The Miami Student’s podcast “People and Policies” focuses on Oxford’s local election cycle, featuring conversations with candidates about various issues relevant to students, faculty and residents.
On this episode, Staff Writer Raquel Hirsch sits down with Talawanda School Board candidate Rebecca Howard, who has been a member of the board since 2020. The two discuss Howard’s qualifications, Talawanda’s finances, various district policies and more.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been edited for concision. Listen to the podcast for the full conversation.
Hirsch: How did you find yourself on the Talawanda School Board in the first place, and why did you decide to run again?
Howard: I used to own a business here in town, The Oxford Early Childhood Center. We closed that in 2014, and I’ve been working here at the university off and on. I also do professional development trainings, and having … a little extra time [by] not running a business full time, I started thinking about what my civic responsibility is and what can I offer to my community that could be helpful.
I thought about my experience, my background in education, my passion for kids, my knowledge of how education works in the state with licensing requirements, certifications, funding, finances, and I thought [running for] school board would be a good match. I had run the year before that. In 2018, I had run for state representative for what was then the 53rd District … and I did not win that race, but I had an amazing experience. … After having lost that race, and thinking about what was next, I knew that there were some seats coming open on the board, and I thought that would be a good match … and I like to think that I’m bringing some value to the position.
Beyond working at Miami, what are your connections to the district? Did you have children go through it?
I did. Again, I grew up here in Butler County. I was born and raised down the road in Hamilton.
You have a lot of experience working with multiple ages in education. How has that experience, particularly with what you do here [Miami], in addition to with younger kids, helped you be successful in your role on the board, and how does that set you apart from other candidates?
I think because I have a background in education … and, again, working with people from so many different backgrounds and having been in this community, and seeing this school district evolve over time, and seeing the changes that have come, and seeing the challenges that have come regarding funding … it really gave me that ability to see that bigger picture. And I think that’s what makes it possible for me to be, I hope, a functioning board member.
Being an educator, I also understand how teachers think. I think about what’s good for this kid, and what’s my role in that … Having owned an educationally focused business, I understand the administrative point of view, too, which is, “Here’s the 8 million things I want to give my teachers and my families, [and] here’s what we can afford.” And so, how do we take the resources that we have and maximize the potential for quality delivery of instruction with these resources.
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One of your campaign promises is transparency, particularly regarding making meetings accessible to all residents through live streams and social media. How do you plan to continue to expand on this communication via technology?
One of the biggest challenges is figuring out communication in a digital age — a digital and social media age … Live streaming our meetings and recording them so people can come back to them and watch them later, I think, has been really key in that.
We know that those meetings are getting viewed by many more people than ever did before, so I think that’s been really important. I think we’re still figuring out the best way to communicate with families and with community members in an age of instant communication … and we’ve struggled with that and we’ve talked about that at board meetings. … Transparency is: do you have access to any information, any important decision making processes in some way, and we do.
Another area of your campaign is respect and embracing diverse voices. So, as a representative of the district, what does this mean to you?
That really does mean understanding that we are a very large district and a very diverse district.
People often in the townships [are] feeling that their voices have not been equitably heard. … So for me, that’s what respect means. It means not just respecting that there are different voices, but engaging with all people around this district.
For me, respect means that you’re not just listening to people. You’re genuinely hearing people and you’re inviting that communication, and you’re recognizing that there are so many multiple perspectives that have to be considered. And it’s not about me as an individual. It’s about me as a representative of this very large district.
Another area that you prioritize is accountability. So when it comes to the budget deficit, how are you holding yourself and the board accountable to this issue?
Accountability means that we say, “Yes we see this deficit, and we are making strides towards reducing this deficit, towards addressing this problem”. And we have been doing that consistently for the last four years. We have not initiated new spending other than spending on a transportation and maintenance facility.
We tried to pass a levy last November, and it was not voted in. And again, I respect that. People don’t want to pay more taxes. I get that. Unfortunately, the state doesn’t want to give us any more revenue either.
Accountability means that we understand that. We understand what people are going through. We understand what people want us to be doing, and we try our best to do that.
So, speaking of the budget deficit, what is your stance on the levy that failed to pass, and do you have ideas to remedy the deficit that Talawanda is in?
Well, the ideas are what we are pursuing. The superintendent and treasurer together came up with a three-year plan of what we can cut. And what’s included in that plan are all of the things that we are not legally required by the state to provide.
So, we have offered a lot of above and beyond services and programs that the state doesn’t require. So, we have to look very critically at those programs first, and how can we then find areas of savings within those programs. And we’ve been doing that work.
We are looking at the needs of the district, quality of experience for our students and balancing that with revenue that we’re bringing in or not bringing in.
What in your opinion is Tallawanda’s biggest strength, and then what is an area of weakness that you want to work on should you be elected again?
I think our biggest area of strength is our people.
We have an amazing staff. We have just the best teachers. And combined with our families and our students.
I genuinely do believe that diversity is strength. That we can make connections and come together with the diversity of this district. The people are what matter.
Moving forward, I would say we need to continue working with finances and re-evaluating our revenue and expenses, and doing everything we can to start narrowing that gap even further than we have. And communication. We really need to continue to try to crack this nut of communicating in a digital and social media age.
So, reflecting on your role in the past four years, what has been something that you are most proud of?
Representing voices across the spectrum.
I am the Arts and Athletic Liaison, and I’m proud of that. And I am proud of the work navigating through one of the biggest challenges our culture has ever faced, and that was the Covid epidemic. We kept the safety and health of our students and staff at the forefront as we navigated through that. So I am very proud of that, too.
Is there anything else you would like to discuss about your campaign?
Just that I will be doing a bit of a social media blast this weekend, just to let people know we are back up and running. Most importantly, it’s reaching out for information and communication.