CONNEAUT — Three candidates, including a long-time incumbent, are seeking two seats on the Conneaut Board of Education that are up for grabs on Nov. 7.
Michael Kennedy, who has
served on the board since 2005, is being challenged by Christopher Brecht and Penny Armeni.
Diana DiPofi, who was elected in 2013, is not seeking another four-year term.
Here’s a look at the candidates:
Armeni, who is making her first attempt at an elected office, said family influenced her decision to run.
“My two sons are teachers, and after having conversions with them over the years, listening to them talk about teachers, I feel I can contribute something,” she said. “Education has always been important in our household.”
Armeni, a Conneaut resident for the past 40 years, is active in many civic organizations and activities. She may be best known to the community for her 29-year affiliation with the Conneaut Arts Center, including 16 years as executive director. She retired from that position last year.
Many years spent in a managerial position at the CAC has provided her with skills that would benefit the school board, Armeni said.
“I have good leadership qualities,” she said. “People know I will be fair and honest. It’s important to be transparent.”
School officials in Conneaut have a difficult task trying to boost test scores and improve the learning atmosphere while being mindful of the budget, Armeni said. Creative thinking is needed to achieve success while staying fiscally responsible, she said.
“Like all districts, we are facing a lot of financial difficulty,” Armeni said. “The culture of education is important to me. A lot of thought needs to be given (to solutions).”
Armeni has mixed feelings about the state report card system. The picture they paint to taxpayers may not be fair and should contain comparisons to districts of similar social and economic backgrounds, she said.
“There’s a necessity for the state to require a level of excellence for districts, but I don’t think (the scores) give the complete picture.”
The school board and Conneaut City Council are also studying a possible shared use of a vacant, city-owned commercial building on Harbor Street. Armeni is intrigued by the idea — as long as the plan is financially feasible.
“It’s difficult to make an informed opinion when you don’t have the specifics, but it’s something the board should look into,” she said. “(The city and school board) are working with century-old buildings, and I understand the upkeep old buildings require. It could be a very good thing.”
Brecht, another election newcomer, said he was motivated to run after his tenure with a committee that successfully campaigned for a school levy in the spring.
“I helped out with the levy and enjoyed working with everybody,” he said. “When the levy passed, I found I wanted to continue (working on behalf of the school system).”
Brecht, who owns and operates a State Farm Insurance agency, said he is keenly interested in the district’s finances. If elected, Brecht said he would investigate other means to supplement the district’s budget.
“I want to see if there is any additional money to help us do more beyond the bare bones, and maybe bring back (programs) for the kids,” he said.
Partnerships with civic organizations may also be an option, Brecht said. “I want to find unconventional ways to bring funds (into the district).”
Brecht, whose wife teaches in Conneaut and has three children enrolled in three different schools in the district, is not happy with the Ohio Department of Education’s report card system.
“I’m not a big fan of the state report cards,” he said. “I don’t think they’re fair to teachers or students. They’re not representative of what they’re doing.
I’m a product of Conneaut schools and I’m doing OK,” Brecht said. “My wife is a product of the district. (Conneaut schools) are producing pretty good results. I don’t think people should read too much into it.”
A system that compares districts of similar size and background may be more informative and valuable, Brecht said.
“Where are we in terms of everybody else?” he said.
Brecht said he needs more information before forming an opinion on the proposed city/schools shared use of the Harbor Street building.
“How would we pay for that?” he said. “I would need to know if it’s a want or a need of the district.”
Brecht also said he also wants to know what would become of the buildings that would be vacated if the plan goes forward. “I don’t know if that’s marketable space,” he said. “I’m not privvy to that.”
In 2005, Michael Kennedy was appointed to the Conneaut Board of Education. Over the 12 years since, state mandates and revenue uncertainty has made the job of school board member more stressful, he said.
“It’s a lot more complicated,” Kennedy said. “It’s more trying.”
But despite the strain, the work is still rewarding, Kennedy said.
“I enjoy the aggravation,” he said, laughing. “It keeps my heart pumping.”
Kennedy is a big booster of the Conneaut district.
“I think it’s a wonderful system,” he said. “We have great teachers and staff and the administrators are top-notch.”
State report cards that can make a bad first impression don’t tell the complete story, Kennedy said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
In his next term Kennedy said he would like to see the SPARC sports complex at Stadium and Maple avenues — a multi-phase project begun years ago — reach its final conclusion. The facility is home to Conneaut High School’s football, track/field and soccer athletes, and tennis courts are expected to be added soon.
“I’d like to seek SPARC get done,” he said. “They’re close. There’s some good people working on it.”
While Kennedy is a strong advocate of sharing services with the city (”There’s great value in doing things together with the city”), he is leery of a proposal that would see the school district move its bus garage and maintenance department into a city-owned building on Harbor Street.
“I have my reservations,” he said. “I don’t know where the money (for building renovations) will come from. And what will become of the buildings (left behind when the move occurs). I’m not for creating another empty building.”
Kennedy, who has also spent more than 10 years on the board of the Ashtabula County Technical and Career Center, said the years of experience he brings to the job is a benefit. “I sometimes think of myself as the voice of reason,” he said.