School challengers team upPublished 11:02am Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Dowagiac Board of Education challengers Ruth Ausra and Larry Schmidt took the unusual step of running together after 50 people filled the City Council chamber at noon March 28 to show support for principals, whose contracts were being “reissued.”
“We concluded we would make a greater impact on the community sooner putting our names together for a joint cause,” Schmidt said. “If we’re elected, it would be easier for two people moving down the same track than running separately. It’s not so much about the two people we’re running against,” incumbents Mark Dobberstein and Stacy Leversen, “because the board and central administration got to this point collectively. The board was led down a negative path” by former president Larry Seurynck.
Schmidt, of Magician Lake, graduated with the Class of 1964 — first to go all the way through the new Union High School — and retired as director of Pathfinders, the alternative and adult education program across from DUHS. He and his wife, Carole, have three grown children.
Ausra, of Yaw Street, graduated in 1974. She and her husband, Terry, have three grown children and farm. She also operates an antique and estate sale business and waitresses at Timberline Inn.
“I don’t see that I’m getting into politics,” she said, “I’m running for school board. I hear all over the community about the sale twice of the (Wolverine) administration building for a ridiculously low price, $10,000, but I don’t want to be negative because if we get elected, we have to work with the board and (Supt. Dr.) Mark Daniel.”
Issues Ausra is interested in addressing are loss of students to other districts, low student scores on state tests and bettering the relationship between the school district and community.
“The first thing we want to bring to the board is stability and new direction,” Schmidt said, “because the path we were on was not healthy for the community. A couple of areas for me that are really issues are communication and financial management. Especially now that I’m running for the board, I have so many families and parents tell me there’s no communication at the central administration level. They’ve made one really good move, hiring Dawn Conner as deputy superintendent. She’s going to make her mark in a positive way. I feel better about curriculum than I did six months ago. Reading recovery is a great program.”
“She’s pouring her heart and soul into the school district,” Ausra said, “and she had a chance to leave. She was offered a job at Lakeshore and chose to stay.”
Schmidt said the board and administration “should be like umpires at a baseball game. They should direct traffic and not be the story. The story is about the players, the families, the sport. Whenever umpires become the story, it’s negative. In Dowagiac, the board and central administration have fallen into that rut. I’m sure I can have a good relationship with Mark Daniel. I’m confident he’s a good person. And there are some good board members, but cohesion, confidence and a positive direction have been lacking. There has been a quiet exodus of good school employees. We have new administrators from outside the district who need direction and don’t need negative issues to get in their way. I think the combination of a strong, positive, forward-thinking board and the addition of Dawn can create that kind of situation.”
Voters soundly rejected in August a $19.9 million bond issue for a new high school.