Robert Neese has the longest tenure among directors now serving on the Marion Center Area school board. He’s been a director more than 21 years. He served from 1989 until 2009, then was chosen in December 2011 to fill the unexpired term of director Tony Nastase, who had resigned.
Neese was vice president of Mears Enterprise, a coal producer, and now is semi-retired and working with his sons in their oil field business.
He attended Indiana Area School District and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Neese is seeking re-election, he said, because “I really think it’s part of my civic duty to give back. I’m not a Democrat, but I listened to John Kennedy — ‘… ask what you can do for your country.’ It’s good to serve.”
The most important issue in the school district continues to be what Neese described as “the balancing act” —doing what’s best for education with the tax revenue available — “what you can do and afford to do,” he said.
In more than two decades as a director he has seen “vast changes” in the operation of school districts, including the government-required testing of students and other mandates for “keeping up with what the state and federal governments want us to do.”
The latest issue facing board members is school security.
“We’re deep into that,” Neese said. “Again, it’s a balancing act, adding programs and not wanting to raise taxes. If we want something, we have to pay for it. Security — it’s going to cost us dollars.”
Neese said that as of this week, he’s talked to 56 people about security in Marion Center school buildings, and 52 of them are in favor of having an armed security officer in the schools. Two were not in favor and two were undecided.
For 18 years Neese also was Marion Center’s representative to the Armstrong-Indiana Intermediate Unit 28 board of directors. Frequently at the dinners before ARIN board meetings, directors from other school districts would ask Neese how the Marion Center district was dealing with particular issues.
“I felt, modestly, that Marion Center was a leader in some aspects,” he said.
The Marion Center directors, Neese said, in the past few years have gotten “a lot out of the way” without raising taxes, he said. And some district residents have told him the board made the right decisions.
“It was a compliment on our administration, to look into the future, to try to keep costs under control,” he said.
Neese said the district’s professional staff and administrators are strong points for the district.
“For a school our size, we’re sitting pretty high on the totem pole,” he said, adding that teachers in other districts have told him they would like their children to attend Marion Center schools.
Neese said his professional experience — managing dollars and employees — are the assets most valuable to him as a school director.
Another important attribute, he said, is that he’s willing to listen.
“I’ll listen to anybody and evaluate what they told me,” he said.
Neese said he has seen new board members being coached by incumbents.
“I don’t coach, but I do advise new members it’s their choice” on issues, he said.
Depending on current issues before the directors, he may spend as much as 40 hours a month on school board business.
“Through the years I’ve been able to go to board meetings and do what I feel is best for the majority of constituents and come home and go to sleep at night,” he said.
Neese has also served as an Indiana County Fair director for six years and as an REA Energy director for four years.