VALPARAISO | Round one of the City Council's interviews of the Valparaiso Community Schools Board candidates was reduced to a two-man contest before the session even started.
Candidate Kent Meihofer notified the City Council at the end of last week that he was withdrawing his application because his job assignment had changed to require regular out of town travel that would prevent him from carrying out the duties of School Board member.
The contest is now between incumbent Jim Jorgensen, who is seeking a second term, and Joseph Espinosa. Jorgensen, a lawyer, gave the council a quick summary of what he saw as the accomplishments of the past four years as well as a look ahead at the challenges of the next four.
Jorgensen said the schools have stabilized their finances and were able to break down at least some of the communication barriers that existed four years ago by recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day and agreeing with Health Link to visit the schools and provide students with needed medical help.
The challenges of the next four years include keeping the budget balanced, which will require a referendum for additional operating funds late next year or in 2015, and the facilities study to decide on the future of the buildings and the equipment needed to meet the needs of today's students, which also may require a referendum for funding.
He said the schools need to close the "performance gap" of students who are not meeting educational standards, and redefine excellence to make sure students are ready for a career as well as college.
He said the best thing to come out of the departure of Superintendent Andrew Melin was the hiring of interim Superintendent Michael Berta. Berta has committed to staying one more year, but Jorgensen said he hopes Berta stays beyond that. The board will know Berta's decision in the fall and could be looking for a new schools boss by January.
Espinosa, a 16-year resident of the city, works as a cook and dishwasher at Tommy B's downtown. He had a substitute teacher's certificate, but it expired. He told the City Council the board has to concentrate on helping the students.
"We have a lot of single parents, and some are dealing with addictions," he said. "We still need parent involvement in the schools. I know we have a drug problem, probably starting in the middle school, so we are going to have to have drug testing. I want the students to succeed."
The candidates will answer questions from the public at a special session at 5:15 p.m. June 24 in the council chambers, after which the council is expected to choose the appointee. The public can submit questions to councilmen through the city's website www.valpo.us or to City Attorney David Hollenbeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.