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Five contenders in Warren BOE race

Bond issue and improvement levy also on ballot

October 22, 2011
By Evan Bevins ( , The Marietta Times

Five people are running for two seats on the Warren Local Board of Education as debate over the future direction of the district and its facilities continues.

There will be at least one new member on the board as incumbent John Rauch is not seeking re-election. Joining board President Debbie West on the ballot are John Nichols of Barlow, Ray Smith of Barlow Township and Ray Stevens of Fleming. Vincent resident Elizabeth Silvus is running as a write-in candidate.

Also on the ballot for Warren voters is a 5.4-mill bond issue and half-mill permanent improvement levy to raise the 38 percent local share of a $53.6 million project to build three new elementary schools and a middle school. It's the fifth time in the last year-and-a-half the district will have a school construction issue before voters. The previous four were failed attempts to pass a larger bond issue to generate the local share of a project that would also have included a new high school.

John Nichols

Nichols, 49, said he didn't mind the board putting a bond issue on the ballot and even bringing it back once. But returning to voters for the third and fourth times was "totally disrespectful," he said.

Eliminating high school busing to free up money for repairs to existing buildings made matters worse, he said.

Fact Box

Warren Board of Education candidates

John Nichols

Age: 49.

Residence: Barlow.

Family: Wife, Michele; son, Reece, 16.

Occupation: Auto technician, Norm's Auto Care in Barlow.

Past offices: First run.

Elizabeth Silvus (write-in)

Age: 47.

Residence: Vincent.

Family: Husband, Stacy; four adult sons; four grandsons, ages 2 to 7.

Occupation: Part-time clerk at Family Dollar.

Past offices: First run.

Ray Smith

Age: 46.

Residence: Barlow Township.

Family: Wife, Mary Beth; son, Dustin, 23; daughter, Chelsea, 18; son, Hayden, 14.

Occupation: Washington County public defender.

Past offices: Ran for Marietta Municipal Court judge in 2005.

Ray Stevens

Age: 44.

Residence: Fleming.

Family: Wife, Wendy; sons, Ross, 22, Christopher, 20, Jacob, 9, and Maclane, 7.

Occupation: Works in oil and gas industry.

Past offices: First run.

Debbie West (incumbent)

Age: 48.

Residence: Dunham Township.

Family: Husband, Steve; daughter, Megan, 21; son, Nathan, 19.

Occupation: Demand coordinator and customer service supervisor, DuPont Washington Works.

Past offices: Served two terms on board.

"When they failed to run the buses, I just felt that they were failing to do their job," Nichols said.

The father of one district student, Nichols said he and other residents are willing to pay more to support the schools but not by making a 28-year commitment to build new facilities. There are too many unknowns, including the current lack of a state funding formula, he said.

"Who knows what (the future's) going to bring 10 years from now? The economy could be totally different," Nichols said.

Despite bond supporters' contention that building new is a more economical approach than repairing the existing facilities, Nichols said repairing is the way to go. He said he would support a levy for that and would even consider one for a middle school to alleviate the need for modular classrooms at Barlow-Vincent Elementary.

Roof repairs at the high school are underway. Nichols said that should have been started sooner, rather than waiting to see if a bond issue would pass.

Nichols said he cares about education, noting he has volunteered with the Science Olympiad, coached football and served on the advisory committee for the Washington County Career Center's automotive program.

Elizabeth Silvus

A write-in candidate making her first run for public office, Silvus, 47, said there are other ways to address the district's facilities than building new or cutting high school busing. As one example, she pointed to House Bill 264 funding to make energy efficiency upgrades that are paid for with the savings realized, something the current board recently approved.

High school busing is not required by state law but Silvus said cutting it was poor policy.

"I don't understand how we put children in that kind of position, and parents, because some of them just can't afford to get their children there," she said.

The change led some people to send their children to other school districts, which costs Warren Local funding, Silvus said.

Silvus said some district residents feel they have been overlooked recently, pointing to people in the Bartlett and Cutler areas, where schools were closed in 2008, and the elderly who cannot afford a bond issue.

"I just think it's time that we try to bring the whole community back into the district instead of just parts," she said.

Silvus, who has a young grandchild attending school in the district, said she has spent lots of time learning about state law as it pertained to schools and their funding and is willing to go to public officials to get answers. As an example, she pointed to a forum she organized for Saturday with state Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville.

"I'm not afraid to ask anybody anything," she said.

Ray Smith

Smith agrees high school busing needs to be brought back and said he'd like to see other things restored to the district as well.

"I want the school system to get back some of the programs it's lost," said Smith, 46, who has a son attending Warren High School. "We've got to give our talented and gifted students better opportunities. ... My daughter lost an AP (advanced placement) class her senior year. That's crazy."

Smith backed the previous bond issue and the current one, which the board voted to place on the ballot after an informal community survey of nearly 300 people indicated support for it. He said he doesn't fault the board for eliminating busing and said he doesn't know if it can be restored without a bond issue passing.

"They said they were going to do it, and they did it, and now we're complaining," Smith said.

Fixing existing buildings eventually ceases to be economical, he said.

"You could fix your car but at some point it needs to be replaced," he said. "And the state is offering to pay (62) percent of the costs."

Smith didn't say what he thought the next step should if this bond issue fails.

"We'll see what happens when the time comes," he said.

Smith said he's been involved with students through the county's mock trial competition and coaching soccer. He said he'll be straightforward with people, telling them what he thinks even if they don't want to hear it.

"I've got my own thoughts and ideas," he said. "I'm not a puppet to anyone."

Ray Stevens

Stevens, 44, said the four votes on the previous bond issue are a big reason he's running for the board.

"The board represents the public, not the school," he said. "I would like to represent the taxpayers of the Warren Local school district, not (Superintendent) Tom Gibbs."

Like Nichols, Stevens said he thinks the multiple votes showed a lack of respect for the community. And the new measure isn't going to get his support either.

"It's the same thing in a different wrapper," he said. "I'm opposed to anything that the state has control over (in) our local district. ... At the state level, they've shown that they're not very fiscally responsible."

If the issue does pass, he said, the board should provide oversight on the project and be "100 percent involved in it, step by step."

Stevens noted the bond issue's cost will include millions of dollars in interest above the $21 million local share.

According to district Treasurer Melcie Wells, estimates used for the ballot issue include a 5 percent interest rate and repayment over 28 years, leading to an average of $543,000 interest a year. But interest rate reductions and changes in property valuation could lower that amount, she said.

Stevens criticized the district administration for not using the House Bill 264 approach sooner.

"It's a no-brainer. ... It doesn't cost the community anything," he said.

Stevens said the district needs to control its personnel costs to free up the money to restore high school busing. He said he has an idea of how to create significant savings in that area but declined to go into further detail.

Common sense is something Stevens said he would bring to the board.

"If you only have $10, you don't spend $15," he said.

Debbie West

West said she's running for a third term because it's important to be involved in and give back to your community.

"I feel we should try to provide the best education possible to the students in our district and still be fiscally responsible with our tax dollars," said West, 48. "It's critical that we prepare our students for college and careers so that they can compete for jobs not just locally but globally."

West said she and other board members have had to make hard decisions as they tried to balance the district's budget.

"No one has wanted to cut busing or any of the other programs or services," she said, noting those cuts included more than 40 positions in recent years.

"We're pretty much a state minimum district right now with a large portion of the money coming into the district going to building repairs," she said.

The district and board plan to allocate about $1.3 million a year to those repairs but say some of that could be freed up if the bond issue passes and elementary schools are replaced.

West said she believes residents have the same goals in mind, regardless of how they voted on the bond issue.

"The community members definitely want a good education for our students," she said. "I just think it's finding a compromise that a majority of our community members will support."

West said the price to repair existing buildings would be almost as much as building new and the state would not cover a portion of the costs



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