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May
20
2022
Yellow Springs School Board

New school board makeup expected to bring changes

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A new chapter is beginning for the Yellow Springs Board of Education.

After more than a decade, when changes in school board makeup occurred mostly one new member at a time, amid the constancy of veteran office holders serving multiple terms and carrying over familiar approaches, newcomers are in the super-majority as 2022 begins.

The BOE’s first meeting of the year, when organizational matters are set in place, is Thursday, Jan. 13, and the changing of the guard is expected to bring new perspectives.

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The newcomers are Judith Hempfling, Amy Magnus, Dorothée Bouquet and Luisa Bieri Rios, all candidates in the November general election for three open seats at that time.

Creating vacancies on the fall ballot were longtime member Aïda Merhemic, who served four terms, and Steve McQueen, finishing one, each of whom filed incomplete candidacy petitions that disqualified them from running; and presiding President Steve Conn, who cited work conflicts in opting not to seek re-election after serving two full terms.

The top vote-getters were Hempfling, a nurse and former member of Village Council; Magnus, who retired after a 30-year career with the U.S. Air Force, first in active duty as an electrical engineer and then teaching physics and math at the Air Force Institute; and Bouquet, an online history instructor for Purdue University. All three ran on platforms that included promoting greater board transparency and more opportunities for community engagement, particularly during board meetings.

The three newly elected members will be sworn in Jan. 13.

The fourth board opening occurred in November, after the election, when Sylvia Ellison resigned midway into her third term to take a job with the Greene County health department. Bieri Rios, who came in fourth in the general election was appointed to complete Ellison’s term. A graduate of Yellow Springs schools who is on the co-op faculty at Antioch College, Bieri Rios was sworn in during the board’s December meeting.

Only one member, TJ Turner, is continuing from the previous board configuration, of which he was the least tenured representative. Turner, a senior materials research engineer and team leader with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, is halfway through his first elected four-year term after being appointed in summer 2018 to fill an unexpired seat.

Turner has expressed his desire to work in harmony with the new board, despite having differing views from Hempfling and Magnus about the failed facilities levy, which he supported and they opposed.

Hempfling said this week that she has been “very encouraged” by recent conversations with Turner and other individual board members about moving forward with open discussions as a group.

She said that Thursday’s organizational meeting — in which the president and vice-president are selected and committee appointments named — will be followed later in January by a public work session, where the board will discuss member protocols and the way meetings are organized.

She said she hopes the board creates more opportunities for citizen participation during board meetings as well as in agenda planning.

In addition, board members are talking about setting up a regular day and time each month for a second meeting to be conducted as a public work session, according to Hempfling. A similar practice was adopted by the board in the 1990s, initiated by the late John Graham, for whom the board’s meeting room at Mills Lawn is named, but the custom faded away over time.

Bouquet echoed Hemplfing’s optimism this week.

“Like my fellow new board members, I imagine, I am both excited and humbled,” Bouquet wrote in an email response to the News. “We are collectively a junior board with a lot to learn and a lot of urgent issues to address. We need to go slow and fast at the same time, which is daunting. I am, however, encouraged by the strengths we all bring to the table and by the expertise and leadership provided by [Superintendent] Dr. [Terri] Holden and TJ Turner.”

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