South Adams has races for two board seats

    Contested races for two seats on the South Adams School’s board of education will be settled during the Nov. 6 general election.
    Amy Orr, who currently holds a board seat from District 3, filed for the board’s at-large seat, setting up a three-way race with Debra Gerber and Gresham Bearss.  Orr’s current term isn’t due to expire until 2014. The at-large seat is currently held by Steve Dobler, who is not seeking a new term.
    There will be a race for one other South Adams seat, in District 2, as incumbent Arlene Amstutz is being challenged by newcomer Cheryl Caffee.
    Incumbents Julie Mansfield in District 5 and John Buckingham in District 4 are unopposed in their bids for re-election.
     The five candidates in the two contested races were submitted a questionnaire by The Daily Democrat. Their responses follow:

    Debra Gerber resides at 656 W. Van Buren St., Berne. She has never before sought elected office.

    Gresham (Bud) Bearss, 1257 Carrington Way, Berne, is making his first attempt at public office. He is retired after 39 years as a teacher, coach, principal and curriculum director in education.
    Bearss has lived in South Adams district for 32 years, and spent 19 years employed as high school principal and curriculum director at South Adams Schools. He graduated from  Manchester College with bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in educational administration from Purdue University.

    Amy Orr, 655 W. Franklin Street, Berne, is the editor/owner of Wabash Valley Living Magazine. She is a 1995 graduate of South Adams High School, and completed a bachelor’s degree at Indiana Wesleyan University in 2001. Orr is also employed as a parttime receptionist in the office of attorney Eric Orr, her husband.
    She first ran for the at-large school board set in May 2008, losing to incumbent Steve Dobler by nine votes.
    Orr ran for one of two SA school board Berne seats in May 2010. Incumbents Tony Mellencamp and Mitch Sprunger did not file for re-election, and she gained a seat as the District 3 representative on the board. Her term ends in 2014.

Q. What is your main reason for seeking this office?

    BEARRS: I hope my background in education would be of some value in representing the patrons of our district. I have knowledge of the organization and workings of a school corporation. I think it is an unhealthy situation to have candidates for any office run unopposed.

    ORR: As a school board member, it is my duty to make decisions based on what is best for the entire South Adams community — not just the district in which I reside. It’s been my privilege over the past two years to speak with taxpayers from each part of the corporation — Berne, Geneva, Linn Grove, and outlying areas — about issues of concern to them. Since it’s my duty to represent the whole community, and since that’s a responsibility I take very seriously, I’d prefer to serve in the at-large seat so there’s no confusion about who I’m representing. If the community chooses not to move me to that seat, I’ll be privileged to continue serving in my current office.

    GERBER: To be the voice of our children, because they are our future. They deserve to be heard.

Q. List your top two priorities if elected (re-elected)

    GERBER: Get the input from school staff of the issues they have. Get input from parents about what top issues they have.

    BEARRS: (1) To help maintain financial accountability. (2) `To exercise my best judgment in the decision-making process to provide the students of South Adams with the very best staff, resources, and learning environment.

    ORR: (1.) Shortly after I joined the board two years ago, we hired Scott Litwiller as superintendent. With new leadership at the administration level, the board and administrators participated in a series of work sessions focused on establishing and/or refining our corporate mission statement, core values, vision statement and goals for the future. I look forward to future sessions focused on further refinement of our corporate goals. South Adams is heading in the right direction — we just need to make sure, for the sake of our students and the community, that we’re planning ahead for continued growth and success.
    (2.) The administration at South Adams uses utmost care in its hiring practices, for the sake of student safety. But, even when a candidate for employment has a clear criminal history check, and references listed offer glowing praise for the candidate, there is still an element of risk when hiring someone who will work closely with our children. We just cannot know everything in a person’s past. But, in light of recent events, I’d like to make a priority of educating all staff members, as well as parents, on what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate between staff and students. And, I want to make sure that staff members, parents, and others in close contact with our staff and students know what steps to take if they see or suspect any inappropriate behavior between staff and students.

Q. What do you see as the primary role of a school board member?    

    ORR: I believe the primary role of a school board member is two-fold. First, we make decisions for our corporation and set goals for the future, based on what is best for our students and staff, as well as public education, as a whole, as it relates to our community. Second, we represent the corporate taxpayers. It’s our responsibility to see that tax dollars are spent as wisely and as efficiently as possible.

    GERBER: To be an active listener and be pro-active with parents and school staff issues.
    BEARRS: The primary role of a board member is to represent the patrons, taxpayers, students and staff of South Adams Schools in the process of providing the best educational environment within the limits of our financial capabilities.


    Arlene Amstutz resides at 2686 E 800 S, Geneva. She is the owner of Berne Hardware and has been the custodian at West Missionary Church for 17 years. Amstutz has served on the South Adams school board for the past 12 years and have been the president for the past 2 1/2 years.

    Cheryl Caffee is making her first bid at elected office. She resides at 8477 S 300 E., Geneva, with her husband Joe.
    Caffee is a registered nurse, with a master’s degree in nursing. She has spent the last several years staying at home raising the couple’s three children. Recently she has served as interim children’s director at First Missionary Church in Berne and teaches Zumba Fitness at the Arthur and Gloria Wellness Pavilion.

Q. What is your main reason for seeking this office?

    AMSTUTZ: The main reason for seeking this office is to serve and give back to the community. South Adams provided a great educational experience for my three children and it is a privilege to continue making South Adams a positive learning environment. Since South Adams has been rated the No. 23 school in the state of Indiana, my 12 years of school board experience would provide continuity as a team with administrators and staff meeting the federal and state mandates.

    CAFFEE: We are blessed with a great school that is fiscally sound. I am running for office because I believe it is important for there to be a parent of school-age children serving in the school board role.  I want South Adams to remain a place where children feel safe and parents are confident about their child’s well-being and education.

Q. List your top two priorities if elected (re-elected)

    CAFFEE: To maintain a safe learning environment for every student and staff member at South Adams and to remain fiscally responsible.

    AMSTUTZ: Number one priority is to continue providing a safe and healthy enviroment for every student. Number two priority is to continue working with the administrators and staff to provide the best education for every student.
Q. What do you see as the primary role of a school board member?    

    AMSTUTZ:  The primary role of a school board member is to set policies and hire a superintendent to enforce the policies. As a school board, we have been successful in approving academic resources like technology, dual credit courses, an alternative school — The Crossing, and remain financially prudent.
    The ever changing federal and state mandates, like the new evaluation process for administrators and teachers, requires communication and training to
acquire the best plan for South Adams. I have attended the ISBA presentations and have served on the teacher negotiation committee.

    CAFFEE: I believe the school board members serve in a supportive role to the superintendent.  It is our job to prayerfully make decisions to benefit the children, staff and administration. It is important to remain a fiscally responsible school system.  Ultimately we need to maintain the safe, positive learning environment that has already been created and make positive changes as we look towards the future of South Adams Schools.