education has shown him the importance of the relationship between the school board and the community. The school board must show the community that the board has the community’s best interest at the forefront, he said.

Bair is the parent of a Whiteland Community High School student and has also served on parent committees. He would draw on his previous experiences as an instructor and president of the teacher’s association at Central Nine Career Center.


Clark-Pleasant school board

Term: 4 years

Pay: $2,000

Duties: Review superintendent, approve school district budget, review and approve new school policy

Represents: All of Clark-Pleasant school district

Brian Bair
Brian Bair

Brian Bair

Family: Wife Laura (Caplinger) Bair, two daughters

Work: Technical engine trainer for Cummins Crosspoint, former diesel service technology instructor at Central Nine Career Center

Education: Graduate of Center Grove High School, currently enrolled in Ivy Tech Community College business administration program

Past political experience: None

Vernon S. (Butch) Zike
Vernon S. (Butch) Zike

Vernon S. (Butch) Zike

Family: Wife Teresa Zike, one adult daughter

Work: Head softball coach at Franklin College; retired as a teacher and athletics director at Whiteland Community High School

Education: Graduated from Whiteland Community High School, attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, bachelor’s degree from Franklin College and a master’s degree from Indiana University

Past political experience: Current member of the Clark-Pleasant school board


What are the three biggest issues facing your school district? How will you address them?

Bair: Growth of the schools and how to manage the growth concerning building expansions. Schools just redistricted. Other issues are to continue an acceptable student-to-teacher ratio and focus on quality of instruction vs. quantity of instruction. Would plan and be ready for what will be needed. “We will need physical buildings, and the staff to continue meeting the needs.”

Zike: Growth. All issues relate back to growth. With growth comes making sure we have enough room and money due to losing money to TIF districts and tax caps. Top issues are growth, money and the impact of TIF districts. Would be responsible enough to taxpayers not to put school district in a financial bind. Points to redistricting as a way school board has bought more time before running out of space in buildings. School board is making financial ends meet and reinvesting some pension funds to get paid off to free up some capital. Employees are getting raises, which should continue.

What is the most important thing you can do as a school board member to improve student achievement?

Bair: Ensure that all facilities and personnel have the needs and the means to accomplish the goals.

Zike: That is my biggest goal. In reality, let educators improve student achievement. Administration needs to know that is important. “We let them use their educational expertise and make sure we provide the funds to get the job done.” Would continue to let them do their jobs, but hold them accountable.

Do you favor adding any academic, sports or extracurricular programs, facilities or  facility upgrades? Why or why not? What curriculum changes would you suggest?

Bair: Would recognize future needs and do a needs analysis. Would look at the details and how it would impact the student body and the community, then decide to provide it or not. Have to know the need and the gain. Doesn’t have any current needs or projects and is not considering capital projects at the building level.

Zike: What is important is the kids. If students have something they want to do, and school district has the funds for it, then could be in favor of it. “That is a kid-driven issue, not a board-driven issue.” Said curriculum has been one of his top issues. Cited the STEM program and said school district needs to make sure that students have an education that allows them to go into post-secondary education and be successful or the job market. “I hope every day we are trying to educate students in a different way.”

What facility improvements, such as turf, outdoor labs, remodeling, expansions or  new buildings does your school district need? How will they be paid for?

Bair: Turf and football facilities are taken care of here recently. They just looked at Clark Elementary for potential updates. Would continue the needs assessments, and has been involved in parent feedback as they did redistricting. Constant prioritizing on a school board level and needs assessment. Would constantly ask who will see the greatest gain, and how many students will be impacted?

Zike: More room will be needed at the elementary level, but wants to examine how to add space without building a new school. Tax caps hurt building maintenance and bus replacement budgets the most. Must make sure existing facilities are maintained as well as possible. Could expand certain elementary schools, but have to see if common areas such as cafeteria are big enough. Will look at what is best for the taxpayer with solving our growth.

You are in charge of evaluating the district’s superintendent. What does your superintendent need to show to earn a positive evaluation?

Bair: Positive leadership, support from the top and facilitate for all the buildings to accomplish their goals and report back to the board on the good and the bad. Wants a high graduation rate.

Zike: First issue is there must be educational advancement. That is superintendent’s main job, and it must be done within budget. Superintendent is also in charge of the climate of our employees and wants happy, productive employees because that is when they do the most, and do their best.

The number of students on free and reduced-price lunch from low-income families has been rising. What can your district do to ensure all students receive the kind of resources and help they need to be able to succeed?

Bair: Said the free and reduced-price lunch program will continue. Schools have to identify students who are in need.

Zike: Must be a priority. “We do a great job of educating the college kids, but the mark of a great system is how well you do with special needs children and the children who suffer from poverty.” Schools make sure all kids are prepared from Day 1 with programs and making sure their needs are met with necessities, such as backpacks, pencils and haircuts. Most teachers make sure those kids are a priority to them and they spend a little extra time with them. Kids must know that we care.

How well is your school district preparing students for college? What more would you like to see offered, or what should be changed?

Bair: Doing an exceptional job with college preparation currently. School should focus on the skills gap, where there won’t be trade employees available in the next 10 years. Must also get students ready for a skilled trade job or a career outside the college path. “We need to make sure we are preparing everyone.“

Zike: Most important angle of that is the feedback. School is talking to graduates who send information back. He talks to students at Franklin College about if they were prepared, or what they were missing. Guidance department is getting more feedback to see where Clark-Pleasant needs to put more emphasis. Overall school does a good job with this.

How well do you believe your school district is preparing students for technical careers, including manufacturing, computer programing and nursing, which has been identified as a priority? What do you believe could be done better?

Bair: In cooperation with Central Nine and current programs in place at the high school, we are meeting those needs. We might look at career exploration programs at an earlier age for students who aren’t college-bound but are career-oriented, so they can explore the paths they are interested in, to get limited exposure.

Zike: School relies on Central Nine for vocational training but has also started the STEM programs. Students have lots of successes in vocational programs at Central Nine. STEM program will help tremendously.

Local public schools have been losing more students to private schools through the state’s voucher program. How can public schools remain competitive to retain and attract students?

Bair: In order to maintain, or continue to attract, you have to measure facilities in the same manner. Public schools and their funding are completely different than private schools and their funding.

Zike: Comes back to the educational system. Must make sure education is as good as can be in a safe environment. “We have many more resources than private schools, and we should make sure we are better than they are.”

What have you done to prepare for the job of a school board member? Have you attended school board meetings, requested documentation or met with any officials, educators or parents? What specific steps have you taken?

Bair: Has been involved in parent committees, was president of teachers association at Central Nine when he was an instructor there, and is a parent of a high school student.

Zike: Has worked in education for 40 years. That time has shown how important the relationship between the school board and school community is. If school community feels the board has their best interests, school will run smoother. Has been on town board, which prepared him to manage budgets. Understands needs of employees. Remembered what it was like to coach, be an athletic director, teacher and administrator. Will continue to reflect on those experiences when making decisions.

Enrollment continues to grow at Clark-Pleasant schools and officials are beginning to look at options for expansions or a new school. What can be done to manage growth now before a new school is needed?

Bair: Planning and exploring avenues to generate the funding, and where the funding should be coming from. Falls on town of Whiteland and New Whiteland and the city of Greenwood.

Zike: Not so sure that you want to manage growth. Is much better to be a growing district than to be losing students. Doesn’t want wild growth like in the 2000s, but growth is good. Key is to build relationships with other communities so they will ask how housing growth will affect the school district and give school input on the types of growth. Not asking to make the decision, but to give input on the types of growth.

The school district has questioned the city of Greenwood’s expansion of tax-increment financing districts because it captures new property tax revenue that the school could otherwise collect. What stance should the school district take on Greenwood’s TIF districts, and how should the city get across its message? Would you propose or support any changes in state law?

Bair: TIF districts were originally established, in part, for the schools, so that is where the money should be going. Franklin Township and busing is a prime example. Agrees with the stance so far of questioning Greenwood’s use of TIF districts. Have to see results of the first tax draws and assessments to identify the impact on Clark-Pleasant schools. Would act accordingly. State legislators need to ensure that the TIF money goes back to the governments it was intended for.

Zike: Would absolutely support changes in the law. TIF districts are necessary evils. They exist to grow a city, and grow an area, but you also need to make sure that growth is for things that will help your community, maybe not a swimming pool. It makes it extremely difficult for the school district. Board has told superintendent to make sure he has a great relationship with the Greenwood mayor. Would like a Clark-Pleasant school board member, rather than a Greenwood school board member, to be on the Greenwood redevelopment commission.

If funding became so tight that programs would need to be cut, how would you decide? What would be a priority?

Bair: Would give pushback to the state and ask why funding is being cut when we are already declining on a global level. Numbers show that progressively the U.S. is falling behind on what is already done. Would have to look at the facts and figures and what can and can’t be cut in terms of requirements and diploma tracts. Would be forced to look at elective or optional courses.

Zike: First part of decision-making process is asking if it affects the quality of the education. Would try not to cut programs if educationally sound. Would look at the frills. Central office would be cut before in the classroom.

Do you favor selling naming rights to parts of schools, classrooms, scoreboards or buildings? What, if any, policies should be in place to accept advertising dollars? Who should be involved in approving the contracts?

Bair: The school board should have a great deal of involvement in the naming process. Policy needs to be reviewed. Community should have some involvement in it as well. Has some reservations about it. Wants to know the cost, and what is the gain for the student body and the community?

Zike: Has shifted his thinking. Used to think the school district didn’t want to do that. In today’s world, the naming rights of certain facilities can be sold if it is profitable and, whatever the naming right is, it is a positive for the community. Said the final say would have to be with the school board, and the funding would or should be shared across the school system.

If area businesses are willing to give schools thousands of dollars, why is the money being spent on athletics? Why is that the top priority? Couldn’t the advertisements still be displayed on a sports facility with the money going to academic or other programs?

Bair: As you accept those donations, follow the policies. But it would be of better benefit if it could go to the entire student body, rather than just one sport or just one venue.

Zike: Each person or company already knows how they want to spend their money. In reality, the school district gets more money for other projects because money is then freed up when a sponsorship is accepted. The school board doesn’t spend much of its money on athletics and the sports budget is less than 5 percent. He won’t tell someone how they can spend their money, but school district can look elsewhere to spend money that is available.

Most schools across the county give students devices, such as laptops and tablets, to use. Do you believe these devices are needed in the classroom? Why or why not? And how should schools measure the effectiveness of these devices to see how they are helping students learn?

Bair: They are needed in the classroom. This is where the workplace is headed, if not already there. Needed because you can get immediate response to check for depth of knowledge or understanding of material. To measure the effectiveness, you have to know where you are at, and what you are wanting to get to. After it is rolled out, did you examine data? What are you trying to improve?

Zike: That is what they are going to be using in the real world, and along with teaching them how to use those tablets and learn from them, they need to have the social skills of using those tablets. That can also be a help financially to the school corporation, because if they can access their textbooks on those devices, school can get rid of textbook rental fees. Devices are the wave of the future and need to make sure kids are learning how to use them while still in school.

School security has become more of a focus in recent years. Do you believe schools are safe enough? What else should be done to make them secure?

Bair: Society is constantly evolving. Safety measures in place are functioning. Need to check the drill assessment, whatever the threat might be, they have to constantly be working and functioning.

Zike: As soon as you think your schools are safe enough, you are in trouble. Nothing we can do to keep someone who wants in from getting in, but we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen. Schools have a police officer in middle and high schools every day who form relationships with children who could give them a heads up on potential problems.

The number of National Merit Scholars has been viewed as a measure of a school district’s achievement. Do you agree? What do you think the school district can do to get more students into this program?

Bair: It is a good achievement and accomplishment, but you have to put forth the policies and the procedures so that others see the reward behind obtaining it.

Zike: Number of scholars is a very small part of measuring achievement. School board has asked educators to add and suggest programs even at the middle school level that will improve the number of top achievers. Advanced Placement and college credit classes have expanded tremendously and success rate for passing those is going up. Hire good people and have good programs and eventually that will come.

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Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2774.