Current challenges, teachers, open enrollment topics of interest at Tipp BOE candidates forum

TIPP CITY — Four candidates running for two seats opening on the Tipp City Board of Education answered questions from Tippecanoe High School’s A.P. Government class during a Meet the Candidates night Thursday evening.

The four candidates — Amber Drum, Richard Mains, Don Pestch and Lydia Pleiman — answered 15 questions coordinated by the A.P. Government class. The questions ranged from issues like minority students feeling safe in schools, COVID mandates, their position on open enrollment, and their position allowing teachers to have their children in the classroom before and after school — many of these topics being recent points of discussion and action with the current school board.

When asked what the current challenges were facing the district and how they planned on addressing them, Mains said that he wanted to improve public confidence in the school board and would like to move meetings to the auditorium to allow for better public access to the meetings. He also wants to created an effective pathway of communication between the administration, the teachers and the school board, and modernize the existing facilities.

“I believe it’s very important that people who want to talk to the board don’t have to stand outside in the parking lots and the grass. We need to all get together and work together,” Mains said.

Petsch said that he thinks the biggest challenge with the school board currently is a lack of stability that has shifted to a problem with transparency and caused staff morale issues and burnout with the current situation. He feels that in order to move forward with other issues such as facilities, those problems need to be addressed and resolved.

“We can’t move forward and do anything for this district until we can find a way to work together in a civil manner,” Petsch said.

Pleiman said that everything boils down to having a vision for the future of the schools, which includes raising morale for the students, staff and community. Having a vision to get ahead of the fallout from the last 18 months, she said, is critical. In addition to the buildings being upgraded and updated, she feels that the district is behind in technology.

“When we have proficiency tests, and parents can’t get to the meetings, and it’s not uploaded, and it’s not livestreamed — we are 20 years into technology. I think we really need to catch up with that, and that’s going to be good for our students for any potential problems in the future,” Pleiman said.

Drum said that she thinks there is a lack of understanding between the community and some of the board members, and that there’s going to be social and emotional fallout with students in regard to COVID. As a school board member, she wants to re-establish trust in the community and rebuild morale with the current teachers.

“When I say community, please know I mean the parents, the taxpayers and the residents, I’m not just talking about one member, I’m talking about all of them, and we all have an equal stake in the future of our children,” Drum said.

When asked about what influence teachers should have on district decisions that directly impact the classroom, Pleiman said that she currently sees an adversarial relationship between the teachers and the school board, and while the board should have influence on the direction of the schools, classrooms should be dictated by teachers.

“I think that you are the ones that are educated. I’m not an educator, like I said, I have a financial background, so I would leave that to the teachers and administrators,” Pleiman said. “I do think the board needs to have some sort of influence because the taxpayers need to have someone to hold accountable.”

Drum said that she thinks teachers are currently on the defensive and that, with the censure that came out, they are not sure what to do, and that she feels that teachers are afraid to act in multiple roles due to facing possible repercussions.

“I think teachers are an asset to any board. They’re in the trenches doing the work, they are working with the students daily,” Drum said. “As a teacher, you’re not just teaching a subject. You’re everything to a kid in one day.”

Maines said that one of the board responsibilities is to work with teachers and administrators to give students the best possible education.

“For our children to get the best possible education, they need to have the best possible teachers, and to have the best possible teachers, we have to have the best possible principles and administrators,” Maines said.

Petsch said that currently, he feels teachers don’t have the full support they need and that they feel they’re being micromanaged in their classrooms.

“I think the role of the school board is not to micromanage anybody. It’s to be a conduit for the community values, transfer them to the superintendent, and he can move from there,” Petsch said. “You cannot have the school board micromanaging educators.”

Regarding open enrollment, all four candidates agreed that open enrollment should return to Tipp City, and that teachers should be allowed to have their children in the classroom with them before and after school so that students can better access their educators as needed. They also agreed that parents should be the ones to decide whether or not their student wears a mask in the building and that they would not vote to mandate masks in the schools.