BROWNSVILLE, IN—Inspired by an exciting school board meeting concerning a pay increase for substitute teachers, superintendent and avid educational-policy-council fan Peter Geyer put together what he dubbed a "dream voting panel" made up of the greatest Brownsville School Board members of all time.
Though he said it was difficult to pick just seven from all his former associates and childhood heroes, the 57-year-old filled out his legendary roster by using his own encyclopedic knowledge of the board's 100-year history, a wealth of information that includes the names, hometowns, and voting records of more than 450 members both past and present.
"Let's see, you gotta have [former school board president Bob] Donaldson on there," Geyer told reporters, noting that Donaldson's listening, voting, and compromising skills made him, in Geyer's opinion, the most complete school board member in history. "That's just a no-brainer. He basically put the whole board on his back in '62 and carried them to their first balanced budget in 35 years."
"And if we're talking greatest of all time, you can't leave off District 4's Heidi Lieberman," Geyer continued. "District Advisory Committee in '56, School Advisory Committee in '57, the new school delay and cancellation system in '59. That's a Hall of Fame career right there."
Other members whose place on the dream board were "automatic" and "not up for debate" were Dale Callahan, who in 1908 was instrumental in crafting the school district's motto, "Educating Today's Students For Tomorrow's World"; District 5's Ted Barker, whom Geyer called a solid all-around member you can really build a school board around; and eight-time District 7 representative Karen Etling.
"I know the Etling pick will raise a few eyebrows, but don't forget, she never had a chance to shine because she was a great member on a terrible board," said Geyer, who explained that Etling's 1931 textbook-replacement initiative was "years ahead of its time." "I often wonder what she would've accomplished on a board like the one we had in '72 with the 'Three- Headed Monster' of Kowalski, Graham, and 'Mediatin'' Mark Mendicus."
Geyer admitted that he briefly considered replacing Ted Barker with Bill Scheffler (District 3, 1962–1968), but decided that, in the end, Barker was a more naturally talented voter than Scheffler. In addition, Geyer said the fact that Barker, an African-American, broke the school board's color barrier in 1992 was too important not to take into account.
According to Geyer, he "really agonized" over his final two picks.
Though he told reporters that Sam Henry was his favorite school board member growing up, Geyer admitted that Henry's habit of voting "aye" instead of "yes" was more flash than substance. Geyer also said that Dick Widmer would have been a shoe-in had he gone out on top with the deciding vote on the reduced-price school-lunch program in 1972, instead of returning to the board five years later as a shadow of his former self.
"Widmer looked silly trying to vote on gym-renovation proposals with the young guns of the '77 board," Geyer said. "It was sad."
Also failing to make the cut was former Alquina Elementary School representative and fan-favorite Frank Caldwell.
"If you talk to Vice Principal Harris, he'll tell you that Caldwell should be on everyone's dream board," Geyer said. "He was only on the board for one year, voted for the construction of the vo-tech building, then died in a plane crash. As far as I'm concerned, his reputation is based more on his mystique than his tangible contributions to the board."
Geyer said the final two picks ultimately had to be District 3's Molly Cuneo and District 2's Nick Bell. Bell and Cuneo both joined the board in 1979 and, according to Geyer, paved the way for future greats like Barry Delaney, Jamie Spanish, and "Shoeless" Joe Sandusky.
"Donaldson, Bell, Cuneo, Barker, Etling, Lieberman, and Callahan," said Geyer, shaking his head in awe. "Can you imagine what that lineup would look like to an opposing city councilman?"