By Kevin Kelley
Don’t look now, but peace may have broken out on the Westlake City Schools Board of Education.
During a special meeting March 21 to welcome newly appointed member Barbara Leszynski, board members revealed an apparently new sense of collegiality. In recent years, the board had been sharply divided over issues ranging from spending on new schools to how to deal with the district’s labor unions.
Not only was the vote to appoint Leszynski unanimous, all board members had nothing but good things to say about the selection process in which 19 applicants were interviewed to succeed Andrea Rocco, who resigned from the board earlier in the month.
“In my mind, this proves we can accomplish great things when we work together,” said Tony Falcone, who was elected to the board in November. Falcone and board Vice President Carol Winter said the selection process was very collaborative.
Some of the most positive comments came from Nate Cross, who had been critical of a minority voting block made up of Rocco, Winter and board President Tom Mays.
“I think this is an important turning point,” Cross said. Cross, who in the past complained that his views were at times not given a proper hearing, praised the selection process as fair and open-minded.
Cross gave special credit to Mays, with whom he had sparred with in the past.
“You do a good job trying to be fair,” Cross told Mays.
The process to fill this vacancy was not much different than what was done following past vacancies on the school board, but there were significantly more applicants – 19 – this time. In the past, 10 or so people typically applied for empty seats.
Mays later downplayed any change in civility among board members.
“Nothing’s changed,” the school board president told West Life. “We’re just going to continue doing what’s in the best interest of the district.”
Cross later acknowledged he is pleased with the departure of Rocco, with whom he had sparred frequently.
“I’m looking forward to working with Barb,” Cross told West Life.
Board members also had high praise for the 18 other applicants to the seat.
“There was no shortage of quality people from which to choose,” Falcone said.
Cross said the quality of the applicants reflected positively on the community.
“They want to be in a vibrant community,” Cross said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t have 18 other seats.”
After being sworn in by Treasurer Mark Pepera, Leszynski thanked the four board members for selecting her. She also thanked her husband, Ed.
A retired North Olmsted Middle School teacher, Leszynski served on the negotiating committee for that district’s teachers’ union. In comments to West Life, she seemed to indicate an intention to balance the concerns of teachers with the concerns of taxpayers.
“I will listen to all sides before making a decision,” Leszynski said of her approach to serving on the school board.
Leszynski is a patient advocate at Fairview Hospital, treasurer of the Westlake Hockey Organization, a volunteer usher at Playhouse Square, a volunteer tutor at Dover Elementary School and a past PTA president. Her three children graduated from Westlake High School, and four grandchildren currently attend Westlake City Schools. Her daughter is an elementary intervention specialist with the Westlake City Schools.
Leszynski will serve the remainder of Rocco’s term, which will end Dec. 31, 2013.