Sebring voters facing school levy, BOE choices

SEBRING- Residents in the Sebring Local School District will have several choices to make on Tuesday, with an emergency levy and 10 candidates vying for seats on the school board.

The school board is asking voters to approve a 6.7-mill, five-year emergency levy that will generate $300,000 annually to avoid an operating deficit, while eight candidates, including incumbent Kyle Billingsley and challengers Bryan Bailey, Nancy Crewson, Derek Egli, David R. Harris, Ronald McDonald, Tracie McFerren and Melody Ward, compete for three seats on the board and two, incumbent Cindy Christani and challenger Phil Safkow, compete for an unexpired term that ends Dec. 31, 2015.


According to information provided by schools Superintendent Christopher Lewis, the district has not placed a millage operating levy for additional funds on a ballot in 23 years,

instead relying on an income tax as well as staff cuts and reassignments. The information states that the levy will support day-to-day operations such as utilities, textbooks, educational materials, transportation and equipment to maintain existing programs.

According to the information, the district’s state funding has been cut approximately $310,000 over the past years and as much as $512,000 in personal tangible taxes per year since 2009. Although the district has been able to cut $450,000 in operating expenses from the budget, the levy is still needed to bring the district’s financial forecast into the black, provided there are no further reductions in state funding.

The levy will cost the owner of a $50,000 home approximately $9.77 per month.

Candidates (unexpired term)

– Cindy Christani, current board president, has served on the school board since 2009. She has worked as an office manager at Sebring Dental since 1997 and conducted technology and web services for the Sebring Mansion since 2012. She has also worked as a substitute teacher in Mahoning County, a catalog librarian at Columbus State Community College and for the Mahoning County Educational Service Center library and website.

A Top 10 graduate from United Local, Christani graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in library and information sciences from Kent State University. She is a board member, website developer and newsletter editor for the Sebring Historical Society, fundraising committee member for the Alliance Pregnancy Center, founding board member of the Quakertown Superkids Soap Box Derby for the Disabled and a six-year member of the Sebring Local School District Leadership Team.

Having called Sebring home for 20 years, Christani has increasingly involved herself in the community and school.

“I have built a reputation of working side-by-side with teachers and administration, developing mutual respect on many dimensions. My lists of community activities as well as my education have given me a unique understanding of the school district and the various people who represent it,” she said. “My personal schedule has been flexible enough that I will be able to continue to be a board member who is hands on, when it is needed.”

During her tenure on the board, Christani said she is most proud that the BL Miller Elementary School was rated Excellent in 2009 and McKinley high school earned a B on the latest local report card, and that the board has hired four new administrators due to retirements and relocations who are enthusiastic about the district. She said her biggest accomplishments include making herself a highly informed board member by earning an Ohio School Board Award of Achievement for completing a specific amount of study hours, which she said was a first for the district, and attending the Ohio Capital Conference for three years, developing relationships and skills to better serve in her position.

Citing her knowledge and experience gained from serving on the board, Christani said she believes she is the most qualified candidate running.

“I truly believe I will be able to supply the continuity that our district will need as we move forward,” she said. “The Ohio Department of Education’s school district rating system has changed, there is a new teacher/administrative evaluation system to learn, and we continue to face financial difficulties brought on my state reductions to our aid.”

Christani said she has refused to run a negative campaign, but responded to questions posed by opponents by stating that attention has been drawn to how the board policy and procedure manual is maintained and what constitutes a public record, but, to the best of her knowledge, no concerns have been issued toward the administration not the board about the district’s finances or innovative educational programming introduced over the past several years.

Christani lives with her husband, Anthony (Tony) John Christani, on West Ohio Avenue. They have two children.

– Phil Safkow, a Sebring graduate, is a retired Frito-Lay route sales representative. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and has never held a public office.

Safkow said his main qualifications for the position are the “desire to see the disconnect between the administration and the teachers repaired as quickly as possible and [the] willingness to find the truth behind the causes of these problems.”

“The students and their parents in Sebring need and deserve a change in the way things are being handled in their school system,” he said. “If you’re satisfied with what you currently have, vote to keep things the way they are. If you demand something other than that, vote for change.”

Safkow lives on West Virginia Avenue. He has two daughters.


– Bryan Bailey, a Sebring graduate, currently works a public works operator with the village of Sebring and a lieutenant with the Sebring Fire Department. He holds various licenses in water and wastewater, EMT, fire inspector and arson investigator. He is also the vice president and fire prevention chairman of the Sebring Fire Association and a member of the Masonic Lodge 626, Tadmor Shrine and the Alliance Shrine Club GoJo and flag units.

Bailey said his leadership skills and current employment will help him work with the board to push the school system toward excellence.

“I’m a hard worker that has lived and worked in the community most of my life,” he said. “I care about the future of our schools and our children. I believe our school system is what makes up our Village and holds it together. I also will work my hardest to do what’s right for our children, teachers and our community.”

Bailey lives with his wife, Jami, on East Maryland Avenue. They have three children.

– Kyle Billingsley, incumbent, was appointed to the school board in February. He is employed as a parole officer with the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Billingsley said his time on the board, as well as approximately 10 years as a union delegate in SEIU 1199, has given him experience with grievance hearings, mediation hearings and contract negotiations.

“I am still learning the role of being a board member and currently working on improving communication between the board and the public,” he said.

Billingsley is the treasurer for the Sebring West Branch Soccer League and coaches two youth soccer teams. He is also a member of the Trinity Lutheran Church and Sons of the American Legion.

He lives with his wife on Royal Oak Circle. They have two children.

– Nancy Crewson, a graduate of Sebring, has worked at WDJQ in Alliance since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Youngstown State University and previously worked at the Alliance Publishing Company from 1989 through 2008.

Crewson said her experience in sales and marketing has required an ability to communicate, understand a person’s objectives and then make decisions that affect the complete outcome of a situation, including budgets.

“I feel this is necessary for a school board member because most decisions they make concern the overall education of their students,” she said. “My success has been in looking at situations as a whole and what will best benefit all concerned…As a school board member, when budget is a factor, you must consider the effect of your decision. What are the benefits and detriments? Compromising the quality of education should never be a result.”

Crewson said she has a strong desire to see Sebring schools thrive.

“As a parent and resident of Sebring, I see that it’s our schools that bring us together as a community and give our students a cooperative spirit,” she said. “As a school board member I will work hard with everyone involved in the education system and encourage a sense of mutual respect throughout the district. I am prepared to make tough decision, and will consider all points of view before making them…Grant writing and reaching out to educators, administrators and school boards within and outside our school district for successful expense cutting ideas costs nothing, but can provide a wealth of valuable information.”

Crewson said she believes field trips, track and field days and extracurricular activities enhance classroom instruction and should be used to uphold the district’s mission of “exemplary instructional experience utilizing a variety of appropriate methodologies and resources.” She also said the board’s rules and regulations should follow the laws that are established to uphold the rights of everyone.

“Contracts and policies should be adhered to, not by interpretation but as written,” she said. “Fair and balanced policies and contracts make for a positive environment which is what is needed for a great educational system.

“Mutual respect, communication, educated decisions and, most of all, working for the finest education for our students will be my mission as a school board member.”

Crewson lives with her husband on West Ohio Avenue. They have two children.

– David (Ray) Harris, a 20-plus-year veteran of the U.S. Army, retiring in 1997, is currently a detective with the Sebring Police Department.

A graduate of Peru High School, Saint Leo College and Vincennes University, Harris has helped with veteran groups and is the religious co-leader for the Sebring Fire Department.

Harris said his experience as a leader, including a two-time mentor of the year for Northeast Ohio, would serve the school board well.

“I believe that the biggest issue is the lack of leadership with our current board,” he said. “They have taken a hands-off approach to the current administration. They hide behind the veil of ‘we don’t want to micromanage.’ You must lead those that have been placed under your leadership. If you don’t you will end up with the current problem that faces Sebring schools. Leaders find ways to get things done; they don’t say we can’t do this.”

Harris said the board needs the leadership he can provide for the betterment of the students.

“Employees, studies find, are willing to work for less pay if they feel appreciated,” he said. “Money may be tight, and that is when you must show how much you do appreciate your staff. Employers who reward workers’ accomplishments, ever so small, find not only happier, but more productive workers. We must work together to complete the mission; if not, the children lose.”

Harris lives with his wife on South 14th Street. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

– Tracie McFerren is a Sebring graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and teaching certificate from Mount Union College, as well as a master’s degree in English from National University. She has spent the past seven years as a teacher and previously held jobs as publisher, writer and graphic designer for her own company and magazines in the Cleveland area. She also worked in broadcast television for several years in Youngstown.

McFerren said her qualifications include knowledge of the public education system as a teacher and managing personnel as well as increasing personnel in her own publishing business.

“Voters should elect me because I graduated from Sebring, I have lived most of my life here, my children go here, and I am the only candidate with experience working in the education field,” she said. “Sebring is a small, close-knit community and the citizens have shown concerns with the current administration and school board. These concerns must be addressed and I promise to bring our great school district back and let the community’s voice be heard.”

McFerren lives on West Virginia Avenue.

– Melody Ward is a graduate of Alliance High School and Kent State University with basic training and Advance Individual Training (AIT) for military police. She is currently employed as a registered nurse and assessment coordinator and has past work experience in customer service and law enforcement during enlistment in the U.S. Army.

Ward said she is an experienced advocate for her patients and their families, and is experienced in working with government rules and regulations. She said she believes the community has a right to have their concerns heard and will use her experience to make it possible.

“I have an open mind and no agenda in seeking this position,” she said. “My concerns are directed to our school system and the unfair practices and financial state that the current board is presenting to our community. If elected I can make no promises until the total truth and depth of these concerns are discovered. I feel every child has a right to an education and preparing them to be productive adults.”

Ward lives with her husband on West Florida Avenue. They have two daughters who graduated from Sebring and two grandchildren currently attending the district.

– The Salem News did not receive a response from Derek Egli and Ronald McDonald to an election questionnaire.