Three people vie for two seats on Poland school board
By Jordyn Grzelewski
Two incumbents and one first-time office-seeker are vying for two seats on the school board in the November election.
Seeking third terms on the board are Dr. Larry Dinopoulos and Richard “Beau” Weaver. They are joined in the race by Gregg Riddle.
On Vindicator candidate questionnaires and in endorsement interviews, all three focused on a common election theme – a plan for the district’s facilities.
For several years, district officials have discussed and planned for major facility changes. In November 2015, the board sought a $28.3 million bond issue to build a new K-eighth-grade campus. Voters rejected the bond issue, with 62 percent against it.
In an interview, Dinopoulos said the board shoulders some of the responsibility for the bond-issue failure.
“I think the K-[eighth-grade campus plan] failed mostly due to poor communication on our part. We were kind of rushed into the process,” he said.
He also expressed frustration, however, with the lack of community involvement leading up to the November 2015 election, noting that numerous forums and building tours drew only handfuls of attendees. He said district leaders are working to improve communication with residents.
After the bond-issue defeat, the board decided to initiate a strategic-planning process that involved the community.
A subcommittee focused on facilities is slated to issue a recommendation in January. The strategic plan, a draft of which is available at polandbulldogs.com, also addresses other matters such as curriculum, finances and communication.
Riddle expressed concern that the current board is “stalled” in implementing the strategic plan. Weaver and Dinopoulos indicated, however, that implementation of the plan simply is waiting on the upcoming report from the facilities committee. On their candidate forms, both listed implementation of the plan among their top priorities if they are re-elected.
All three candidates agree something needs to be done to address school facilities.
Both Weaver and Dinopoulos said although they still see the benefits of a campus-style school district, they believe the community needs to decide what it wants the school district to look like.
“I think, to our credit, we said, ‘Come on. Sit down. Join our committee.’ And to their credit, they did. And so I think we’re going to find consensus,” Weaver said.
Riddle, who is on the facilities committee, is opposed to a campus-style district. He is “not in favor of the district giving up five schools to build a new one. I prefer the unique look of our colonial village and believe the campus approach is not the best use of our community resources over the next 20 years,” he wrote on his candidate form.
Entwined with the facilities discussion is a decline in student enrollment. The district is in the midst of a “right-sizing” effort in response to that decline, which has included closing North Elementary and part of the McKinley building and realigning grade levels at Dobbins and Union elementary schools.
While Riddle expressed concern about the district losing students, Weaver and Dinopoulos contend the district is not losing students but rather facing demographic issues other local communities are facing as well.
A study done when the district was going through the process of seeking state money for a new building found enrollment dropped by nearly 500 students between 2002 and 2015, mostly due to a decline in birth rates.
“I think we as a board can take a little bit of blame for how we’re phrasing things,” Weaver said. “It’s not like we’re losing students. ... The problem is really population, the numbers of families with school-age children” moving to Poland.
Weaver and Dinopoulos both noted the savings the district has achieved because of the building changes. The district has eliminated approximately 15 positions through attrition.