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: Vernon Stewart ‘Butch’ Zike Jr.
Family: Adult daughter
Work experience: Franklin College coach, recently retired as Clark-Pleasant athletic director and teacher after 38 years
Education: Graduated from Whiteland Community High School, attended U.S. Military Academy in West Point, bachelor’s degree from Franklin College, master’s degree from Indiana University
Political experience: Served on the New Whiteland town council for one term in the 1970s and one term in the 1980s
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?
The biggest issue is that the district needs leadership. The district has an interim superintendent and high school principal. Education is only as strong as leaders. That’s the first priority that needs to be addressed. The school board should select the principal and superintendent after getting public input about what they want and goals and objectives for the leaders. Second is financing, which must be a major concern. The school district must have a balanced budget and not spend rainy day money unless necessary. District has a great businessman in charge of that. Third is the principal, that choice is essential because schools have to have a leader that is strong in the academics. That person should have proposals to improve academics from the vocational offerings to the gifted students. Then student education and advanced college placement tests. Earning college credits while in high school needs to be a priority.
What is the most important thing you can do as a school board member to improve student achievement?
Must make sure the schools have all necessary programs. Board must hire somebody to do that. Board members should be supportive of whatever needs the schools have.
Do you favor adding any academic, sports or extracurricular programs? Why or why not? What curriculum changes would you suggest?
Thinks that new programs can always come up. Has 40 years of experience in education. Would let staff do their jobs and then give approval if that's what the community wants.
If funding became so tight that programs would need to be cut, how would you decide? What would be a priority?
Would look at cuts that would affect the least number of students. Would make sure student achievement is priority number one. Would consider the recommendations of the superintendent and principal. The priority would be keeping the programs that affect the most students positively, regardless of what they are.
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?
Our graduation rate is around 96 percent. The district makes every opportunity available to students who have trouble. The academy helps students who have trouble with the normal routine of school, and the program could possibly be expanded. Schools must have flexibility with scheduling because students could have jobs or families. Must consider situations of at-risk students, need to be flexible with alternative education, such as Central Nine Career Center classes they could take at night. There are reasons students drop out, and schools must look at the reasons and solve them, whether behavioral or family considerations or individual issues.
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?
Yes, does favor all of the above. Thinks schools should look at ways to fund programs, especially with funding cuts from the state. Athletics used to be able to get funds through school board but those have been reduced dramatically. Capital improvements have been cut to the bone. Naming rights to the stadium and advertisements need to be tempered but not eliminated unless they are harmful to the student, such as for alcohol, drugs or tobacco. Would watch the exclusive agreements. Thinks school board has to approve the contracts.
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?
That’s how businesses choose to spend money. The school can't decide that. Advertisers want the biggest bang for their bucks, and can get that by advertising through athletics. They earmark the money the way they want to because of their needs.
What facility improvements, such as turf, outdoor labs, remodeling, expansions or new buildings does your school district need?
Academically, the board is going to be able to look at group projects; some of those now are modifications of some classrooms. Fortunate at Clark-Pleasant that the buildings are pretty new and meet the needs right now for public and students. Science labs are something the district needs to to be able to improve on a yearly basis. New extracurricular opportunities come out every year. Artificial turf is something that could benefit physical education classes, the band and athletics.
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?
No, except for using websites. Website gets updated and is attractive to students and has really important information for the public. At this time, money could be spent in a better fashion. Schools should recruit students in their school districts. Can recruit with good programs that meet both vocational and academic needs. Is a new day in education where students go where they want. School programs must be good enough to retain and recruit students, and to add to schools instead of detract from them.
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 property tax caps cause all kinds of problems. Schools have less money to spend on programs that can only be as good as the money you have to spend on them. May have to keep buses a couple years longer. Maintenance of buses is exceptional, as state inspections show, but the school district may have to keep the buses longer than what is ideal. Such issues require proper planning. Schools need a five-year plan or a 10-year plan and must have flexibility enough to adjust when needs arise that were not anticipated.
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?
A leader must be academically talented and has to have experience running programs that were successful. Must be an honest person. Students, teachers and custodial staff need to feel important, so a candidate must be a people person. Must show he or she can be trusted. Must have solutions for test scores and climate of the school. Superintendent is an extension of the school board.
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?
Clark-Pleasant's virtual courses are ahead of most schools. Students and teachers developed those virtual online classes. They’re highly necessary to make sure that students can develop their educational potential. Colleges are offering more classes online, and tests are online, so students without an online basis are at a disadvantage. Technology is changing, but teachers will be still a facilitator. Virtual courses are the key to increasing the graduation rate.
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?
Clark-Pleasant is ahead of others. Numbers are increasing, but counselors in middle school and faculty are trained on the needs of students in poverty. Schools must consider what students are facing at home and be able to help them in that fashion. If students are at-risk, is extremely important to create a relationship with them. Would look at programs that provide backpacks and other free supplies. Schools have great programs that serve more than 500 students, but they could be expanded.
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?
Is important to move quickly on that issue. Must look at what the public wants. The superintendent represents the board. He is greatly in favor of what they're doing now, or trying to get a superintendent in place by next school year. Believes a superintendent should be in place as soon as possible but interim superintendent can serve until then.
What qualities are most important to you in a candidate for a new superintendent?
A superintendent has to have been successful at a larger school. Clark-Pleasant has grown and is so large that someone experienced is needed to come in and meet the needs of the community.