By Kevin Kelley
Candidates for the Westlake City Schools Board of Education and Westlake City Council had perhaps their best chance yet to reach a significant number of voters during a candidates forum held Oct. 1 at Westlake Porter Public Library. All candidates invited by the forum’s sponsor, the League of Women Voters, participated.
In the school board race, in which three people are running for two seats, Brad Lamb indicated more willingness than his opponents to trim the district’s budget.
“There’s always room to make cuts,” Lamb said, adding that when he served on the Fairview Park City Schools Board of Education, that district reduced costs by going paperless.
Barb Leszynski, who was appointed to the board in March 2012, said nothing could be cut from the district’s budget without affecting education. “We cannot cut programs without affecting the kids,” she said. Leszynski, a retired teacher, said it’s in her DNA to help children become lifelong learners. But she also said that as a Westlake taxpayer, she understands the need to be fiscally prudent.
John Finucane also said more budget cuts would affect the district’s curriculum. “Small, little things are not going to make an impact,” he said of the budget.
All three said they support Issue 88, the district’s 5.4-mill operating levy that’s also on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Lamb was the only candidate to express skepticism about the Common Core State Standards curriculum coming to most states across the country.
“Unfortunately, the folks in Columbus seem think they know how to teach our kids better than we know how to teach our kid. And it’s extremely disappointing,” Lamb said, adding that he would work with legislators to change the laws. Lamb said the best possible education needs should be offered to students, and that the district could exceed the Common Core Standards.
Leszynski said she supports the Common Core, which she called a higher set of standards that will better prepare students for college and the job market. But she called it an unfunded mandate; although students must take proficiency tests via computer in the near future, the state will not be paying for the technology, she said.
Finucane also said he supports Common Core, which he said will improve education in the U.S.
City Council contested races
Exchanges between candidates in contested City Council races were courteous, with Ward 1 hopeful Shamus Cusick calling his opponent, Lynda Appel ,“a phenomenal lady.” “Either way, the city wins with us,” he added.
Asked what the city’s biggest challenges are, Cusick said the city had no major challenges, adding that the city was on the right track in pursuing water service options other than service from Cleveland’s Division of Water. Appel mentioned the water issue, keeping industry in town and managing tax abatement to ensure they are worthwhile investments.
On the issue of regionalism, including a potential merger of Westshore fire departments, Cusick said regionalism is “good and it’s imminent.” Appel said she supports regionalism as long as the level of service is not compromised.
Ward 2 candidate Nate Cross said the city has a good game plan in regard to the water service issue. Funding and finances are always a challenge, Cross added. His opponent, Nick Nunnari, said the current mayor and council are doing an awesome job. In addition to the water issue, Nunnari said the biggest issues are to scrutinize spending and be a good fiscal watchdog.
On the question of regionalism, Cross said it’s good if it results in a cost savings, but local control should not be given up. Noting that regionalism is already taking place, Nunnari said residents’ input should be considered and Westlake should not be asked to bail out other communities.
Ward 6 incumbent Mark Getsay referred to recent council discussions on the possible need to upgrade municipal facilities used for recreation and senior citizens as the biggest challenge. His opponent, Robert Koenig, mentioned the pending move of American Greetings’ headquarters to Crocker Park. Koenig added that residents have many questions about the water service issue.
Getsay noted the history of collaboration among Westshore communities. The Ward 6 councilman said that while some services can be combined under regionalism, police service should not be. Koenig said regionalism is a good idea and should be continued if it’s good.
With the exception of Cross, all candidates at the debate essentially said they are in support of Issue 88, the school district’s operating levy. Cross, currently a member of the school board, noted that he voted to put the issue on the ballot in May, when it was defeated by 44 votes. He noted that he voted against putting it on the Nov. 5 ballot. Voters, including those in Ward 2, sent a strong message in May by rejecting the school levy while supporting a library levy, he said. Cross added that he will not tell people how to vote on the school levy.
Video of the Oct. 1 candidates night can be viewed online at http://mediasite.cityofwestlake.org and clicking on the “News and Events” option.