Reporter Tom Lange interviewed candidates for Center Grove school board on a wide range of issues. Use these pages as a guide in your voting decision.
ABOUT THE CANDIDATE
Name: Rob Richards
Family: Wife, Marianna; children, Eric, Aaron and Ashley
Employment: General manager at Indy Family Farms
Education: Graduated from Center Grove High School, Purdue University and Indiana University
Previous political experience: Ran for Center Grove school board in 1988
ABOUT THE OFFICE
Center Grove school board
Race: Three candidates are running for two open at-large seats.
Duties: The candidates who are elected will work with the board’s other three members to approve academic policies and course changes, approve the school district’s budget and evaluate the superintendent.
Term: Four years
Pay: $2,000 per year, plus $50 per meeting
What are the three biggest issues facing your school district? How will you address them?
Revenue, which is definitely tied to enrollment. Revenue is subject to the economy. It's important to understand and do a good job of forecasting revenue based on student numbers so that the planning cycle is far enough ahead that the school board can plan accordingly. Center Grove needs to continue to improve test results and college entrance exams and state required tests. Safety is a concern because we’re living in a crazy world, and we need to keep that in the forefront and not get lax.
What is the most important thing you can do as a school board member to improve student achievement?
School board members have an all-encompassing roll in promoting achievement within the school district. Successful school districts need to have the proper tools, which today means having appropriate technology and professional development for teachers so they can use the latest techniques.
Do you favor adding any academic, sports or extracurricular programs? Why or why not? What curriculum changes would you suggest?
Doesn’t have enough information to provide something specific. Academics are first, and that ties into the curriculum. The second aspect is students’ overall achievement, to broaden their achievement before and after school so they’ll be productive citizens and have the best chance for success when they leave Center Grove.
If funding became so tight that programs would need to be cut, how would you decide? What would be a priority?
Priorities would be student academics. That’s means focusing on and maintaining the standards the state has for student achievement. Another priority is extracurriculars — before- and after-school programs, those that are learning events and experiences that will help students in their education beyond high school.
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?
Center Grove needs to work on retaining and maintaining and have other alternatives and different options available to parents for their children. The school district also needs to understand why a student left to see if there’s a gap, something that needs to be resolved or improved. Then schools need to attract students, not only to the area but also the school system. He would like to know some of the reasons why students leave. If Center Grove can resolve that, it might be able to attract students who have left back to the school district.
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?
Recognize the reason for the sponsorships is because of the funding challenges that schools are presented with today. Be thankful for those in the business community that are willing to partner with the school and other schools to alleviate some of the funding gaps. There are existing policies in place today, and anything proposed is reviewed against the current policies, though they could need to be revisited as more possibilities become available. Contracts come to the board. They get reviewed by the administration, who make sure the contract meets the school's criteria, and the board discusses and potentially approves it.
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?
Yes. Other groups besides athletics have the same kinds of funding challenges. The school board needs to look at the donation or the sponsorship that’s being offered — sometimes they have specific groups intended to receive the benefits. The hope is that other donations would be more open-ended so the district could decide where they should best be utilized.
What facility improvements, such as turf, outdoor labs, remodeling, expansions or new buildings does your school district need?
He is still learning and getting up to speed, but knows elementary schools are operating at capacity. Center Grove schools needs to evaluate West Grove elementary, which was closed because of funding issues. As far as he knows, the schools' athletic facilities are more than adequate. He’s uncertain about the extracurricular needs.
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?
There’s definitely competition for students with legislative changes, vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, and all of those alternatives to public schools. Center Grove needs to promote successes and accomplishment and show the advantages to attending its schools. That can be satisfied with improvement in communications, internally and externally. He wouldn’t advocate any significant expenses tied to that.
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?
The property tax caps tie in with the overall funding challenges. The difficulty is maintaining what the community and parents want, and balancing that with how much it costs to be able to meet those needs. Projects will need to be looked at on a prioritized basis, because there is a fixed amount of funding. The school board must be prudent in spending that money.
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?
The board and the superintendent need to work together closely, and collaboration and effective communication will be key to a superintendent’s success. A variety of goals for student achievement have been set by the state, and to accomplish those the superintendent as well as the school board need to act as one.
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?
He needs to learn what’s available and what’s not available. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — if it exists already, why spend resources to do that.
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?
He would need more information of what specifically is needed to improve students’ access to what they need for a good education, and whether that’s something schools can provide. But basically, Center Grove needs to be sure they’re providing low-income students with what’s needed so that they get all of the opportunities that other students have.
The school recently entered into a contract with a company for a new video scoreboard on the athletic field, and is considering selling naming rights to school facilities, including the athletic field. What involvement do you believe the school board should have on this issue? What safeguards should be put into place?
The school board needs to be both aware and part of the decision-making process. Lastly, they need final approval, based on the current policies. The safeguards are the policies, so the board and district need to follow the policy.
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?
The National Merit program is a reflection of the curriculum, the learning environment and the instruction. The school district needs to be able to support students who want to be a part of the scholarship program and who are willing to work for it. And if those students qualify, then yes, that's a measure of the school district's success.