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2 newcomers among 5 seeking FWCS posts

October 18, 2018 GMT

Five people are seeking three seats in contested races for Fort Wayne Community Schools board.

Voters districtwide will decide Nov. 6 whether to return incumbents Anne Duff and Maria Norman to their at-large posts or give one of the seats to newcomer Brian Thompson, a longtime Fort Wayne resident who grew up in Bluffton. Each candidate has a child or children in the district.

Those living in District 4 must also choose whether incumbent and FWCS parent Jordan Lebamoff deserves a third term or award the post to challenger Rachel Rayburn, who does not have children.

Incumbent Julie Hollingsworth of District 1 is running unopposed.

School safety is among Thompson’s priorities. His wife, a PTA volunteer, was allowed to enter a school without having the contents of her purse checked, he said.

As a “very budget-minded person,” Thompson said he is also concerned about administrator salaries, especially when teachers can claim only $250 a year for classroom expenses on their taxes.

His 9-year-old daughter is his No. 1 reason for seeking election, he said.

“I want the best for my daughter,” Thompson said.

Along with Thompson, the at-large race is voters’ first opportunity to consider Norman, whom the board appointed to Mark GiaQuinta’s vacant seat in April 2017.

Norman, an Elmhurst High School graduate, said she’s learned a lot since she joined the board, including the district’s security efforts and technology initiatives with key administrators.

Teacher retention and shortages are areas that need to be addressed, Norman said, as does equity : a topic that has arisen during her canvassing efforts.

Some families send their children to non-public schools if they don’t get into a FWCS magnet school, she said, asserting that neighborhood schools should be just as attractive as magnet programs.

“I just want to make a difference,” Norman said.

Duff, a self-described strong advocate for public schools, graduated from North Side High School, where she was a guidance counselor.

With a second term, Duff said, she would continue visiting schools : she hopes to get to all 50 : and she wants to help select Superintendent Wendy Robinson’s successor when her contract ends in 2020.

Statewide changes affecting public schools, including vouchers, prompted her initial run for office, Duff said, and she remains concerned about other efforts that could further privatize education.

“The fight’s still not over,” Duff said.

Lebamoff shares Duff’s concern about the siphoning of tax dollars from public education, and he is seeking another term on the school board because he is committed to public schools, he said.

His other concerns include the high level of mobility within the district : children moving from house to house : and its effect on their education.

Although the problem can’t be addressed by the board alone, he said, “the board has to be an active player.”

Unlike his opponent, Lebamoff has strong ties to Fort Wayne and FWCS. He lives near South Side High School in his childhood home, he said, and his wife is active in the PTA.

“I have my pulse on the district,” Lebamoff said.

Rayburn moved to Fort Wayne in 2011. She was raised in Florida in foster care and grew up in extreme poverty, she said, adding she attended multiple schools and experienced homelessness. Children in similar circumstances need someone to speak on their behalf, she said.

“We think about the U.S. and kids going to bed hungry,” Rayburn said.

“It seems ridiculous, but it happens, and it happens every day.”

She views the school board as a place where she can make the most impact, she said.

She has taught in higher education for nearly 10 years, she said, and supplemented her income during graduate school by teaching in public schools.

“I can’t think of any better fit for me,” Rayburn said.

asloboda@jg.net