Future of Chardon Schools: Up For Debate

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In the last two years, parents, students, and teachers alike have brought their opinions to the board meeting floor in hopes of getting some kind of guidance from the board. However, these guest speakers don’t always hear their opinions reflected in the responses from the board. What would have been a quiet election is turning into a larger political battle in the minds of some Chardon residents.

Masks, buses, and more are intensely debated as the Chardon Local Schools Board is bringing two seats for election this September. Sitting member Madelon Horvath is competing against the fierce newcomers Todd Albright, Gina Payne, Alicia Taylor, and CJ Paterniti.

“It’s critically important for everyone to stand up for what they believe in,” said Todd Albright at his Meet and Greet festival earlier in September. Albright has 9 children and has been in the district for 28 years. Throughout town, his glowing-green yard signs can be seen on almost every street in the city. He has told his supporters that he will provide them with optional masking for all grade levels for the remainder of the year.

However, one of his strongest opinions is on the school board’s spending in the last few years. 

“We have a declining enrollment and growing taxes,” said Albright. He went on to say later in the evening, “I want to say we have about $20 million in the [rainy day] fund.”

What will the twenty million dollars actually go to? Albright believes that the school board should not have this large sum of money waiting and still be asking for more money. Not only is he strong-minded on the financial stability of the district, but he also has some opinions on what he wants to do about Critical Race Theory (CRT) in our schools.

“Allowing Critical Race Theory is against my constitutional duty,” Albright said. With such a deep curriculum, he does not believe that parents should even get the choice to allow their children to learn the theory. 

By this point in time, most people know about the recent chaos outbreaks at the board conferences. Albright has an idea about how to fix it.

“People speak to you, not you to them, at least quarterly,” said Albright. This way, people can address their concerns without interrupting the board from conducting business.

What he doesn’t seem to have much of an opinion on is the transportation issues happening this year. When asked about what his plans are, Albright said, “It’s low on the list.”

On the flip side of things, Alicia Taylor and Gina Payne are two community-engaged moms who decided to run in this election together. 

“Gina for sure wants to work on the traffic issue,” said Taylor.

“At fifth avenue and north street in the morning, have someone direct traffic,” said the campaign. The idea should allow students to safely be able to cross the street and eliminate the backflow of cars. They are also considering making the road between the high school and the middle school three lanes wide to keep traffic moving.

Unlike Albright, Payne and Taylor are waiting to see the curriculum before they make their decisions on CRT.

“First, we have to see that it is in the curriculum,” the campaign said. Without knowing if it has entered the schools yet, it’s hard to decide how they will address it. They want to know if parents will even support the idea of it too. 

What the team does know for sure is that something needs to be done about the board meetings. 

“I didn’t like that there was really bad communication,” said Payne. “You really couldn’t get any sense of direction.” They believe the intensity of the meetings and the lack of answers coming from the members are making the events unproductive. 

“Every time a parent comes up to speak, they stare at them and do nothing,” the duo said. “There has to be a way to address concerns directly.” Payne would like to let the public know that they are very good listeners and will make sure your opinion is heard. Their goal is to create a connection between them and the students. They want students to not only have their parents give their thoughts, but also have students attend the meeting themselves.

These concepts affect what they want to be done with the budget. Due to lack of availability, the campaign is waiting to get on the board before they can see exactly where the money is going. This hasn’t stopped them from generating ideas.

“The board could possibly hire someone [outside],” the candidates said. “[They could] give recommendations.” Someone who works specifically in the finance field might have a better idea about what should happen.

Similar to Albright, the campaigners are supporting a mask-optional system. Theirs, however, is going to be based on numbers similar to how Governer Mike DeWine based guidelines earlier in the year.

“If the state is recommending and not mandating, I don’t see why the school needs to mandate it,” they said.

As expected, the mask argument is a leading cause in the intensity of this small-town election. Recently, Madelon Horvath has become notable for using her vote to provide a mask-mandate for students and staff. She spent 8 years with the Chardon Board of Education after she spent 30 years teaching the future generations of the city.

“[Without a mandate, there are] too many quarantining and we will have to shut down again,” Horvath said. “If even one kid at school goes to the hospital, that’s more than I can handle.” With this in mind, it was impossible for her to keep optional masking even though it was favored by the majority of parents. She also thinks that the masks are the root of the loss of trust in the board.

“They aren’t trusting because they aren’t agreeing. And that’s on masking,” said Horvath. 

Much different than her opponents, Horvath believes that the board meetings don’t really need to be improved.

“Public meetings are not for us to argue back and forth with you,” said Horvath. “You either A, get your vote and get your way, or B, you get your vote and don’t get your way.” She believes the meetings are primarily just for business and not for debate. The board member also thinks that more money is going to become an absolute necessity in the next years.

“We are in good shape for 2 or 3 years,” Horvath said. “When it comes time, we will have another operational levy.” This operational levy will keep the district going strong while still allowing for the board to use the money as they have been. It will also be used to improve transportation. 

“[The] bond issue will move bus parking,” said Horvath. This will improve the traffic flow around the high school and Maple Elementary. Bus fumes that have been getting into the school will also be eradicated as the new parking will be separate from the building.

In response to Critical Race Theory, she is planning on keeping it out of the Chardon curriculum. Her belief is that the course is not made for the ages that attend our schools.

“Critical Race Theory is legitimately a college course for historians,” Horvath said. “It is not for high school kids. It’s not for little kids.”

Due to a scheduling conflict, CJ Paterniti was unable to be interviewed for this article. However, he has recently been publicly endorsed by Horvath. She says that if you aren’t going to use your vote for her, you should use it to vote for him.

With the range of different people running for this board, anyone will be able to find a candidate they can follow behind.