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8 apply for empty SR board seat

BEAVER TOWNSHIP-The South Range school board now has a list of applicants for its empty seat and will meet soon to conduct interviews and consider an appointment.

Schools Superintendent Dennis Dunham released the following list of applicants who agreed to an interview for the vacant seat: Brian Bagwell, Robert Dance, Richard Ferenchak, Thomas Frank, Samuel Freedy, Julie Naples, David Schmidt and Kurtis Williams. Dunham said there will be one round of interviews, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, with the board likely to consider an appointment after the final applicants are interviews on Thursday. The meetings will officially be scheduled once the interviews are finalized, Dunham said.

The board is seeking someone to fill the seat vacated by Corey Yoakam, who resigned effective Jan. 1. The newly appointed member will serve the remainder of a two-year term through Dec. 31, 2021. If the appointed member desires to continue serving on the board, he or she must run in the November 2021 general board of education election for the remaining two years of the term.

According to board policy, the board must appoint by majority someone to fill the vacancy within 30 days or the Mahoning County Probate Court judge will select a candidate. Board policy also required applicants to submit a notice of interest, in writing, to the superintendent and states the board may interview the candidates to ascertain their qualifications.

One board member is not happy with the process being employed to fill the vacancy.

In an email sent to the paper prior to the deadline for candidates to apply, boardmember Taylor Christian expressed concern the board will be conducting just one round of interviews then immediately voting on an appointment. He pointed to the superintendent search over the summer in which the board held two rounds of interviews before taking time to consider the decision and process all the available information.

“Apparently my colleagues don’t feel that we need to think about this decision very hard,” he said. “At best, this is laziness- at worst, it’s because they already know who they want to choose, and this process is just a formality to them.”

Christian also said he does not believe the meeting, which he understood to be just one at the time of the email, will be not be easily accessible to the public and will lead to a similar situation in which current applicant Ferenchak sued the board for a Sunshine Law violation regarding the appointment of a school board member in 2015.

“Apparently, the lessons learned in 2015 were not, ‘Be transparent,’ but were instead, ‘Make it impossible for residents to show up so it’s harder for us to get caught running a sham process,'” he said.

When contacted, Board President Ralph Wince, who was also president during the appointment process in 2015, had no response to Christian’s accusations specifically, but said interviews will be conducted in executive session to make the candidates more comfortable, instead of in front of an audience and streamed live online.

Wince said the board is also under a time constraint regarding interviewing applicants and making an appointment and that the board is following the procedure described in the policies.

“I believe we are doing everything correctly and by the book,” he said.

Notices are published in the newspaper and posted on the district’s website prior to each meeting, with the time, date and place identified. Agendas are typically posted to the website, as well, and meetings are streamed live then posted online.

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