Two Springboro school board candidates who had nominating petitions circulated by Board President Kelly Kohls are bypassing a community public forum scheduled before the board election.
David Bitner and Kolton Vaughn declined an invitation from the Springboro Education Association to attend Tuesday’s forum at Springboro High School.
Two years ago board members Jim Rigano and David Petroni were elected on a two-person ticket. With Kohls, they make up the majority on a five-member board that has balanced the district’s budget, but has drawn criticism and negative nationwide publicity.
On Oct. 1, Bitner and Vaughn declined to attend the forum in a letter to the teachers’ union.
“The tone and tenor of the forum appears to be more about ‘adult centric’ side issues in education in Springboro. While I am sure your fellow members are anxious to hear our thoughts, we do not believe this forum will advance our campaign in the direction we wish to pursue,” Vaughn said in a message to the union posted on their campaign web site.
Vaughn said Monday that he and Bitner still will be ready to work with the teachers union, if elected to the board.
“Mr. Bitner and I feel a good idea can come from anywhere,” Vaughn said in an email Monday. “To decide not to work with a person or an organization would shut us off from their point of views, experiences, and ideas. Mr. Bitner and I feel the ability to make reasonable, rational, and responsible decisions comes from considering the diverse viewpoints of those interested in promoting a better education for the children of this district.”
Kohls — who is not seeking -re-election — didn’t respond to questions, but election records show she circulated petitions for Bitner and Vaughn. The Vaughn petition was rejected by the Warren County Board of Elections because Kohls failed to sign her full name, board records show.
Kohls has received national attention, promoting conservative educational reforms across Ohio and on conservative TV channels.
Some residents said Bitner and Vaughn would have been targeted at the forum by an audience dominated by teachers and their supporters while others believe they are missing an opportunity to share their views.
“It’s just a trap,” grandparent Bonnie Grooms said. “I don’t blame them for not showing up and getting drilled.”
Parent Matt Davis said he respected their decision but thought they were missing an opportunity.
“They can run it the way they want to run it,” Davis said. “If you want to gain support from the community, you need to be able to show up and talk about what you’re running on.”
Rigano and Petroni didn’t respond to questions about whom they are supporting.
At the Oct. 10 board meeting, Rigano didn’t name candidates, but urged voters to elect two to the board on Nov. 5, although there are three open seats. He also urged voters to back someone with Kohls’ views.
“Springboro would do well to select someone to replace her, who displays the same passions,” he said.
After years of salary freezes and cuts, the board approved raises this year for teachers, while preserving a multi-million dollar budget surplus.
The board has been criticized for holding the line on teacher salaries, causing parents to join protests during contract negotiations, and for contemplating proposed policy changes bringing creationism and other religious discussions into classrooms.
Stuckey, a former teacher and coach, said the absence of Bitner and Vaughn from the forum points to the choice voters will have in the election: preserve the controversial status quo or embrace a moderate alternative.
“That’s why it’s important for us to win this election,” he said.