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School board candidate claims no vendetta, says change needed

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 11:58 AM

Steve Linder, a candidate for Norwalk’s school board, said he is not out for revenge for past problems with the system, but believes the district and administrators must be more accountable to residents.

Since one of the issues Linder has raised in his campaign is communication, the Reflector is asking the district for copies of letters written by the Linders and responses from the district. Linder maintains that the district sent responses, but often didn’t answer questions or resolve complaints. “We never really got an answer,” Linder said, even though school administrators returned letters. “They may have answered, but they haven’t addressed the issues.”

This information was too lengthy to print in the paper, but it can be downloaded by clicking here.

Names of students, referring to them while they were students, and information regarding special education plans have been removed under the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“I don’t want to open any old wounds,” Linder said, “but many people are afraid to say what’s on their mind. Issues should be brought out in the open.”

Linder said he thinks administrators should be accountable for mistakes, specifically high school principal Robert Duncan. Linder considers Duncan the root of the problems he has brought before the board.

Linder said he has talked to both residents and staff members who feel that if they make any complaints against Duncan and other administrators, the complaints will be ignored. In the case of staff members, he added, they are afraid they will face repercussions on the job.

Both Linders said they believed Duncan had done an excellent job as assistant principal, but is not managing the role of principal effectively.

Four years ago, Sharon Linder was transferred from her job as secretary at the high school under Duncan’s ultimate supervision to secretary at Main Street School. Both Linders said they believe she was transferred because the couple had complained about Duncan.

Sharon said she was told that the district wanted the best employees in place to make the new school successful, but she doesn’t feel she was given the true reason for the transfer. Linder says his wife enjoys her job at Main Street, but says she feels her talents were better used at the high school. Both Linders went to the board with questions about the transfer, but said the board would not grant an executive session for personnel questions and said it was an administrative matter.

Sharon would not comment on her transfer now because of her position with the district.

In their letters to the district, the Linders also complained that Duncan broke district policy by using tobacco on school property and by falsifying records over fire drills. Duncan was given a three-day suspension for the problem with fire drills.

The Linders’ latest conflict with Duncan has been over the district’s delay in releasing their daughter’s high school transcript for several months. Melissa Linder, an NHS graduate and a student at the University of Akron, was applying for a program to train as a radiology technician through Akron Children’s Hospital last spring.

When Melissa turned in her application, she was missing her high school transcript and ACT score. Her ACT score should have been included on the transcript, Linder said.

The high school guidance counselor, Julia Gullett, did send a letter to the University explaining why the transcript could not be included in Melissa’s application and invited the university to contact her with any questions. Gullett said that Sharon was satisfied with that at the time.

Gullett also said that in her experience, such a note is sufficient.

“I don’t know if she would have gotten in or not,” Sharon said, but added it was upsetting to know that Melissa’s high school record and ACT score couldn’t be added to the point total needed for the position.

Melissa is now a part-time student at the University of Akron and has a part-time job at Akron City Hospital. She plans to apply for the radiology program again next spring.

Linder said he later discovered that the district had access to the records sent away for imaging at any time and administrators knew that, but never told other staff members. Both Linders said they can’t change the facts, but they would like for more than an “I’m sorry” from the district.

Linder said the board also refused to meet in executive session over the incident. “If we could have had an executive session, we could have resolved this without numerous trips to have the simple communication to make a better school,” Linder said.  

“I think it’s great that Dr. Babcanec stands up for Duncan, but I believe there should be some accountability,” said Linder. Both Linders say Duncan should resign because of what they see as his ineffectiveness as principal.

Michael Grose, president of the board, said he thinks the issue is over and the board handled the situation properly.

“I think we investigated the situation thoroughly and came up with a conclusion of what we needed to do,” he said. “They feel they had the solution for their problem and we didn’t use that solution. We handled it in what we felt was an appropriate way.”

“The board says the problems are the administration’s concern,” Linder said. “I just want someone to be accountable.”

Even though he has been before the board with numerous complaints, Linder said he has respect for the current members and feels he can work effectively with them. “I understand why they work the way they do. It’s a thankless job and it doesn’t pay much,” he said. “I just don’t feel the board asks enough questions.”

Grose did agree that board members could work with Linder if he were elected to the board.

“I’ve had him for a student and known him for 30 years,” Grose said. “If he’s elected, things will work out.”

Linder said his intention if he wins a seat on the board is to give another opinion and raise questions. “I’m not after anybody’s job,” he said. “That’s the nice thing about a democratic society. I would just be one vote.”

He said his first year on the board would be a learning year.

“I’ve been in management for over 20 years. I treat people like I want to be treated. I think I could bring some of my management skills in there and maybe change things around and make a difference,” Linder said. “It’s not a vendetta, but I’ve seen so much wrong. I just think changes need to be considered.”

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