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 Candidates Share Views on Superintendent Forum

March 19, 2008 - Four of five candidates challenging Charles A. Beard School Board incumbents in the May 6 election attended last week's public forum on the board's search for a new superintendent.

"I thought it was a positive thing for the school board to do," Brian Smith, a candidate for one of two Wayne Township seats up for election this year, told The Banner earlier this week. "I thought it was great that the people who did come spoke and that they had as much time as they wanted to speak."

Smith said he had been surprised that more people did not attend the March 11 forum. "I guess I had hoped there would be more," he said. "But I was pleased with the input that the citizens did provide." He said he thought the forum's objective- allowing the public to tell the board what they believe to be important characteristics in CAB's next superintendent - had been met and that he thought the board and public were in agreement on most of the desired characteristics.

Mark Fort, also a Wayne Township candidate, had a bit of a different take on the forum. While he said he thought it was a good idea for the board to want to hear the public's input, he said got the feeling that the forum was "more of a PR move." He said he didn't think the board was really listening to public concerns about a small cash-strapped school corporation having both a superintendent and a business manager.

"We need a superintendent who can handle both the financial and curriculum aspects of the job so we can save the taxpayers money," Fort said. "If we can save a dollar, let alone 70 grand, we better do it. They've got a chance to hire a superintendent who can do both. … There's somebody out there who can do both and save this school corporation money."

Ripley Township candidate Tim Wehr told the Banner he was glad the school board had the forum. However, like Fort, he added that he didn't feel assured that board members would heed the comments and concerns voiced by the public, a view also shared by the fourth candidate who attended the forum, Greensboro Township candidate Steve Dalton.

"In general, I was pleased with what I heard from our current school board regarding the search for a new superintendent," Dalton said. "Listening to the citizens of Knightstown is a step in the right direction. I'm concerned, however, that this meeting may have more to do with the fact that the elections are just around the corner."

Dalton said that if the school board really wanted to know what the public thought about their search for a new superintendent and other issues, they wouldn't require people to sign up days in advance if they want to address the board at their regular meetings. If elected, he said the first motion he'll make is to amend CAB's policy "to allow the citizens and taxpayers … to speak at meetings without signing up in advance."

Fort and Wehr also each expressed concerns about the search process the school board is utilizing to find a new superintendent. Specifically, they raised questions about the involvement of the four-member University Consultant Team in CAB's search and the revelation School Board President Mike Fruth made at the forum, that the board did not plan to review all applications that are received. Fruth had said the board will leave the UCT to do an initial screening, narrowing the field of applicants.

"I think if they have the opportunity to look at all of them, they should," Fort said of the applications. "I think they should look at as many as they can. If it was me, I'd like to look at 100 percent of the applications. Why are they having consultants tell them what they're going to do? The board should go through the applications and tell the University Team which ones it wants to interview - not the other way around."

Wehr agreed with Fort. He said he was concerned about whether the UCT could be trusted to identify candidates with the qualities the public wants, and said he felt the job of screening applicants was better left to the school board.

"If they had 2,000 applications, I could understand that," Wehr said. "But, if we've got 50 and they're going to cut it down to four, I'd want to see all the applications." During last week's forum, Fruth said CAB had received "dozens" of applications during the 2006 search to replace former Superintendent Hal Jester. Commenting on remarks made by several forum attendees, Dalton said he agreed that it's very important for the school board to go out to applicants' communities and do their own research on job candidates, and not just rely on the UCT. He said he didn't think this had been done before the 2006 hiring of former Superintendent David McGuire.

"Looking back, clearly that was a mistake," Dalton said of McGuire's hiring. "Dr. McGuire came to Knightstown, made significant changes, brought us a new legal team, increased our budget in several areas, and left us in the lurch after one year, forcing us to deal with the effects of several of his decisions. Hindsight is always 20-20, but our school board, by their own admission, could have done a much more thorough job and saved our school corporation a great deal of problems."


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