UPDATED: Five, including one incumbent, seek two seats on Lindbergh school board

Five candidates are seeking two Lindbergh seats April 5

Mike Tsichlis

Mike Tsichlis

By Mike Anthony

Two seats up for election April 5 on the Lindbergh Schools Board of Education are being sought by five candidates.

Michael Bitzenburg, Jennifer Miller, David Reinhardt, Mike Tsichlis and incumbent Gary Ujka are seeking the two seats.

Incumbent Kara Horton, who has served on the board since 2010, did not file for re-election. This article will feature Tsichlis and Ujka. Bitzenburg, Miller and Reinhardt were profiled last week.

• “Addressing increasing student enrollment while continuing to pursue academic excellence and remaining fiscally sound is the principal challenge facing Lindbergh at this moment. This will require a balanced approach to district governance that takes into account the continued application of sound fiscal management methods in an environment of growing staffing needs, as well as pressure on facilities space and class size,” Tsichlis said.

• “Continuing to maintain fiscally responsible stewardship of all district financial resources. Everything I stand for as a board member in some form or fashion relates to the financial resources of the district. Whether it is safety of students and staff, providing quality educational programs and opportunities for all students, continuous improvement in all areas, providing quality facilities and learning environments for all students or providing competitive salaries and benefits to retain quality faculty and staff, in my opinion all relate to being fiscally responsible for the district resources while being accountable to the Lindbergh taxpayers,” Ujka said.

Tsichlis, 54, 9239 Confederacy Drive, 63126, is adult education director at the St. Irenaeus Orthodox Theological Institute. He and his wife, Vasilika, have an eighth-grader who attends Lindbergh Schools.

Tsichlis, who served as a Ward 4 Crestwood alderman from April 2013 to May 2015, is seeking election because “as a longtime resident of the district and active parent volunteer in the Lindbergh schools, I felt it was time to step up and devote my professional skill set to my passion for education and advancing learning opportunities for children by representing our community on the Lindbergh school board.”

Ujka, 58, 817 Winter Top Court, 63026, retired in 2012 after a 32-year career as a teacher and administrator in the Rockwood School District. Ujka also is the “voice” of the Football Flyers. He and his wife, Leisa, have one grown child.

Ujka was elected to the board in 2014 and is seeking re-election because “I am an advocate for all kids, and I want all kids to reach their full potential. After retiring … I wanted to give back to the Lindbergh community. With my retirement, and the appointment of Dr. Vic Lenz to the Missouri State Board of Education, the opportunity to seek office two years ago presented itself at the right time in my life …”

Tsichlis said, “Yes, I oppose efforts to diminish or eliminate the authority of the school board to apply oversight of district policy, as the board is comprised of members elected by the voters to provide community representation, input and feedback.”

Ujka said, “I believe stakeholders need to have input into decisions that may affect them, through the negotiations process, but the Board of Education establishes all policy for the district, and must have the final determination in all negotiations and decisions. The board cannot agree to something that it cannot support.”

Tsichlis said, “Dr. Simpson has generally managed the district very well during his tenure, maintaining high student achievement and meeting the challenge of student growth while keeping a balanced budget. However, at times I believe that communication between administration and district stakeholders could be improved.”

Ujka said, “Yes. It is very obvious to me that Lindbergh Schools are the place to be, as they have been No. 1 in the state five out of the last six years. My opinion is based on achievement data and state testing accolades, the national and state recognition and awards that all Lindbergh schools are receiving, and the recognition individual teachers are receiving. We have a balanced budget, were able to weather the tough times of the economic downturn, and still have one of the best districts in the state and nation …”

Tsichlis said, “As I have experienced with our son, Lindbergh teachers are exceptional in instructing children and helping them overcome challenges to learning as well as building on their strengths. While I was pleased to see that an agreement was reached that was acceptable to all parties, in the future developing a mutually agreed upon timetable for negotiations would be helpful in heading off the type of confrontation witnessed last year. As a board member, I would work toward building greater consensus toward an outcome that benefits all — administration, teachers, staff, taxpayers and, most importantly, our children.”

Ujka said, “… I agree with how the Board of Education addressed the salary issues and bargaining last year. However, one of my focus areas as a board member is continuing to seek unceasing improvement in all areas. That being stated, I was concerned when the talks deteriorated near the end of May. I believe in quality communication, and I believe when communication fails, trust is lost. I believe trust was lost between the Board of Education and the teachers and it was our job to rebuild it. I wanted both sides to return to the bargaining table, share an understanding of the policy related to negotiations and prepare for the next round of talks. I believe that the negotiating teams can put their heads together, rebuild the lost trust and come to an amicable agreement that both sides can accept.”

Tsichlis said, “As a past elected officia,l I have a strong track record of advocating greater transparency among local governing bodies under the Missouri Sunshine Law. As a Lindbergh board member, I will suggest the board be as open as possible and to only deliberate on issues in closed session when it is required by state law, such as matters relating to district personnel or specific student concerns.”

Ujka said, ” As a current board member, I am not aware of any violations of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law by the Lindbergh Schools Board of Education. I have had extensive training and have a good working knowledge of the Sunshine Law. I believe in transparency, and have a strong ethical background, and if I am re-elected, I will continue to adhere to the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, request others on the board do the same, and make every effort to keep the Lindbergh community informed of discussion and decisions made by the Board of Education under the law.”

Tsichlis said, “I support the district’s current policy of leaving the primary responsibility of sex education to the family. I support supplementary education that strongly stresses abstinence and the potential health risks of engaging in unprotected sex. Parents ought to continue to be allowed to remove their children from any part of the human sexuality curriculum offered by the district.”

Ujka said, “I believe sex education should be part of the curriculum at the appropriate grade levels as determined by the educational professionals. I do not believe that birth control, other than abstinence should be part of the curriculum.”

Tsichis said, “I think school libraries should include a broad but balanced selection of materials whose content stresses tolerance toward others rather than lifestyle advocacy.”

Ujka said, “I believe that school libraries should contain literature and research materials related to the curriculum and for recreational reading.”

Tsichlis said, “I support the district’s multi-point method of teacher evaluation which is based on a state recommended model. This model supports teacher growth and professional development while also taking into account student performance.”

Ujka said, “Yes. As an administrator, I have had experience using many types of performance based evaluation instruments, and I believe they are effective in evaluating teachers and other personnel.”

Tsichlis said, “The district should maintain its continued focus on student-centered education that places emphasis on working with each child’s unique strengths and challenges rather than pursue a ‘one-size-fits-all’ instruction model.”

Ujka said, “Lindbergh’s ranking slipped very slightly last year. As an educator, I understand how the academic rankings change. Having a No.1 rating for five years in a row is unprecedented. The district must continue to review and update curriculum, focus on each individual student to be sure they all are reaching their potential, provide the latest technology available for all students, continue to provide a quality staff development program for all teachers, and continue to attract and retain quality faculty, administrators and support personnel.”

Tsichlis said, “I voted in favor of it.”

Ujka said, “I voted ‘yes.'”

Tsichlis said, “I voted ‘yes.'”

Ujka said, “”I voted ‘yes.'”

Tsichlis said, “I support candidates of parties that advocate fiscal responsibility, transparency, state and local control of curriculum development, and engagement with parents and the community.”

Ujka said, “Not applicable.”

Tsichlis said, “The best way to achieve this goal is to focus on the proposed outcomes of school policies and whether they benefit Lindbergh children and reflect the values of the community.”

Ujka said, “I am campaigning as a career educator, not a politician, as I did in 2014. I am financing my campaign, to avoid conflicts of interest associated with contributions. I have strong ethical values and I am following the Missouri Ethics Commission guidelines on campaign financing. If I am re-elected to the board, I will act in a similar fashion as a board member, as I do not believe politics should interfere with board decisions at any time.”

Tsichlis said, “I strongly support maintaining a higher cash reserve that approaches 10 percent of budget — $6 million-$7 million — that is restricted for use on matters related to growing student enrollment, such as addressing facilities needs and covering emergency and unforeseen expenses.”

Ujka said, ” I believe the Lindbergh district is financially stable, and I believe it will remain as such. I support a balanced budget. State law requires a 10-percent fund balance in the reserves, but that number will fluctuate depending on the time of the year. The district needs to maintain an appropriate operating fund balances to meet the payroll and other expenditures, throughout the year. I believe the reserves should be used only for emergency situations, not for yearly or daily expenses. The district ‘gets paid’ once a year in January. The district does not want to put itself in a situation where it is borrowing money in November or December for regular expenses such as payroll or utility bills.”

Tsichlis said, “I believe as elected representatives of the Lindbergh community school board members have the right to voice their opinions in public. If the board arrives at a unanimous consensus on an issue the board president would be the preferred single point of contact with the media.”

Ujka said, “The Board of Education speaks as one voice. I believe the board president is the only spokesperson for the Board of Education. Whether I vote for or against an issue or policy, as a board member, practicing good boardsmanship, I must promote the board’s decision, whether in agreement or not.”

Tsichlis said, “Public charter schools do not have a great track record of performance. I would rather see areas of special academic emphasis be promoted within the Lindbergh school district curriculum, such as is done at the high school.”

Ujka said, “As a product of a public high school, a retired public school teacher and administrator, a parent of a public-school-educated child, a public school board member, and a proponent of public schools. I believe in the public school system, governed by a locally elected board, following state statutes and accountable to the tax-paying public.”

Tsichlis said, “As an academically strong system with a well-developed character education program and widespread parent involvement, there is no need to implement a voucher system.”

Ujka said, “I believe that the voucher system will take money from public schools, and public schools are currently underfunded. I do not believe public money should be used for private education of any type.”

Tsichlis said, “The principal challenge both short term and long term will be accommodating increasing student enrollment within the constraints of the district budget.”

Ujka said, “Enrollment. As a resident of the area since the mid-1960s, I experienced the large enrollment of the ’70s, observed the enrollment decrease of the ’80s, and have experienced the current ‘turnover’ in the area, when older residents vacate their current homes, downsize, or move into retirement communities. The current demographics indicate a continued need to address this issue, as this enrollment trend will continue or accelerate into the next decade. With the passage of Proposition G in April 2014, the opportunity was given to the Board to build a new Dressel School. This building will provide much needed space in the very near future. As the area continues to ‘turn over’ additional classroom space will be needed at all levels. The purchase of the Johnny’s Market property, and the move of the Central Office Staff to a new campus site will provide additional classrooms at the high school. As growth continues, I envision a seventh elementary school being built in the near future. The consequences of not having a vision for growth may be difficult to overcome. Maintaining quality schools and classroom environments that are the appropriate size, conducive to learning at all levels and providing the best education for Lindbergh students must be a priority for the board.

“Funding. Lindbergh Schools receives 92 percent of its funding from local sources. I believe Lindbergh must maintain fiscally responsible stewardship of all district financial resources. I also believe Lindbergh must look for every revenue source that is available to public schools in our nation. I would like to see grant writing become a bigger part of the district’s operation, as I believe there are large sums of money available through grants. As a retired school administrator, I believe in hiring and maintaining a quality staff to be a priority in providing a world class education for all students. Hiring and maintaining the best and brightest certified staff for the classrooms, the top leaders, and the best non-certified staff to support the teaching and learning process is essential. Attracting and maintaining quality staff in all areas requires quality salaries, benefits, staff development opportunities, and an environment conducive to teaching and learning.

“Technology has a short life. Technology purchased today is obsolete tomorrow. The current technology and the infrastructure in the schools will need to be replaced and upgraded on a regular basis to provide all students with the latest technology available to prepare them for university studies or the working world.

“As buildings age, they need maintenance and renovation. Renovation has taken place across the district, but as classrooms age, labs become obsolete, lockers, restroom facilities, athletic and play fields, playground equipment and infrastructure need to be replaced or upgraded funding is needed on a continual basis.

“Student and staff safety. The safety of students and staff must be a priority for the board. In today’s world, with the number of violent school incidents that have occurred and with the media coverage and social media connection, children are exposed to all of this at all ages, and may be frightened and not focused on learning while at school. Schools must be safe places for all children, and they must believe they are safe for quality learning to be achieved. I do not believe in metal detectors or arming staff, but I do believe that each campus should have trained personnel, a security and safety plan, appropriate drills, controlled access to buildings, and a cooperative working relationship with law enforcement. As we continue to experience violent acts directed at schools, newer, more effective safety measures, equipment, and practices are being developed and it is essential that the Board provide these for schools, students and staff.”

Tsichlis said, “Extending the school year is usually implemented in school districts that are lower performing and require additional student instruction time. As a high academic achievement district ,Lindbergh need not consider this option. Summer school and enrichment programs exist for those who want to see their children more engaged academically during the summer months.”

Ujka said, “I do not have concerns with the length of the school year.”

Tsichlis said, “I would look at every prospective alternative source of revenue that would not involve going to the taxpayers to make up the gap. Supporting sound fiscal management practices coupled with enhanced efforts to raise more private contributions and grant funding can help offset an operational shortfall.”

Ujka said, “As I indicated above, I believe we need to look as all sources for revenue, including current methods to be sure they are being used in an efficient and effective manner. I also believe Lindbergh must look for every revenue source that is available to public schools in our nation. I would like to see grant writing become a bigger part of the district’s operation, as I believe there are large sums of money available through grants. It is difficult, at this time, for me to support a tax increase, as we just asked the voters, two years ago, for an increase associated with Proposition G. As a resident, I want to live in a quality, prosperous school district which will increase property values, bring young people to the community to raise their families, provide opportunities for business, and keep Lindbergh a destination district.”

Tsichlis said, “My confidence in the district’s security efforts have grown over the years after observing upgrades in the locking mechanisms and entrance protocols at the schools, together with periodic intruder drills for students and staff.”

Ujka said, “Two of my focus areas include continuing to provide a safe and effective teaching and learning environment for all students and staff, and continuing to seek unceasing improvement in all areas.

There is always room for improvement in school security. I do believe that Lindbergh has a high-quality security plan, based on my observations and knowledge. The early childhood, elementary, and middle schools, in my opinion, are very secure. During each passing period at the high school, multiple doors are opened as students pass to their next classes. I do not have an answer for this situation, other than to enclose the entire campus, eliminating the many outside doors. I would like to see full-time school resource officers at all secondary schools. In my experience, I have had the opportunity to hear from some of the top experts on school security in the nation. I have experienced crisis reality training from local and national experts, and I believe that in 2016 and beyond we need to do all we can to protect students and staff as we continue to see an increase in random violent acts perpetrated on schools and universities nationwide. Newer, more effective safety measures, equipment, and practices are being developed and it is essential that the Board provide these for schools, students and staff.”

Tsichlis said, “I believe that resources devoted to classroom instruction should always receive priority. I would be willing to engage the public in a community forum setting to review district budget priorities and recommendations.”

Ujka said, “I would propose looking at all items in the budget, and reducing them appropriately, with the exception of those that have a direct effect on the students. Any item that would have a direct effect on students would be the last I would propose or accept.”

Tsichlis said, “No.”

Ujka said, “I believe the Lindbergh board operates in a professional manner always focused on children. I would like to see more personal recognition of students, staff and community members as part of board meetings.”

Tsichlis said, “I have received no endorsements from interest groups and have not sought their contributions so that I may retain a greater level of independence while serving on the board.”

Ujka said, “Yes. As of Feb. 25, 2016, I have been endorsed by the Lindbergh National Education Association — LNEA.”

Tsichlis said, “The district should allow access to locker rooms based solely on physical gender.”

Ujka said, “There are many laws and court cases to protect students’ rights. Title IX, 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Access Act, to name a few. For many years, courts have been increasingly finding that discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination. Lindbergh Schools board policy states: ‘The Lindbergh Schools Board of Education is committed to maintaining a workplace and educational environment that is free from discrimination and harassment in admission or access to, or treatment or employment in, its programs, services, activities and facilities. In accordance with law, the district strictly prohibits discrimination and harassment against employees, students or others on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, genetic information or any other characteristic protected by law.’ As an advocate for all students, I believe all students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in all school programs and activities. As a board member, I will support board policy and court rulings as they effect this issue in relation to all students.”

Tsichlis said, “I favor the future development of the mall site. However the current proposal, which lacks any committed tenants and the unusual request of a TIF on apartments, would hold back too much needed revenue for too long at a time when the district is attempting to accommodate rapidly rising student enrollment.”

Ujka said, “As an individual, and as a member of the Board of Education, I support the redevelopment of the Crestwood mall property, with the exception of the TIF request for the apartments. Bringing new commercial development to the Crestwood area would be great for our community, but providing a TIF for residential areas would be a detriment to Lindbergh Schools and other agencies receiving property tax distributions.”

Tsichlis said, “I don’t believe in using TIF for most local business development proposals as this often results in tens of millions in deferred tax revenues from the property that would have benefited local residents and students of the school district for many years, sometimes decades.”

Ujka said, ” I believe tax-increment financing has a place in our community. There must be a balance between using a TIF for development and not using a TIF for development. As an example, I believe the TIF used for the development of Gravois Bluffs was successful, providing employment in our area to build the structures, and to employ people to supply a workforce for the various retail establishments. As indicated in the previous question, I do not agree with the use of TIF for residential areas. Using TIFs for residential areas is a slippery slope, as once approved, other requests may come forward, being detriments to public schools and other agencies receiving property tax distributions.”

Tsichlis said, “The district should continue to be alert to new opportunities to meet the physical space needs required to accommodate increased student enrollment. Likewise, if class size is to remain close to current levels, the district will be required to expand teacher and support staff positions as needed.”

Ujka said, “Advanced planning is the key. The enrollment in Lindbergh is aggressive and will remain as such in the near and distant future. I believe Lindbergh has been adapting to the growing enrollment for several years through ‘chess moves,’ as Jim Simpson states, staying ahead of the rapid enrollment. As a resident of the area since the mid-1960s, I experienced the large enrollment of the ’70s, observed the enrollment decrease of the 80’s, and have experienced the current ‘turnover; in the area, when older residents vacate their current homes, downsize, or move into retirement communities. The current demographics indicate an urgent need to address this issue, as this enrollment trend will continue or accelerate in the next decade.

“When the new Dressel Elementary opens, it will provide relief, although short-lived, for several elementary schools, but I see the need for a seventh elementary school in the near future. The middle schools, since split, both have sufficient space for growth, but the high school is another story. Purchasing the Johnny’s Market property, is an excellent example of a ‘chess move.’ Moving the Central Office staff to an off-campus site, will provide some needed classroom space for the high school. As a product of the high school in the ’70s, I cannot recommend that we return to a 4,000-student facility with many stark, university like, classrooms. Advanced planning, seeking demographic trends and determining space needs should be an on-going process. Maintaining quality schools and classroom environments that are the appropriate size, conducive to learning at all levels, and providing the best education for Lindbergh students must be a priority for the board.”

Tsichlis said, “No. When budgets begin to operate in the red it too easily becomes an accepted, recurring practice that is prone to increase in size over time. Such a practice demonstrates poor fiscal management and leaves open the future prospect of turning to taxpayers to make up for shortfalls. This ‘spend-more-now, tax-later’ approach only damages public perception of how the district is managed.”

Ujka said, “No. Deficit spending for recurring expenses is a recipe for financial disaster. Once you start deficit spending, when do you stop? The money will eventually be depleted.”

Tsichlis said, “No.”

Ujka said, “No.”

Tsichlis said, “No.”

Ujka said, “Yes. As I have indicated throughout this and my previous campaign, I was an employee of the district. I was hired as a temporary summer employee beginning in 1975 through the mid-1980s as I completed high school, earned by first degree and began my educational career. I have been athletic event support for the Lindbergh High School Athletics Department, and the ‘Voice of the Football Flyers’ for over 35 years. They were compensated positions, until I was elected to the school board. I now, and will continue, to volunteer in those positions.”

Tsichlis said, “I strongly believe the district needs to do more to bring in external sources of private funding from individuals as well as corporate and foundation grant makers to support instructional programs. I will apply over 25 years of professional fund development experience to assist with this effort.

“While often underemphasized in comparison to academics, research has shown that good character education is important to supporting strong academic outcomes and the development of good citizenship. As both a parent and a board member I will support the district’s continued accomplishments in character education.

“I am concerned about the distribution of student school record data to third parties without parental knowledge. In an age of ‘big data,’ this is an issue affecting student privacy and parental control that should be closely monitored.”

Ujka said, “Merriam-Webster defines the word issue as something that people are talking or thinking about, and I have five other areas of focus as a board member. These include: Continuing to provide a safe and effective teaching and learning environment for all students and staff. Continuing to provide quality educational programs, activities, and opportunities for all students. Continuing to provide quality facilities and learning environments for all students. Continuing to attract and retain quality faculty, administrators, and support personnel. Continuing to seek unceasing improvement in all areas.”