By Gabe Brison-Trezise, Phoebe Roe, and Henri Gendreau
Another levy could increase funding to the Mount Vernon City School District. A balloted $890,000 permanent improvement renewal levy differs, however, from the operating levy passed last spring; these funds, if approved, could “only be spent in certain areas,” according to Superintendent Bill Seder. Those areas include building maintenance, transportation, technology and textbooks.
“Continuing this levy is crucial for the Kenyon community,” Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski, who helped form Knox County Voters, a group that promotes voter registration, wrote in an email.
Seder said the district ﾗ which consists of six elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school ﾗ spends about 20 percent of the renewal levy funding on “just upkeeping buildings ﾗ roofs, windows, doors, boilers, floors, all of those kinds of things.”
Gambier’s Wiggin Street Elementary is the district’s oldest building, Seder said, “and it certainly has needs and upkeeps and maintenance.” If the levy fails, he added, “we would lose the funding for that and have to find it somewhere else.”
In addition, the district relies on PI funding to replace each of its 29 buses roughly once every seven years. “The district actually covers 148 square miles, so it takes us quite a transportation department to be able to cover that many square miles,” Seder added.
The district also uses PI funding to periodically replace textbooks and computers, Seder said. He noted that math and science texts can cost $85-$125 each and that the district tries to replace about 300 computers a year so that its inventory of 1,500 is always under five years old.
Originally passed in 1977 and renewed six times since, the levy, if passed, would keep property taxes at their current levels. If the levy fails, Seder said, the district will have to draw equivalent funds from the its “general budget.”
“I think it’s important to note that it’s a renewal levy. … So there’s no new taxes,” Seder said.
“All faculty and staff with children need good schools. Without good schools, professors will have to leave,” Slonczewski wrote.
Voters will choose from two out of the three school board candidates: Mary Rugola-Dye, Daniel Hamman and Steve Thompson, the incumbent candidate.
Should she win, Rugola-Dye, a graduate of Mount Vernon public schools, says she plans to be a vocal advocate for public education and the students who receive it. “I believe it is the right of every child to have a free and excellent education,” she said. She also distanced herself from John Freshwater, a former Mount Vernon biology teacher who made national news after teaching creationism.
Hamman’s campaign focuses on parenting strategies and how schools can support good values in the home. He praised local teachers, stating, “All three of my kids have had wonderful teachers for the most part.”
Like Hamman, Steve Thompson, the incumbent candidate, says he’s focused on home values. Having grown up in Mount Vernon, he says he wants to promote the ethics he was raised with. Thompson faced questions several years ago when it became clear he had a friendly relationship Freshwater. Additionally, Thompson’s son, a teacher at Mount Vernon High School, testified on behalf of Freshwater, stating he worried about a “slippery slope” leading to teachers losing the academic freedom to teach as they see fit.
With a decision from the Supreme Court of Ohio for the Freshwater case looming, it is an issue on each candidate’s mind, and they have differing views when it comes to the controversial case. “It’s time to move past [Freshwater]; it’s time to get back to the basics of educating our children,” Rugola-Dye said.
Hamman was hesitant to voice his beliefs on the Freshwater situation. “It’s really hard to determine which way I would have gone at this point,”he said.
Although Kenyon students do not have children in Mount Vernon schools, many of their professors do. The schoolboard election has high stakes, according to Profesor of Biology Joan Slonczewski.
She wrote in an email, “The school board election is crucial, because we need outstanding educators who can maintain excellence in hard times, especially teaching good science.”
A Village Council shake-up will hit this year’s races with fresh faces and the departure of a longtime public servant.
Though uncontested, the election will see a change of guard, with three-term Councilwoman Audra Cubie announcing she will not seek reelection, partially “just to allow other people the opportunity. … It’s time for a new adventure.” Cubie, the youngest member of the Council at 34, is currently working on getting a bachelor’s degree in science and nursing at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
With Cubie stepping down, Donna Scott, who works in Kenyon’s Office of Admissions, will take her place. Scott, 66, is no stranger to elected office, having served on the Mount Vernon City School Board for 12 years.
“I’m certainly looking forward to getting to know more how Council actually works,” Scott said. “We have an unusual community and it’s just kind of fun to think about keeping it an interesting, lively place, without too many restrictions.”
Also fairly new to the dais is Donna Wilson, who replaced former Council member and Kenyon Associate Director of Admissions Noble Jones. Wilson has worked for the Kenyon library for 20 years, but public office will be a new experience for her. When Mayor Kirk Emmert asked if anyone would be interested in replacing Jones, Wilson was the only one to show up at the open meeting.
“So I decided if I was going to participate, I should do it before I got any older,” Wilson, 68, said with a laugh. “I really don’t know that much about the government and I’m still really in a learning phase right now,” she said.
Current Councilwomen Liz Forman and Betsy Heer are both seeking reelection.
“I offer a different perspective,” said Heer, 52, who runs the Gambier House, a bed-and-breakfast. “I have no affiliation with the College, and I am a local businessperson.”
Forman, 62, brings a wealth of experience as the longest serving member of Council running for reelection. She also urged others to get involved in local politics. “It’s not an expensive endeavor. ﾅ There’s usually no competition,” she said.
“I’m saddened that so many of our elections are uncontested, because it’s not soul-sucking,” Cubie said. “I feel like everybody should take their turn. We’ve got a lot of very, very bright people in this zip code.”
Drawing on that brainpower is crucial to how the Council functions.
“We usually don’t run to the brink of shutdown,” Heer said jokingly. “We’re usually much more bipartisan in the end. It is a nonpartisan election, after all.”