By Kevin Kelley
For a political body that has seen more than its share of discord over the past year or so, the Westlake Board of Education has attracted plenty of candidates.
Seven candidates have filed with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections for the three board seats up for election this November. But incumbent Tim Sullivan is not one of them.
Sullivan, who voted against placing the successful capital levy on the ballot that is funding the construction of the new high school and middle school, said increased commitments to family and his two businesses have been taking up more of his time. He said recent acrimony among board members was not a factor in his decision.
“I don’t like the acrimony, but I wouldn’t have let that stop me,” he told West Life.
Not surprisingly, Sullivan, who has been strident in pushing for cost reductions, didn’t have positive things to say about the two board members seeking re-election. He called Tom Mays and Carol Winter “fiscal liberals” who favor tax increases over spending cuts. The two also lack private sector experience and don’t appreciate the stress higher taxes place on taxpayers, Sullivan said.
Winter denied this, saying she understands the tax burden both as a taxpayer and a board member. She said it’s the job of a board member to listen to the community and understand what it wants from the district and what it is willing to pay.
Winter, 50, who has a daughter at Parkside Intermediate School and a son who graduated from Westlake High School, said the schools are well run, noting that the district’s bond rating was raised last year, ranking it among the top 5 percent in the state with regard to bond ratings.
“I want to make sure that the integrity of the program stays strong,” said Winter, who is pursuing a doctorate in education at Kent State University. Strong schools make for a strong community, which leads to higher property values, she said.
Mays, who currently serves as board president, thinks voters should look at how well the schools are doing. That success is evident, he said, by high academic and extracurricular performances by students, as well as the fact that the district has not placed a new operating levy before voters since 2006.
“In the Westlake City Schools, you get great value,” he said. But, he said, the district should not rest on its laurels.
“We have to continue looking for ways to cut costs where possible without affecting education,” he said.
One candidate who could benefit from the large field is Geoff Rapp, the executive director of the Westlake 9-12 Project, a political group created by commentator Glenn Beck. The Westlake chapter claims about 700 members, Rapp said.
Rapp, 65, was a teacher early in his career and is now a manufacturing management executive. Rapp told West Life that he is for fiscal responsibility. School funding is complex, he said, and part of his campaign would be dedicated to informing the public about the issue.
“I plan to be a candidate for the entire community,” Rapp said. “My objective would be to have the best schools possible for the community.”
Objective measurements, such as standards testing, are important, he said, but the current state testing system might not be the best.
Rapp, along with Michelle Albert
and Robert Bodi, has the endorsement of Sullivan.
Albert, 37, is a 1992 graduate of Westlake High School who has a child entering kindergarten this fall.
Albert said she believes funding cuts have to be made, but she would like to avoid teacher layoffs.
Recent acrimony on the school board is a factor in her decision to run, she said.
“I feel like the current board doesn’t really work well together,” she said.
Bodi could not be reached by presstime.
Laurie Gettings, 45, said she is also running because the current board is divided.
“Sometimes both sides have good points that are totally missed because of the arguing,” she said.
Gettings, who has worked as a marketing executive in the health care industry, has two children attending Bassett Elementary. She said she would represent the whole community if elected to the board. The district needs to work on preparing students to compete in the global marketplace, she said.
One of the first to announce his candidacy to the board, Tony Falcone has two children enrolled in the Westlake City Schools.
“First and foremost, I care very deeply about the district,” he said when asked the reason for his candidacy.
The 1990 graduate of Westlake High School said the school board’s primary focus should be the educational performance of the district while also bringing good value.
Falcone, an underwriting director for an insurance company, served on the 20/20 Vision Committee that studied the district’s facilities needs. That experience piqued his interest in the school district, he said.