VALPARAISO — The six candidates for appointment to the Valparaiso School Board learned just hours before their first interview by the council Monday what their top priority will be if they are picked: find a new superintendent.
Julie Lauck’s resignation after two years at the helm of the district was accepted by the board Monday. The board tapped Mike Berta — a former interim superintendent for the school district from 2012 to 2014 — to lead Valparaiso Community Schools while the board searches for its next superintendent.
The council is interviewing candidates for the four-year term now held by Paul Knauff, who is seeking reappointment to a third term, which officially begins July 1.
In addition to Knauff, a retired teacher and school principal, those seeking appointment are retired teacher Jeanine Conroy; Ron Donahue, inHealth Ambulance CEO; NIPSCO Manager Brett Furuness; Joseph Markovich, president and CEO of JCMA Inc., and retired business owner Kurt Minko.
Each candidate was asked to answer 14 questions previously prepared by the council and given to the candidates ahead of Monday’s interviews. Although none of the questions dealt with the selection of a new superintendent, several dealt with the relationship of the board and the superintendent and the qualities a superintendent should have.
Knauff seemed to summarize it best saying the board and the superintendent need to be good listeners, sharing dialogue regularly with the community. He added, “The superintendent needs to be the face of the district. The community has to know who you are by attending meetings and events. You’ve got to be visible.”
Candidates support renewing referendum
With the school referendum up for renewal in two years, all said they supported renewing it. Conroy said she wasn’t familiar with all the facts “but on the surface I would support it." Donahue said, with the current unknowns due to the pandemic and its impact on state finances, “it could be a whole new world” in two years.
Markovich supported the referendum “with conditions.” He said the board should be working with other taxing entities, who also want more money, to get an accurate estimate of everyone’s needs and try to avoid the public fearing “it was being taxed to death.”
Minko called renewing the referendum “one of the most important tasks in hand.”
The candidates generally opposed having a charter school operate in Center Township saying there’s no reason for it and attempts to have them elsewhere have failed. Furuness said, if one is started, the district should monitor it and adopt good ideas it might have. Otherwise most said such a school would only siphon state funding from Valparaiso’s schools.
Keeping the appointed school board was favored by all, with Minko saying, “The people of Valparaiso have spoken and they picked this model. It’s not broken.” Donohue suggested having term limits, but added, “other than that, the system works.”
Knauff said he’s passionate about adding preschool education programs while realizing the state funding isn’t available, and he favors continuing to improve programs for special needs children.
Conroy said she’s not a political person but “can listen and learn. You have to have patience and listen to others and don’t think you’re the only one with the answers.”
Donohue said the district needs to do more to support the family, and he plans to look for the resources needed to support families with issues like opioid addiction, suicides and other things so “20 years from now we can look back and be proud of it.”
Furuness wants to continue the integration of technology into the classroom, expanding the use of Chromebook computers to include first-graders. Markovich said the district’s programs and facilities are such that “I wish I had this many opportunities when I was growing up.” However, the district needs to work for better communication and do something about the teacher shortage.”
Minko called the children the schools’ strength and said, “We owe it to them to help them be successful at all levels. The teachers and the school leaders get to work in a great atmosphere.”
A second round of questions by the council and the public is planned. Originally slated for May 18, Councilman George Douglas said he would like to do it when everyone can be in the council chambers rather than doing it by phone, as was the case Monday.
The date will depend on the governor’s proposed schedule for reopening the state. Meanwhile, the public can submit questions ahead of time on the council’s web site www.ci.valparaiso.in.us by May 14. The council appoints one board member each year to a four-year term and the Center Township Board appoints a fifth member every four years.