Toward the end of Tuesday evening’s USD 249 Board of Education candidate forum, the four candidates in attendance were asked to discuss their biggest strengths.

Toward the end of Tuesday evening’s USD 249 Board of Education candidate forum, the four candidates in attendance were asked to discuss their biggest strengths.
Adam Lusker Sr. replied, “My bench press.” It was a joke and he quickly followed with a more serious answer, but the response was significant in that it was one of the few times a candidate’s answer, even if said facetiously, differed from those of the other seat-seekers.
Four of the five candidates vying for a board seat participated in the forum, which was sponsored by the Morning Sun, the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Pittsburg Area Young Professionals. Those in attendance were incumbent, and siblings, Lee Brunetti and LaDonna Pyle and challengers Lusker and Ryan Varsolona. The fifth candidate, Scott Holland, did not attend the forum.
Three seats are up for grabs in next month’s election. The seat currently occupied by Sal Marquez also will be available, as he decided not to run for re-election.
The candidates were each asked four prepared questions and then answered six more from the audience.
First, the candidates were asked why they want to serve on the USD 249 BOE. Each candidate expressed a desire to “give back to the community,” as all are Frontenac natives.
Brunetti, a longtime teacher who has served as board president for the past two years, also said he has a “genuine interest in education.” Pyle, also a longtime educator and Brunetti’s sister, said she would rank the school district “among the best” in education. Lusker, owner of Lusker Masonry in Frontenac, saidhe wants to be involved and that he doesn’t like to “sit on the sidelines.” Varsolona said he loves the Frontenac community and added that he wants future generations to enjoy the same possibilities and opportunities he enjoyed while attending USD 249 schools.
The candidates were then asked what they believe to be the top three priorities for the district over the next five years.
Pyle said the biggest priority is funding, as public schools are at risk of future funding cuts due to the state’s budget crisis. She said the district needs to “be creative” while looking at ways to save money. She also said hiring and retaining good teachers should be a main priority. Varsolona also said attracting “quality teachers” is a main priority. Lusker said “controlling” the district’s growth would be one of his main priorities as a board member. He said growth is positive, but added that the district needs to make sure it doesn’t so fast “that we lose sight of what makes us a tight-knit community.” Brunetti said academic achievement among students should be the number one priority, regardless of funding levels.
On the question of what the district’s greatest strengths are, each candidate cited the district’s administration and staff, as well as community support as the main positives.
The four candidates also were in agreement on the fourth question, which asked what the role of a board member should be. Each said it is not the job of a board member to “micro-manage” the district. Lusker said a board member also should make decisions “that allow each child to get the best education possible.” Brunetti said oversight of the superintendent and helping to develop a vision and mission for the district are the primary roles of a board member. Pyle said the board should hold the administration accountable and provide resources to staff to ensure they can provide a quality education to the students. Varsolona said board members should “be a representative of all students” and also should make sure teachers are compensated fairly.
Questions from the audience included one asking what improvements are necessary within the district. Brunetti said he believes a larger kitchen, four additional storm-safe elementary classrooms and a community fitness center should be considered. Pyle also said a bigger kitchen is important, while adding that continuing curriculum alignment is vital to student success. Varsolona said teacher salaries could be improved, as could the weight room. Lusker said hiring a good superintendent to replace Destry Brown is essential, while acknowledging, however, that Brown’s replacement will probably be hired before the April 7 election.
The candidates also agreed that merit-based pay for teachers, something President Barack Obama supports, is a bad idea. Each candidate said they oppose the proposal because it could lead to jealousy and animosity among teachers. Pyle and Brunetti said it would “destroy” the public education system. Varsolona said it would put district administrators in a “no-win” situation, while Lusker said a pay scale should have everyone “on an even playing field.”