Newcomers, incumbents: Area school boards pick leaders for coming year

Lakota Schools’ governing board may be showing signs of a rift among its members.

Last week’s vote in picking a Lakota Board of Education president saw the five members split into three votes for incumbent Julie Shaffer with one “no” vote and another member abstaining rather than backing Shaffer.

Most other local school boards in Butler County have already picked their presidents and vice presidents for 2019 with Hamilton and Fairfield schools choosing new board leaders while Middletown’s board gave its leader a fourth straight year at the helm.

In Lakota, veteran board member Lynda O’Connor voted against Shaffer while member Todd Parnell abstained.

Traditionally, school boards often go to great lengths to assure the annual votes for their presidents are unanimous with general thinking being it’s advantageous to start the new year with a publicly unified front.

“As I said in the (Monday) meeting, I’ve discussed my concerns directly with Mrs. Shaffer,” said O’Connor, who did not provide more details.

“The board doesn’t vote 5-0 on all issues – a split vote isn’t new or unusual,” she said, adding “the district has built up great momentum over the past several years – our focus remains on keeping the district headed in the right direction for our students and our taxpayers.”

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But Parnell, who was unanimously voted into the board’s vice president’s position, said “I think the board is a bit divided politically. The school board is supposed to remain a non-partisan body.”

“But we all work toward the same goals of student opportunities and fiscal responsibility,” he said. “I think we have good balance in the board leadership roles and I look forward to working with Julie Shaffer to continue the momentum we have started.”

Shaffer, who will now serve her second consecutive, one-year term leading the school board of Ohio’s eighth-largest school system, said “I am hopeful that everyone on the board will set aside their individual political differences and work together to support what’s in the best interest of our students, staff and community.”

As to the possibility of a divide, Shaffer said “I am one person of five, so I can’t speak to whether we will be a divided board.”

Taking independent positions is nothing new to O’Conner, who was first elected to the school board in 2008 and has also previously served as board president. Most recently in October, she was the lone vote against approving a five-year, district budget projection what showed Lakota having a deficient in 2023.

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She also called on fellow members to have a budget reduction plan in place by spring 2019 to eliminate the projected deficit.

In the 10,000-student Hamilton School system, board members chose Rob Weigel as president and Laurin Sprague as vice president in unanimous votes for each.

Weigel, who joined the Hamilton board in 2014, will be serving his first term as president. Sprague, who was elected to the board in 2016, will be serving as vice president for the first time.

Fairfield Board of Education members chose to make Michael Berding president and Dan Hare as vice president. Berding is also serving his third, consecutive year as president of the county-wide Butler Tech Board of Education.

School security will continue to be the Fairfield board’s main focus, said Berding.

“The main priority of this board and the leadership of Fairfield Schools is to provide our students with a safe and secure place to learn and grew,” he said.

In Middletown Schools, Chris Urso earned his fourth consecutive term as board president by receiving unanimous votes to retain the board leadership.

Members also voted 5-0 to Cathie Mulligan vice president.

Under second-year superintendent Marlon Styles Jr., Middletown has embarked on sweeping school reforms that impacted almost every part of the district.

“The board of education is pleased by the work that is being executed that is aligned with the district strategic plan. The community input that helped to shape the strategic plan has been invaluable,” said Urso. “Our priority is to support programs and initiatives which are centered on uniting, inspiring and transforming our students.”

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