Fiscal responsibility and the success of students are issues that have surfaced in the Orange City School District Board of Education race. Vying for the two seats on the Nov. 5 election ballot are incumbents Melanie Weltman and Beth Wilson-Fish as well as political newcomer Meredith Bond.
Dr. Bond, 64, of Hunting Valley is a professor and dean of the College of Sciences and Health Professions at Cleveland State University. Dr. Bond said that she would prioritize the most important projects to ensure students’ success.
“I will ask the broad question, ‘What is this initiative? Is it going to benefit students? Will it truly make a difference?’” she said in an interview with the Times.
Dr. Bond gave an example with the $222,000 contract with Daktronics that the Board of Education recently approved for new scoreboards throughout the district. She said that she would balance items like the scoreboard contract with a focus on academics.
Ms. Weltman, 52, of Pepper Pike said that she believes education goes beyond the classroom. She said that students need to be well-rounded and should have the opportunity to participate in athletics, arts and music. She also said that social and emotional support systems are necessary for students and she wants to keep those in place at Orange.
Mrs. Wilson-Fish, 57, of Moreland Hills, said that she is running for re-election to continue to provide the rich comprehensive educational experience for the students, including the wealth of coursework, guidance services, world languages, athletics and the arts.
“I want to keep an eye on using our taxpayers’ money in the best manner possible knowing that it’s going to directly impact our children,” Mrs. Wilson-Fish said.
Dr. Bond said that she would bring a unique expertise to the school board.
“I am not the Trojan horse,” she said referring to an incident that occurred this past summer.
In July, state legislators passed as part of the two-year state budget what was known as the Hunting Valley amendment, a change in the taxation formula that would have lowered the amount of tax revenues going to Orange schools solely for Hunting Valley. The Orange school district would have lost between $3 million and $6 million in annual revenue, but Gov. Mike DeWine line-item vetoed the amendment.
The Orange school district covers a number of communities including Orange Village, Moreland Hills, Pepper Pike and Woodmere, as well as parts of Solon, Warrensville Heights and Bedford.
Dr. Bond said that one community should not pay a different tax rate than the others.
“I know those people,” she said of individuals who pushed for this amendment. “Some of those people are my friends, but I don’t agree with what they did.”
Orange received an overall A on the most recent state report card, but Dr. Bond pointed out that the district earned a B in the Prepared for Success category. This is a measure of college or career readiness based on ACT or SAT scores, honors diplomas, technical training and more.
Dr. Bond said that life is full of tests and suggested that Orange study trends in achievement, its graduation rate, test scores and the universities that the students attend to improve this aspect of the state report card.
Ms. Weltman, outside of the school board, was an attorney at Jane Wilson and Associates, LLC and the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. She currently works part time in commercial real estate management for BGB Realty, LLC. Ms. Weltman said that the district should never be complacent and can always do better. She said that her priorities are academics and social and emotional support for the students.
“I want to make sure we do all of this being mindful that our resources are entrusted to us by the community and we use those in a fiscally responsible manner,” she said.
Ms. Weltman said that the Hunting Valley amendment would have negatively impacted the district programs and shifted the tax burden to residents of other communities. The district, she added, is proud to educate every student.
“I believe that it was an effort of a small number of people,” she said. “We have students in Hunting Valley and people who think well of the district. Our goal is to serve those students and the Hunting Valley community.”
Mrs. Wilson-Fish is a part-time consultant in the area of gifted students and coordinator in various school districts. She has worked with the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio since 2015. Mrs. Wilson-Fish also spent 17 years working in the Orange City School District, first as a gifted interventionist at Moreland Hills Elementary School then as the coordinator of gifted services.
Mrs. Wilson-Fish said that the idea of fiscal responsibility is not new, explaining that the school board members take input from the administration, families and community leaders when making decisions regarding the district’s finances.
Mrs. Wilson-Fish said that she personally reached out to Mayor Richard Hollington of Hunting Valley to invite him to a school board meeting with the mayors on Oct. 17 but did not receive a response as of Monday.
“We want a dialogue with those who wrote the amendment,” she said.