Reporters Tom Lange and Magen Kritsch interviewed candidates for Franklin school board on a wide range of issues. Use these pages as a guide in your voting decision.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATE
Name: Joseph Skeel
Family: Wife, Becky; sons, Noah and Isaac
Employment: Nonprofit executive director, Society for Professional Journalists
Education: Graduated from Whiteland Community High School and Ball State University
Previous political experience: None
ABOUT THE OFFICE
Franklin school board
Term: Four years
Duties: Developing policies, approving the annual budget, setting salaries for all employees and hiring and evaluating the superintendent.
Total school board members: Five
Pay: $2,000 per year
What are the three biggest issues facing your school district? How will you address them?
The property tax caps and how the school corporation will deal with the losses from those caps. In Franklin, that is $2 million. Wants to look at streamlining every single service provided. Superintendent adopted a strategic plan this past year, and that strategic plan will help. Wants to find successes in each school building and communicate that information internally so resources aren't duplicated, and that success can be re-created elsewhere. The school district will need to make tough decisions on how to handle funding issues. Everything else will somewhat be related to that issue. The school district spent a lot of time, energy and money adopting that student plan, which should be used as a guidepost.
What is the most important thing you can do as a school board member to improve student achievement?
Board members set policy, provide the big picture and offer thoughts, questions and comments. The school corporation that works the best is the one who hires a gifted, energetic, superintendent and gets out of his or her way. School board members should represent the community, provide feedback, thoughts, questions and guidance as needed. Doesn't believe a school works best when the school boards gets too involved in how to accomplish things. The board should question, hold accountable and offer guidance and let the administration work to achieve goals.
Do you favor adding any academic, sports or extracurricular programs? Why or why not? What curriculum changes would you suggest?
Is in favor of adding anything that will enhance student engagement and achievement. Doesn't necessarily believe in adding a sport because a student will think it is fun. Athletics play a vital role in a young person's development. If an idea is suggested that helps student achievement, he is for it. Has no opinions on what curriculum should be taught in school. But there are national standards. Schools should adopt curriculum that will help in high school and add a path to college.
If funding became so tight that programs would need to be cut, how would you decide? What would be a priority?
The decision would be what affects the least amount of students. Hard to say what would be considered without knowing the options. Adapting to and utilizing the latest technology will be absolutely critical. Is a fan of the concept of the students bringing their own devices, such as laptops and iPads, at the high school level, instead of schools finding a way to spend money on those devices. Students would be more successful with a technology they are comfortable with and schools have an easier time making sure there are enough devices for everyone. The question is how do you handle children who don't have those devices? Will parents be OK with the idea that the school is not providing that?
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?
The key is finding ways to give those children success at a young age. Doesn't believe students who drop out are disenchanted with school at 15, 16, 17 but were engaged at a younger age. How do you engage parents and at-risk families so they understand the importance of school? Try to change culture within a family atmosphere. Early intervention is key. The school has to somehow involve families.
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?
Favors it. Believes the school district should have a policy outlining what advertisements or contracts are acceptable or unacceptable. Schools should be selective and smart. There are plenty of good community partners out there. A policy is critical. The school board would have the final vote. Believes the contract should start at the administrative level. The administration will fully understand the overall effect. But the school board would have to approve it. Legal counsel would be involved, as well.
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?
He questions that, as well. Businesses develop partnerships because of exposure. The easiest way to get exposure is on the scoreboard. Is critical the school district finds businesses that are willing to give that partnership. Some school districts have allowed advertisements on buses. That is one area a school corporation could examine whether it is feasible or doable. The school website might also be an opportunity to accept advertisements.
What facility improvements, such as turf, outdoor labs,remodeling, expansions or new buildings does your school district need?
Can't think of a single one at this point. Franklin is positioned well. The district has new and remodeled buildings. The school district also has to deal with tax caps. There are buildings that require maintenance, and that work is not cheap but is key to make sure they are lasting a long time. Can't think of anything, but is not opposed to adding something if it improves student achievement.
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 Web sites?
Doesn't believe schools should be recruiting students. Franklin is doing well with communicating directly with the public. In order to recruit, the school should be working to become the best option families have, instead of short-term gimmicks. The school district should invest time, energy and resources that lead to amazing student success, and when those things happen, people will come.
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)
To identify the biggest problem is challenging, because property tax caps create problems everywhere. One of the biggest challenges will be in the general fund. The school district must retain and track the best faculty, staff and teachers. Good people are the reasons for good success. The biggest challenge is absorbing losses and being competitive in terms of salary and benefits. The school district should look at ways to pay off debt, such as renegotiating terms. It is imperative to consider that option.
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?
No. 1 is the ability to lead and to lead from within. The school district needs a leader that has a track record of hiring well. The superintendent will be evaluated on how far they have come. With finances or students achievement, is the school district in a better place this year than it it was last year? Is not a strong supporter of hard and fast measurable goals. Looks at the overall big picture, instead of looking at whether someone met bullet points.
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?
The school district should not re-create the wheel. If online courses are already out there, the district should use those. The district is not competing with anyone. Time, energy and money should not be used to develop something that is already out there.
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?
That is a huge challenge and a community issue. Next to property tax caps, it is probably the second largest challenge. Comes back to the family culture. Understands the challenges of adapting and changing. Schools only have the children for a certain number of hours a day. Schools can provide programs and services that will identify the at-risk students and change the culture. Schools can only go so far. Schools are being forced to offer social services as much as education, and it is tough. When schools have to play that role more, does it take energy away from other resources?
The school district has been discussing a long-term plan for its debt and financial shortfalls. What do you think needs to be done? What cuts can be made? When should this decision be made?
A decision has to be made now. Cuts should not come at the expense of student achievement. Letting go of teachers and cutting services has to be a last resort, but sometimes that is the only thing a school district can do, and that is tough. The school district needs to consider extending payments on debt, if that allows keeping more faculty and teachers. Any cuts should hurt the least amount of students.