ELKHART — Candidates for Elkhart’s school board squared off in a public forum Thursday evening, touching on a wide range of topics.
Eight candidates are running for three seats on the school board, and each participated in the forum held at the Indiana University South Bend Elkhart Center.
The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Elkhart County and the American Democracy Project. Political science professor Elizabeth Bennion served as the moderator.
After giving a brief introduction of their background and experiences that would qualify them, the candidates each shared their top priorities.
Roscoe Enfield Jr., a State Farm agent, is challenging incumbent Glenn Duncan, a local attorney for the District B seat. Enfield said his top priorities are the budget shortfall and the abysmal insurance packages teachers and staff have.
“The school system has lost money for the last two years and has a projected shortfall of over $2 million for this year,” Enfield said.
Duncan, who’s served on the board since 1990, said his priorities include being a resource to new members who are on the board, and dealing with the funding issues at Elkhart Community Schools.
“But ultimately we’re going to have to look at a referendum,” Duncan said. “Anyone who says we aren’t, I think, is kidding themselves. I think we need to be realistic that we need to increase funding.”
Six candidates are seeking two open at-large seats, with Jeri Stahr being the incumbent. Stahr has served on the board since 1992. Long-serving school board member Karen Carter has said she will not seek re-election.
Stahr said her first priority is to work with her fellow board members in selecting the next superintendent.
“We’re working with the university selection team comprised of reps from Purdue, IU, Ball State and Indiana State,” she said.
Local hair artist and businesswoman Kellie Mullins said she’d like to learn more about the board members and serve as an advocate for the Elkhart Area Career Center.
Troy Scott, an attorney, said one of the concerns he hears is the number of teachers who are leaving the district for pay or professional climate.
“I think we have issues with both of those,” he said.
Jill Szyarto a retired teacher, said she would like to see the district pursue grants for better access to Wi-Fi and to begin the process for Blue Ribbon School designation. She also urged an effort to help staff become part of the economic recovery.
Anne Von Der Vellen, self-employed in accounting, said her top priority was to find out why teachers are leaving. She also echoed the call for Blue Ribbon School designation.
Babette Boling, former coach at Elkhart Community Schools, said her top priority was to ensure the new superintendent is accountable since that person must work “diligently and transparently and build relationships inside the school and within the community.” Her second goal was to make sure the board highlights the bright spots within the district and not just the negative.
Candidates were also asked if they supported the merging of the two high schools. Many didn’t take a side, but expressed optimism in seeking the best outcome in a decision already made.
The Elkhart Teachers Association will host another forum of school board candidates from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity on Jackson Life Center.
After the forum for the eight school board candidates, organizers turned their attention to the three candidates for state House District 21.
Republican incumbent Rep. Tim Wesco, Democrat Carl Rust and Libertarian Ethan Legg took questions on gun control, funding for charter schools, abortion, legalization of marijuana, arming teachers and boosting the economy, offering sometimes starkly different views.
Legg took the view that Indiana needs less government, Wesco made the case that Indiana was on the right track and Rust urged a shakeup of the GOP “supermajority” in state government.