May 25, 2016

Partly sunny

School board candidates discuss bringing back classes

LORAIN — Lorain school board candidate Jim Smith said programs the district cut over the summer to save money could return by next fall.

Smith made the claim during an hour-long debate Tuesday night featuring all seven candidates for the board. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer questions selected by the hosts of the event, the Lorain Arts Council, a nonprofit group that works to promote the arts in the county.

“They’ve basically put their misdeeds on the backs of third- and fourth-graders,” Smith said of the current school board.

Along with full-time art, music and physical education programs that were stricken from most of the elementary schools, the board also laid off more than 240 teachers and the administration cut the elementary school day by 40 minutes. About 70 teachers were brought back.

The changes were implemented to avoid a looming $15 million debt that wasn’t noticed until new Treasurer Ryan Ghizzoni was hired earlier this year.

Dina Ferrer, the only incumbent school board member running for one of the three seats up for election this year, was one of the members who told the district administration to bring the programs back in June. She said such programs are important to a well-rounded education.

“You still have to have quality programs,” she said.

But other candidates took issue with the fact that the programs still haven’t been renewed and questioned whether the current board was pushing the administration, specifically new Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, hard enough. Atkinson has said the district doesn’t have the money to relaunch the programs yet.

“I would be making sure these were implemented,” said Nick DiMacchia, a former Amherst school board member. “If that means cutting administrators, because we all know what a problem that is right now, then that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Candidates Bill Sturgill and Frank Graziano agreed, with Graziano adding that Atkinson must be held accountable to her boss — the school board — and answers should be demanded of her.

“If I am fortunate enough to get on the board, I would pick her brain until she has a headache,” he said.

Most of the candidates were on the same page during the debate, with only few disagreements over the issues. On the issue of small schools, which have been implemented at the high schools and offer specialized programs for students, candidate Terrance Bivins said he supported the concept while candidate Paul Biber objected.

Bivins, who moved to the county from Los Angeles in 1994, said the small school program was successful out West and he watched his own children prosper in them. Biber, however, said the programs waste money and don’t help children learn.

Contact Adam Wright at 653-6257 or