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Switzerland of Ohio board of education candidates answer residents’ questions

T-L Photo/CARRI GRAHAM Switzerland of Ohio Local School District Board of Education candidates sit on stage as Switzerland of Ohio Education Association President Neil Ritchie, center, talks during Tuesday’s Meet the Candidates event. Also pictured, from left, are Janice Tenley, Kenneth Phillips, Jerry Gust and Ken Darby.

WOODSFIELD — Candidates vying for a seat on the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District Board of Education answered residents’ questions during a Meet the Candidates night Tuesday.

A little more than two dozen people attended the event to hear incumbent Jerry Gust, Ken Darby, Kenneth Phillips and Janice Tenley speak about issues that are important to the district and why they believe they deserve residents’ votes.

There are two seats available on the board of education — seats that board members Sarah Smith and Gust currently hold. Smith is not running for reelection this year.

Neil Ritchie, president of the Switzerland of Ohio Education Association, started the evening off by listing the guidelines for the event. To keep it fair for candidates and attendees, a time limit was imposed for each question. Attendees were provided pen and paper to anonymously submit questions throughout the event.

Candidates were then given a chance to introduce themselves. Tenley said she has lived in Monroe County most of her life. She is a member of the Monroe County Autism Committee, president of the River Elementary PTO, and is active with the Monroe Central track team.

Tenley said two of her children attend River Elementary in the district, which gives her a vested interest in the operations of the schools.

“I just feel like it’s time for a little bit of a change, that maybe somebody local could give a perspective to the school board that people that are sort of outside making decisions for us don’t really have the insight as someone local would,” she said.

Phillips said he has two children, both of whom are teachers. He said he has an extensive background in the education system — he has worked for the district for a total of 38 years. He said he has been a teacher, principal of numerous schools in the district, transportation director, cafeteria supervisor, assistant superintendent and superintendent.

Gust said he has been a board member for the past four years. He said he hopes to be reelected to continue to support the students, staff members and taxpayers in the district.

“I’ve got great determination to help these people,” he added.

Darby, an electrical engineer, said he is running to help take care of his “home.”

“You take care of your home, your yard, your street. You can help your neighbor and then your town, community. Right now, my home has been SOLSD. I want what’s best for all of us. … Our school district is very unique; we’re very rural and spread out. I think we need to capitalize on that and make people realize it’s a great place to live and we have a bunch of great people that live here,” he said.

Moderator Rita Walters, a retired teacher from Switzerland of Ohio Local Schools, began asking a series of questions that each candidate was given a chance to answer.

One question was regarding priorities that need to be addressed in the school district. Tenley said substitutes for teachers, bus drivers, and other staff positions must be hired. She also said college preparedness needs to be a priority, whether it be for higher learning or a trade school.

Phillips agreed with the need for substitutes, especially given the coronavirus. He added that skills need to be taught to students who plan to enter the workforce after high school.

Gust said they need to work on raising test scores and to add classrooms in schools where they are needed.

Darby concurred with his fellow candidates and added that he would focus on long-term funding for the district and open enrollment.

“We need to find a way to make them (parents) want to bring their kids back here and educate them in this district,” he said.

An attendee submitted a question in regards to what the candidates would do about the substitute teacher shortage. Darby said he would look into making salaries more comparable to other districts. Tenley said she would start an open dialogue with current teachers to see what keeps them here or makes them want to leave and address those issues. Gust and Phillips also said they would look into the issues that are causing people to leave and figure out a way to bring people into the district.

After the questions were concluded, candidates were able to make closing statements.

Phillips said if he is elected, he will be proud to represent residents of the school district as a board member and do his best to serve the students as best he can.

Gust asked residents for their support if they think he has done a good job for the past four years on the board.

Darby said although he has strong views, he is open to discussion and his viewpoint can be changed with facts. He said he always does his due diligence prior to making any decision.

Tenley said she is in the running for the kids. As a parent herself, she said she feels parents need a representative on the board. She said she feels she would add a different perspective to the board as she has children who attend school in the district who will be affected by decisions made by the board.

Voters must select two candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

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