Transparency a Topic at SACS Candidate Forum

By Rachel Martin

November 1, 2012 Updated Oct 22, 2013 at 3:12 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) – Parents in the Southwest Allen County School district want to know what their school board is up to as transparency was one of the concerns raised at Thursday night’s forum for SACS School Board candidates.

Since this is the first time school board elections are happening during the general election, Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) decided to hold a candidate forum for those running for School Board.

The forum was put on by the student-run newspaper, the Spartana, at Woodside Middle School. Students involved with the newspaper organized the forum and came up with the questions for the candidates.

Topics like technology in the classroom, school funding and school policies were brought up. But a recurring issue brought up by both incumbents and challengers was that of the proposed $1 million tennis facility.

Challengers, like Jason Kuchmay, running for 2nd District, say the current school board wasn't open with the community about those plans. Incumbents like John Blum (1st District) and Mark Gilpin (2nd District) claim they were open and followed state school board guidelines on informing the public.

Despite the issue, voters like Jean Bansemer say openness is something they value in board members.

“You want a board that will listen if you have concerns. And no matter what the issue is, you want a board that's willing to listen to all opinions.”

Bansemer says she also likes the idea of doing more with the district's website. Candidates suggested posting detailed board minutes or even videos of board meetings.

The question of school funding came up. Students asked the candidates how they would vote when it came to raising property taxes for district funding. In 2008, the state changed its formula for collecting property taxes, leaving many schools strapped for funds. So in 2009, SACS put a general fund referendum on the May Primary ballot asking voters if they would be willing to pay more on property taxes to support the schools. The referendum passed and SACS generated approximately $24.5 million in funding.

Currently SACS ranks 353 out of 356 schools in the state for funding. Superintendent Steven Yager says although SACS has 1,200 more students than it did in 1999, the district is now getting significantly less in funding per pupil than it did 13 years ago. The referendum has a life span of seven years and will be up in 2016. Students asked the candidates if they would support another general fund referendum if elected. The candidates unanimously supported the idea.

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