A Lakota school board member is making claims about other board candidates they say aren’t so.
Lakota Board of Education Vice President Todd Parnell told the Journal-News: “I am the only fiscal conservative running” and if voters were to choose some of the other five candidates, residents risk seeing a school tax hike.
“We have cash reserves and we’ve had no levies since I’ve been on the board and I guarantee for the next four years we won’t have one, unless I don’t get on the board and people start dipping into that cash reserve,” said Parnell, who is campaigning to retain one of the three open seats on the five-member school board.
“I am the business voice of the board,” said the division president for the West Chester Twp. office of an international marketing company.
On his Facebook campaign page, Parnell also alludes to “forces at work to take over local government from the bottom up,” and adds “school board elections are more important than ever.”
When asked to detail those “forces” Parnell declined to elaborate, adding “I am a fiscal conservative and a fiscal watchdog.”
Characterizing fellow school board candidates in such a fashion is rare locally but not unheard of.
The stakes in this year’s Lakota board race are historically high, with a majority of three open seats on the governing body that oversees Ohio’s eighth largest district and the largest suburban school system in Southwest Ohio.
Moreover, current Lakota board member Lynda O’Connor’s seat may also open up if she is successful in her campaign bid to win a seat on West Chester Twp.’s board of trustees.
Should that happen, the school board’s members after the Nov. 7 election would vote to appoint someone to the seat resulting in what could ultimately be a four-member turnover on the five-member board.
And the next set of board members will be overseeing new Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller, who began work in August.
Other school board candidates were taken aback by Parnell’s claims about them.
“His statement that he is the only fiscal conservative on the ballot is not based in any fact whatsoever,” said candidate Kelley Casper.
“Mr. Parnell has never reached out or spoken to me to know anything about my position regarding Lakota’s finances. I am committed to fiscal accountability … (and) as a board member I will work closely with my fellow board members — as well as the superintendent, treasurer and their team — to make fiscal accountability a number one priority,” Casper said.
“It is disingenuous for Mr. Parnell to guarantee there will be no levy while he is on the board. You cannot make that kind of guarantee when you only have one vote,” she said.
Board candidate Brad Lovell said for Parnell “to make the comment that there will be no levy if one person is elected is a bit irresponsible in my opinion.”
“The board of education should operate in a collaborative nonpartisan way. If elected, I promise to work alongside my peers and district administration to enhance the education of all students while maintaining fiscal responsibility,” said Lovell.
Fellow Lakota board incumbent Ray Murray, a veteran manager for national hotel chains, was puzzled by Parnell’s contention of being the current board’s lone representative of private industry.
“Quite a curious statement since I am a businessman myself,” said Murray. “But I do not think this district need business skills on the board as much as they need leadership skills. The ability to inspire and encourage others to be their very best is far more important than business skills.”
Candidate Jason Baldwin said of Parnell’s contention that he is the best candidate to prevent a tax hike, “I feel that this isn’t the case.”
“No one wants to see another levy. We are in great financial shape right now,” said Baldwin, whose statement is backed up by Lakota district officials.
Earlier this year Lakota officials announced the school system’s cash projections have it operating without a deficit until 2020 — and given adequate funding from the state and other favorable variables — may be able to sustain its current solvency to 2026.
Also on the ballot is Ernest Gause, who responded by saying “Mr. Parnell is not the only fiscal conservative running,” and criticized Parnell and other board members for not controlling cost increases in the 16,500-student district.
“If Parnell is the only business voice on the board, then in the words of (President) Donald Trump, “you’re fired.”
Parnell said among his campaign goals is to bring clarity to the board race while touting the advantages of having a business executive serving on a school board.
“We need a balance on the board,” Parnell said.
“I believe the community and the entire group of stake holders — students, teachers, parents, people (living) in the district without kids, businesses — they are all stakeholders in the district and we all share the same goal.”
The board race’s first public candidate forum — sponsored by the West Chester Liberty Chamber Alliance — will be Oct. 18 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lakota Central Office at 5572 Princeton Road in Liberty Twp.
VOTERS GUIDE ONLINE
There are dozens of local races for mayor, city councils, school boards and township trustees. There’s also fire levies and countywide tax issues on the ballot.
Find out what’s on the ballot in your area in our interactive voters guide at vote.journal-news.com