ALEXANDRIA — Teacher retention and attraction is the pressing issue on the minds of the candidates running in Alexandria Community Schools’ two contested board races.
Though they expressed additional priorities, such as financial stability, student and staff health, and expanding opportunities as important issues, political newcomers Brad J. Justus and Carrie B. Rowland agree with incumbents Amy R. Bair and Larry K. Oliver II, who each expressed concern about being able to employ the best educators in their small, rural community.
Justus, 45, who hopes to unseat Bair in District 1, believes his background as a chief financial officer for several small companies over the past 25 years, is just what Alexandria schools need to build a war chest that will enable his hometown to attract teachers amid a nationwide shortage. Higher teacher compensation would go a long way toward meeting that goal, he said.
“Financially things are extremely tight in the state. I know we’re feeling that here. Teachers are being asked to do more with less and for less,” the business coach said.
Justus said he was interested in running for school board as an extension of his involvement in local and national organizations over the past couple of decades. He also wanted to set a good example for his son and daughter who attend Alexandria schools.
“I wanted them to see me give back,” he said.
Fiscal stability is Justus’ No. 1 concern. The challenges faced by the district with growing needs and shrinking budget from the state requires outside the box thinking not only by the school board but by all stakeholders, he said.
“I want to use my financial background to help from a finance and budgeting perspective,” he said. “We’re given a certain amount and have to figure out how to make the most with that.”
Bair, 48, who is trying to win a second term on the school board, said she is proudest of the successful $19.2 million facilities improvement referendum that consolidated the elementary and intermediate school into one building and upgraded the amenities at Alexandria-Monroe Jr.-Sr. High School.
“We have even been able to make some advances in programming,” the mother of a seventh grader said. “I wanted to stay on to be an asset to everyone at the corporation.”
Pointing out that 88% of Indiana school corporations face a shortage in teacher applicants, Bair, a Frankton native who has lived in Alexandria about 20 years, said building on Alexandria’s relationship with Anderson University and Ball State University is key.
Stability in leadership is especially important as Alexandria schools navigate the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bair added.
“I knew it was going to be different than I thought, but I didn’t realize all the limitations that the state puts on us,” she said.
Maintaining stability includes continuing to build a strong virtual academy so students’ educational pursuits can move forward amid this and future pandemics, Bair said.
“We don’t want them to become disconnected from coming back to school,” she said.
Hoping to unseat Oliver in District 4, Rowland, 46, an Alexandria native with three sons attending the schools, said she wants to be a cheerleader bringing excitement, passion and enthusiasm for them and the community. That means making it possible to hire the best teachers.
“As I think about my three boys, the teachers are with them more of their waking hours than I am,” she said. “We have an opportunity to look at teacher retention. We have amazing teachers in our buildings. We need to be mindful of who we have and not lose them.”
A nurse at Ascension St. Vincent in Anderson, Rowland said she’s naturally concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on students and staff. But she also is concerned about other health-related issues, including vaping and chronic conditions, such as childhood obesity and diabetes.
“Those are on the rise among our youth,” she said.
Though complimentary of the job her opponent has done so far, Rowland said she is running for school board because she is at a point in her life where she is able to devote the time and energy and would like to give back to the community that helped make her successful.
“I think there is an opportunity to look for ways to provide a quality education for every student, We have an opportunity as a school board to say, ‘Are we reaching every student in the best possible way?’” she said.
Oliver, 50, agrees that stemming the loss of teachers to nearby districts, such as Fishers, Carmel and Noblesville, is a priority as he seeks a third term on Alexandria’s school board.
“All of those schools in those areas are plucking our teachers out to fill their needs,” he said. “With the cuts from the government, you don’t have as many people going into education. The number of jobs are going up but the number of applicants is going down,” the Alexandria graduate said.
As vice president of an underground utility company, Oliver said he’s proud of the robotics, project-based learning, and co-op and internship opportunities that have been put in place during his tenure.
“The fact that we have been able to implement the changes and balance the budget says a lot,” the father of two Alexandria graduates said. “I want to make sure we can finish what we started. We have made great strides in that.”
Oliver said he’s also proud of the fiscal stability the board has achieved during his tenure.
“When I first came on board, the budget had operated in the red for many years,” he said. “We have finally got it to a point where the last year and going into this year, we have gone into the black. We have been able to balance the budget.”