Buildings, IB, staffing: School board candidates share views

By Laurie Hamame -

Three seats on the Oberlin school board are up for grabs this election season and six candidates are competing for votes.

The six vying for three board of education seats, which carry four-year terms are Albert Borroni, Isabella Moreno, Sandra Redd, Anne Schaum, Jason Williams, and Kenneth Yancey. Laura Jones has withdrawn from the race. Steven Thompson’s name will still appear on the ballot, but he has also stepped down from the running.

Four spoke Monday evening at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Reducing costs was the primary issue raised by candidates, and often the topic touched on uncertain plans for construction or closure of public school buildings.

Current school board vice president Albert Borroni supports reducing the number of schools from four to two. While this may require an initial high price tag, he said, slashing two buildings will reduce costs in the long run.

“We need to sit down, get community input, and make a decision,” he said. “It costs money to make something better and we have to recognize that, but we also need to be realistic about the costs… rebuilding four schools is not cost-effective.”

Retired electrician Kenneth Yancey took the opposite stance, saying four tightly-knit schools add to the flavor of a small town because the buildings are separate and distinct in location and personality.

Another hot topic was keeping staffing levels in check. Yancey said he suspects there is untapped money in the district.

“You know what the cafeteria lady does, you know what the teacher does, you know what the janitor does, but there are some jobs where you just don’t know what those people do,” he said, eliciting a few chuckles from the audience. “I have to wonder: Are there redundancies in the board office?”

He believes he can eliminate extraneous jobs within the district and use freed-up cash to hire teachers instead because “teachers are of paramount importance.”

Jason Williams, who argued he is the only candidate who owns a business, suggested having a partnership with Oberlin College and introducing student teachers to classrooms.

“Working with Oberlin College can make sure more of our students are college and career ready,” he said.

The International Baccalaureate program was mentioned frequently throughout the night.

Oberlin College student Miranda Schaum graduated from the district with an IB diploma. She asked candidates why only 7.5 percent of her graduating class received the elite diploma if “the district advocates for the program so frequently and passionately.”

Her mother, current school board president Anne Schaum, joked, “That’s because people didn’t have as mean of a mother as you have.”

She believes IB is a hallmark characteristic of the community. The program is rigorous and not for everyone, but the philosophy is, she said.

Borroni agreed, saying the diploma program is too tough for some students, but many still take advantage of IB classes.

“Education is educating the whole person: physical, intellectual, and social,” he said. “We tend to praise athletics quite a bit, and that’s great, but we don’t acknowledge academics quite as much. We need to do more of that. Kids that go out and do things in the community. Let’s make that something special.”

Yancey is a no-vote for the program, and said he wants to scrap it and hire a teacher instead.

The election will be Tuesday, Nov. 7. Newly-chosen board members will begin four-year terms on Jan. 1.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

By Laurie Hamame