Hopefuls weigh in on school issues

MOUNT JACKSON – Candidates seeking the District 2 seat on the Shenandoah County School Board fielded questions at a forum on Monday.

The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce and the Shenandoah Forum and other groups organized a series of forums for each district and at-large positions, inviting candidates to speak and answer questions posed by the audience. Dozens of people attended the event at Triplett Tech, including candidates running for other local offices.

Joanie Jovatter and Barbara Bliss are challenging Richard “Rick” Koontz for his seat on the School Board. Each candidate had two minutes to make an opening comment. New Market attorney Jim Weissenborn moderated the forum and asked the questions selected from those submitted.

Some of the questions and candidates’ responses:

What’s the most pressing issue facing the school system?
• Hovatter said the increasing number of students in poverty creates hardships for schools.
• Bliss cited overcrowding and said the system has yet to determine the cost of the options made available.
• Koontz said it was the budget and noted the system started the year with fewer students than expected, a change likely to create a challenge for the division.

What has been your personal involvement with education in the community?
• Bliss said her three grandchildren attend school in the county, but she also follows what happens in the system by reading the newspaper. Bliss cited her accounting background and admitted she doesn’t have a direct connection with education.
• Koontz noted his 12 years on the School Board, including six years as chairman, and that he has four grandchildren in the system and a child who recently graduated this past year.
• Hovatter said she worked as an educator in Shenandoah County for more than 20 years but also cited her administration experience in other divisions.

From whom would you seek advice?
• Koontz said he would want to hear from the community.
• Hovatter said she would want to hear from former superintendents and constituents as well as officials in other divisions.
• Bliss said she would want to hear from all members of the community, including the school division, as well as former teachers to find out why they left.

What is your plan to deal with overcrowding at the central campus, and is changing boundaries a solution?
• Hovatter said she would want to conduct her own study before deciding whether or not to support moving the boundary lines. The School Board has about eight options to consider for the short term, but they need to look at more long-term solutions.
• Bliss said she feels the division is close to finding a solution. She said the board would need to go through the options and determine the costs and timelines for implementing each option. Boundary adjustments would be part of, but not the only, solution, Bliss said.
• Koontz said boundary changes are likely part of the solution and noted that the board has a list of options. Koontz said this would just be the beginning and the board needs to look at long-term solutions.

How would you improve teacher morale?
• Bliss said the board needs to look at the salary scales, specifically pertaining to teachers’ pay at certain experience levels. Bliss added that teachers need more support beyond salaries.
• Koontz said the issue affects all school divisions. He said the board needs to find more ways to show appreciation for teachers.
• Hovatter cited the dozens of teachers who left and noted that administrators benefit from what educators have to say.

What is your opinion on allowing access to detailed school financial records by fellow board members for review in establishing a needs-based budget, and why would you allow or deny such access?
• Koontz said board members have access to any records they want and they look at the budget line by line. If one member wants more information than provided, the board must reach a consensus to support that person’s request, Koontz said.
• Hovatter said the School Board has had 15 years of clean audits. She said she heard some concern in the question and would want more information before allowing that request. Hovatter said she isn’t sure there’s reason to do so if the board follows protocol.
• Bliss said there’s a major difference between what an accountant looks for and providing detailed budget data. Bliss said she would support providing more detail and noted that the public sees support for increases in the budget.

Organizers also had opened the forum to candidates running for the Board of Supervisors seat for District 2. Supervisor Steve Baker, Hovatter’s brother, came to the forum but his challenger, Michael Wakeman, did not participate. Wakeman is an independent candidate. Baker is seeking a third term as the Republican Party candidate.

Baker answered questions submitted for the event and gave opening and closing statements. Baker’s questions and responses will be published on Wednesday.

The forum for District 3 candidates takes place at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Charter House School in Edinburg.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com