A Daily Journal reporter interviewed candidates for Clark-Pleasant school board on a wide range of issues. Use these pages as a guide in your voting decision.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATE
Name: James W. Klenner
Years lived in Johnson County: 43
Family: Wife Lisa; children, Taylor, 11, Nicholas, 10, and Thomas, 7
Work experience: Biological safety management at IUPUI, adjunct faculty of biology at IUPUC
Education: Graduated from Richland High School in Johnstown, Penn., bachelor’s from the University of Pittsburgh, master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, master’s degree from West Virginia University
Political experience: None
ABOUT THE OFFICE
Term: Four years
Duties: Developing policies, adopting the annual budget, determining salaries for all employees and hiring and evaluating the district’s superintendent.
Area district represents: Entire Clark-Pleasant school district
Who votes: All voters in the school district
Pay: $2,000 per year
What are the three biggest issues facing your school district? How will you address them?
Increased transparency, such as with the replacement of a board member. Is a need for more public participation. Is vital for the board to have less secrecy, less hands covering microphones and side chats during board meetings, and more doing what they’re hired by the people to be doing. Has heard complaints from parents about curriculum development and project-based learning that was implemented two weeks after it was brought to the board, with no time to adjust. Major changes to curriculum should be thought out. The pros and cons of a major change should be weighed out. Would look at the grading scale, which is currently one way in the elementary school, another way in the intermediate school and another way after that, but should be uniform. Puts students at a disadvantage if they’re scoring 92.5 or 91.6 percent against students from Center Grove who might get the exact same score but a different letter grade. Clark-Pleasant students at a disadvantage in college applications. He has a vested interest because he has three children in the school system. He considers serving on the board a way to be involved on a system-wide scale instead of an extracurricular scale.
What is the most important thing you can do as a school board member to improve student achievement?
The main way to improve student achievement would be to adopt a common uniform grading scale through all grades and AP coursework. That would encourage students to challenge themselves, such as in advanced placement courses.
Do you favor adding any academic, sports or extracurricular programs? Why or why not? What curriculum changes would you suggest?
As far as adding sports, there aren't too many gymnastic school teams in the area or in the conference, but there’s a deep well of talent at Clark-Pleasant. The school district must be financially able to create programs and purchase equipment. Wants to make high school a technical school that gets students ready for college and beyond. Should have post-baccalaureate science and math programs, and could expand chemistry and physics. Could be difficult finding a teacher because not everyone knows organic chemistry at the master's level or the bachelor's level. Wants extracurricular programs to keep students focused. Would remain open to good strong proposals. If students want to open up a drama club, would give them the opportunity. Favors adding extra programs, but must distinguish between wants and needs. Cross-country cycling would not be a need, so the board must look at whether there are the means to do that. Would really reevaluate project-based learning pros or cons and whether it’s relevant to the district. Thinks curriculum should be reviewed every year to see if anything is missing or if something is wrong. As a former scientist, believes in gathering information and making informed decisions.
If funding became so tight that programs would need to be cut, how would you decide? What would be a priority?
Believes the best way is look at what would affect the least number of students. Would prioritize core curriculum that students need to have to graduate. Would prioritize programs that students need to be successful, for college admissions or to enter the workforce. Would look at cutting elective classes with fewer students, the ones that would cause the least pain all around. Has no specific answer until the school district must face the problems.
Administrators across the county say that the number of students dropping out of schools is an issue that must be addressed. What methods would you propose to keep students in school or bring back students who have dropped out?
Thinks Whiteland has an excellent graduation rate. Would look for any commonality with students who drop out, and if they have to or want to leave school. Would find out demographics, work to help support the families with assistance or find out a way to keep them interested, such as with extracurriculars. Must find out what would keep them in school if they want to leave. Districts such as Chicago have 40 to 50 percent dropout rates, while Whiteland’s dropout rate is in the single digits. Would like to see a 100 percent graduation rate.
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?
For buildings, yes. At the university level, the largest donor gets their name on a building. With a scoreboard or athletic facilities, the schools must be prudent about who that sponsor is and see if they’re appropriate because students would see that sign every time they go to a game or meet. First decision would be by athletic department. Would then bring to the school board as a monetary issue, because it would bring money to the schools. General policy would be vague. Could have guidelines but would look at each proposal case by case.
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?
Not sure that donated money immediately goes to athletics. Thinks that money first goes into the general fund. If the district sells advertising, not sure that money would immediately go to football program. Wants to know if the money could be used to buy classroom equipment, such as to go from regular whiteboards to interactive whiteboards.
What facility improvements, such as turf, outdoor labs, remodeling, expansions or new buildings does your school district need?
Doesn’t think new buildings are a need or even a want right now. Knows the middle school has empty classrooms. Unless kindergarten enrollment booms in the future, thinks classroom space is sufficient for the number of students. For improvements, the board must consider whether buildings have any issues such as cracked walls. Must look at wants and needs, whether the school district has the money and whether it would really benefit the district.
Schools want to recruit students in order to collect the most money from the state. Should schools recruit students? If so, how should this be accomplished? Should money be spent on advertisements, public relations employees or consultants or websites?
Clark-Pleasant must first meet its needs first before looking outside the boundaries. Not sure active recruiting by the school board is needed when the corporation is excellent in academics, sports and programs that attract from outside the schools’ boundaries. Schools’ four-star classification is a huge advertising piece. The website is not much of a financial burden and is an excellent resource. He could support the development of a website if someone gave him a valid reason about why the website would be needed.
Property tax caps are making it difficult for districts to replace buses, upgrade buildings and technology, and in some cases pay down their debt. What is the biggest problem your district faces because of property tax caps, and what ideas do you have to solve them? (Clark-Pleasant, Franklin, Edinburgh)
The biggest challenge with the property tax caps is the declining housing market and home values across the country. The decline means less property tax income for the schools. The school district is powerless to change that and must hope for the economic rebound. When the economy does rebound, and housing values are elevated, that will bring in more property taxes. The school district could look at textbook rentals and other fees to offset the cap losses.
You are hiring/in charge of evaluating the district's superintendent. What qualities are you looking for in your school's leader/what does your superintendent need to show to earn a positive evaluation?
Is looking for someone with knowledge of the school corporation, not a former superintendent who’s familiar with any district that’s run differently than Clark-Pleasant and would impose that. Adaptability, working with others and inspiring confidence in others. Has seen others who are set in their ways and find it hard to adapt. They might not be open to other ideas and may not always hear concerns. Wants a candidate to convince him they are the leader Clark-Pleasant needs. The school district must get the biggest value out of its money. Is like buying a car, which has to meet the family’s needs and be a good fit.
School districts are spending more money and time developing online courses, and many of them mimic courses that have already been developed elsewhere. Should your school district continue to develop more online courses? Why or why not?
With development of online courses, schools must consider whether everyone in that course has a computer or access to the Internet at home. Some students could benefit from online courses and have the opportunity to take a class they normally couldn’t. When administrators present proposals to the board, would consider how the proposed courses would benefit the school corporation and the student.
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/help they need to be able to succeed?
Monitoring demographics is crucial. School has an increasing need, but he thinks that’s due to the economy. Must ensure the monitoring process is in place. If the school district fails one child, have failed them all.
Currently, the school district has an interim superintendent. The school board is in charge of hiring the superintendent. When do you want to get a new leader in place? Is it important for the school board to move quickly on this issue?
Thinks the latest start is the 2013 school year. Could be a new school board member after January, since an incumbent is running against three others. Could pick a superintendent in time for he or she to be involved with the budgetary process and have a say in that process. An interim superintendent can maintain the process and run the entire corporation. There’s not an immediate need, and must find the proper fit for the school district.
What qualities are most important to you in a candidate for a new superintendent?
Wants a leader with excellent communication skills who’s adaptable. Must look at the long-term objectives of the school. What works elsewhere may not work in Whiteland. Believes the strength of a leader comes from the bottom up, from the faith of subordinates. Must open lines of communications.