(Editor’s note: At West Life’s Sept. 29 Candidates Forum for the seven Westlake Board of Education hopefuls running for three seats. Audience members were asked to submit written questions. Time limitations prevented most of the those questions from being asked, so West Life submitted six of the questions to the candidates and offered to publish each candidate’s unedited answers on West Life’s website.)
Candidate: Tom Mays
What is your first priority-Taxpayers or Students?
I am seeking to be re-elected to the Westlake Board of Education. The most important word in that title is Education. The Board Member Code of Ethics states that “while serving as a member of my Board of Education, I accept the responsibility to improve public education. To that end I will: remember that my first and greatest concern must be the educational welfare of all students attending the public schools”.That being said, I have always, and will continue, to look for ways to reduce the burden upon all of the taxpayers. We have accomplished this by utilizing consortiums, increasing revenue by instituting sponsorships, seeking grants, refunding debt, etc…. Over the last six years that I have been a board member, we have saved literally millions of dollars through careful fiscal prudence. This type of effort has permitted us to, among other things, extend the 2006 levy from the promised time-line of 2010 to at least 2013.
The Westlake schools must continue to provide an excellent education within the financial parameters established by our community. We will continue to offer excellence with exceptional value.
What is your opinion about merit pay for teachers and how would merit be determined?
In the time that I have been on the board, we have continually viewed the yearly progress and development of the students and the staff to determine if we are falling short of our goals and mission. A process is in place to assist any teacher that may need additional assistance to insure that excellence is provided. Merit pay, ostensibly, would reward those teachers that are positively affecting the students and meeting our goals. In a district like Westlake that is ranked in the top 5% of all districts in Ohio, a merit pay system may not have much impact upon the salary structure, depending how it is established.
If a merit pay increase program is instituted, I believe that the Westlake City Schools are prepared to utilize such a program due to the steps and measures that are already in place. However, the program can not be a one-size fits all type of venture. Each school district is unique and faces different challenges. Some of the potential pitfalls in such a one-size fits all system would be the equity or fairness in administering; the potential for corruption; and potential for increased legal challenges, just to name a few.
While the premise may be sound, each district will need to establish criteria for its own respective district. The long-term effects must be considered and understood before rushing into something because of the short-term benefits.
Have you attended many school board meetings in recent months? Have you attended many school activities, such as band concerts, school plays, etc., in recent months?
In six years on the board, I believe that I have attended all but one meeting, and that was due to a work conflict that took me out of town and could not be changed. This covers not only the scheduled meetings, but any special meetings or retreats that need to be placed on the calendar. I always attend the annual Ohio School Board Association convention in November. I attend all of the meetings of the committees of which I am a member. I have always scheduled vacations around my board meetings as well as arranging my work calendar whenever possible.
In the 18+ years my family has lived in Westlake, I have been actively involved with the schools. I have volunteered my time at the schools for fall festivals, fundraisers, fields trips, the spaghetti dinner, etc… I have spoken to the high school students on several occasions for their career day program. I have attended hundreds, if not thousands of sporting events. I have been in attendance at plays, musicals, concerts and numerous other activities.
Regardless of whether I was a board member or running for re-election for a board position, I am a resident of Westlake. As such, I want to support the students and the district. That is why I attended events for years prior to being on the board and while I will continue to attend events after my years on the board are through.
One questioner said when she worked at a polling location in Parma two years ago, she noticed teachers leaving school to hold signs for the ballot issue. Would you agree to a plan where citizens could monitor political activity in the schools in the weeks leading up to a school levy vote?
I am unclear as to what this question is asking. I cannot agree to a plan without first knowing the reasons for the plan, how it would be implemented and would it have any negative ramifications on the educational process.
With a clearer understanding of what is being asked, I would certainly be willing to provide my opinion.
What is your position on House Bill 136, which would create a limited number of scholarships for students to attend nonpublic schools, for which eligibility would be based on family income. (Scholarships would be funded by deducting amounts from the state education aid provided to the student’s public school district.)
House Bill 136 would create a new statewide voucher program. The program would provide private school vouchers for K-12 students statewide, and would replace the Ed Choice and Cleveland scholarship programs. House Bill 136 would expand vouchers into every district regardless of how well the public schools perform. Private schools would still maintain the ability to choose which students would attend their school.
The only qualification for eligibility would be household income. My understanding at this point is that if a family’s annual income for the prior year did not exceed $95,000, then that family would qualify for a voucher for each student in the amount of $2,313 per pupil. However, a family could receive as much as $4,626.00 per student if that family’s income did not exceed 2.5 times the standard used to determine reduced priced lunch.
H.B. 136 would negatively impact high performing districts like Westlake where there is no educational reason to leave the public schools. The funds that would go to a family receiving a voucher would come from the State funding that Westlake currently receives. However, Westlake ONLY receives $479.39 per student in State aid. As a result, there would be a negative impact upon the district’s finances as there would be a difference of minimally $2,000.00 between what Westlake currently receives per student and what the voucher would actually be worth.
For every voucher that is provided, those funds are deducted from Westlake’s State Foundation allocation. As the Foundation allocation is depleted, it will place even a greater burden upon the taxpayers to operate the public schools. So in essence, less of our tax dollars paid to fund public education actually are used for public education.
What is the best attribute of the Westlake City Schools?
I believe that the best attribute is being able to provide an excellent education at an exceptional value to all students who attend that Westlake City Schools. However, this cannot be accomplished without the hard work and input of many groups.
Without the committed parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community members, the Westlake City Schools could not accomplish what has been accomplished. Every group plays a role in the education and development of the student from the pre-K level all the way through graduation, whether that student is of special needs or is the highest achiever.
Because the stakeholders demand excellence, Westlake City Schools is able to offer many programs of study and opportunities not available at other schools. As a result, the students are able to be well rounded, prepared for life after Westlake schools and able to contribute meaningfully to society.