John Barbor, a partner in the Barbor, Sottile & Darr law firm in Indiana, has a clear path to a seat on the board, as he won the nominations of both parties in the primary to become the only candidate in a race for one abbreviated term — the final two years of the term that Terry Ray, of Indiana, vacated six months after the 2011 election.
Barring an unexpected, successful write-in campaign Tuesday, Barbor would take office with the other directors in December and be tasked with finding ways to balance a precarious budget.
“The board has so little in their control, and of the things that are at least in some way under district control — one certainly is contract negotiation, and we have to take a very hard look at what can possibly be done to reduce labor costs,” Barbor said. “It’s a huge component of the district’s expenses and one of the few that we can talk about in a meaningful way.
“The only other place I can see where long-term possible savings can be gained is in the physical plant, and this is not something that can be done in the short term. I question whether we have the right size physical plant for the number of students we presently have and for the ones we can predict we will have.”
Barbor agreed the district should look to reduce the starting teachers’ salaries. The current contract expires in June, but he said that setting a specific amount was futile.
“A large part of what I do for a living is negotiation. One of the things I have learned is you must bring a carrot to go with the stick. This is a two-way operation, the question of finding a term of employment that everyone can live with,” he said. “I think that trying to talk about arbitrary numbers absent the whole picture is pointless.”
A suggestion to cut athletic department costs also was meaningless, in his view.
Barbor declined to answer a question about the effectiveness of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs, saying he was not familiar enough with the statistics to comment on them.
Asked to list three priorities for improving education in the district, he held that the board first must face the hard reality of having much less money available for education.
“State-imposed costs, particularly those associated with the pension, are going through the roof over the next few years. There’s nothing we can do about that, the money will have to be paid,” he said.
“There’s a real risk that the state formula for reimbursement to the school district, which is based on 1994 enrollment levels, also is going to be changed. When that happens, the amount of state reimbursement coming to Indiana is going to go way down,” Barbor said. “We cannot expect a tax increase to be able to make up this deficiency. We have to be able to do that while at the same time, somehow, miraculously, preserving quality programs while expanding programs.” He said teachers can provide valuable advice on improving educational productivity.
“They are the experts, they are the people on the front line,” he said. “They are our allies and we need to get their help, too.”