TIPP CITY — Tipp City voters, faced with narrowing down six candidates to three available seats, had a chance to hear from those running for school board Thursday night.
Board of Education candidates Don Watson, Theresa Dunaway, Jay Lopez, Andrew Venters, and Amy Stueve participated in Meet the Candidates night at L.T. Ball Intermediate School. The sixth candidate, Sam Spano, was unable to attend the event because of a prior obligation.
“We’re blessed to have six candidates and your chore is to narrow it down to three,” moderator Doug Mann addressed the voters. “We’re also in the midst of some pretty big decisions that could transfer over to the new board, so you want to make your choice carefully and with thought.”
Candidates introduced themselves to the residents, parents, teachers, and students in the audience before moving into a lightning round of yes or no questions. This was followed by a series of prepared questions and a number of questions submitted by the audience.
Don Watson introduced himself as a lifelong resident and a graduate of Tippecanoe High School, as well as a taxpayer.
Watson, who is retired, said that he is running for school board because Tipp City is close to his heart. He emphasized the preservation of the district’s historical buildings and favors supporting the district’s teachers, saying that he can remember every teacher he had.
Watson also pointed out that he is a regular at school board meetings and other district events.
“And if you had collected all my entries into ball games, you could have built a new stadium,” he laughed.
For Theresa Dunaway, running for school board is the “perfect marriage of my three passions: kids, education, and community.”
Dunaway, a stay at home mom with students in the district, said that she has the time to devote herself to the position and to do the research on issues facing the district.
“You have to be working for every student every day,” Dunaway said. “Anybody can do anything with a great education.”
Dunaway introduced herself as a Tipp City transplant who has involved herself in the school district since her family moved here. She served as the levy fundraising chair for the last levy and is also leading a campaign to raise money to purchase new Chromebooks for the schools.
“We’re at a critical point in time,” Jay Lopez said, referencing the issues facing the district, including the building plan.
In his introduction, Lopez said that his work as an attorney advocating for minors and his service on the Edison Community College paralegal board qualifies him for a seat on the school board.
“I am the person to advocate for the students and the people of the community,” he said.
He is a lifelong Miami County resident and said that he and his wife have a long-term investment in the district: their young children.
“I don’t come to this with any particular agenda. I don’t have any pet issues or anything that I’m trying to advance,” Venters said. “I’m here because I have three kids that are going to be students in this district.”
Andrew Venters said his goal as a school board member would be to ensure a top notch education for all students in the district.
“I want to make sure that the schools remain an asset to the whole community, even for the people who don’t have kids in school,” he said. “The school district is very much the heart of the town.”
Venters is also an attorney with experience working with troubled children, he said.
He said he would offer a “common sense perspective,” and said he believes the role of the board is to provide oversight and accountability.
Amy Stueve said that as her children have grown up, she has had various levels of involvement in the school district. While she has previously considered running for school board, she believes now is the right time.
Stueve, a pharmacist whose family moved to the district for the quality of the schools, said that she has thoroughly researched the role and responsibilities of the position.
“Our school district and our community face many challenges ahead and the only way we will accomplish our goals is for all of us to work together to the best of our own ability,” Stueve said. “As a scientist and a person, I believe that decisions must only be made based on all available information.”
The candidates then shared their thoughts on several issues facing the district.
Each of the candidates sees school facilities as a top priority for the district, though ideas on the issue differ.
While Watson sees facilities as a priority, he voiced his disapproval of the current building plan, which was approved by the board earlier this summer after previous plans for a new K-8 building fell through.
“I am against it, as I said, because I think we didn’t study it or research it,” he explained. “We spent five years on [the previous plan] and in a month’s time we switched to a preK-3 on the Broadway site.”
Watson also said he believes that the district should build schools in neighborhoods so that students can walk to school and that the district should not waste its historical heritage by demolishing the 1916 building on the Broadway site.
“The most important thing that we need to do in this school district is to put a levy on to build new schools,” Lopez said. “That’s what I’m here to do.”
The candidates also discussed the pros and cons of state co-funding for building projects, something the current board voted to move forward without.
Dunaway said that state co-funded projects take longer to complete than locally funded projects and come with more strings attached. Venters agreed, using the example of a coupon with limiting conditions.
“It’s like you have a 25 percent off coupon at a car dealership and you show up and they say, ‘Here are the cars you can choose from.’ It’s not quite the right size you want and it’s not the right color, but that’s what you can use the coupon on,” Venters said. “And if you want some air conditioning and a stereo, that’s not covered either.”
Stueve said that state co-funding is a bigger help for school district’s in lower income areas. She pointed out that 25 percent co-funding might not be worth it when the district would also have to comply with state regulations.
Most of the candidates mentioned the recent survey which shows that the majority of residents favor new schools over a new stadium. The candidates all agreed that, while educational facilities and athletic facilities are both priorities, new school buildings are more important.
“We do need a new football stadium. We are joining the GWOC and we are not equipped to handle Centerville and Beavercreek coming to our school. However, we cannot put two levies on at the same time, because I don’t think people will vote for them, quite frankly,” Lopez said.
“This community cares about teachers, buildings, and then the stadium,” Dunaway said. “We need to put the preK-3 building on the ballot and let’s pass it. The stadium can come at another time.”
Several candidates also suggested exploring local funding options for the stadium.
Watson said he does not support the construction of a new stadium on land the district recently purchased next to the high school, saying that the land is too rocky and construction would be too costly.
Stueve said that she supports keeping the stadium at City Park because it’s “part of the charm of Tipp City.”
Other district priorities
Watson and Venters agreed that the new school board needs to be forward thinking. Watson suggested developing a master plan for the schools.
All of the candidates praised the district’s excellent teachers and the quality of education offered.
“Certainly teacher retention is a high priority for the community. We have great schools, we have great teachers and we want to keep them. We want our teachers to be happy,” Lopez said.
Dunaway also advocated for transparency and open communication between the board and the community.
Each of the candidates agreed that the Common Core curriculum is “nonsense.” Lopez also urged the community to contact their representative to express their concerns with the Common Core.
The candidates were also united on the value of public education.
“The value of a public education is priceless,” Stueve said. She said that the board should continue to look for ways to improve the quality of education in the district.
“It’s what paves the way for opportunity in life,” Venters said. “I’ve been very lucky in my life and part of that is having gone through public education. So did my parents and my grandparents, so I’m happy to give back.”
“I believe that the main reason that most people live in Tipp City is because of this school district. They’re proud to be here and they want their kids to be in the district,” Lopez said. “I want to be a school board member to continue that tradition.”
“Education is the most important thing that ever happened to me in my life,” Dunaway said. She credits public education with all of her achievements. “I see the value in education.”
“Tipp City is close to my heart. I graduated from here,” Watson said. “I learned a motto in high school I’ve tried to follow my whole life: learning to do, doing to learn, and learning to serve.”