Bethel voters to elect two new BOE Members


By Eamon Baird

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BETHEL — Four candidates, including one incumbent, are running for the two open seats on the Bethel Board of Education and they will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The newly elected members will serve a four-year term beginning on Jan. 1, 2024.

There is additional BOE race for one open seat for an unexpired term ending Dec. 31, 2025. Miami Valley Today has reached out to the three candidates, Megan Black Striley, Lydda Mansfield and Andy Vieth, in that race for a separate story, but have yet to hear back.

Miami Valley Today reached out to Regan Butler, Jackie Leskowich, Kerry J. Pahal and Lori Sebastian to ask why they are running and what makes each of them the most qualified to serve. Their responses are included below as submitted.

Butler is an administrative assistant for the Montgomery County Educational Service Center in student programs and previously worked as a classified substitute and high school secretary for the Bethel School District. She has four children, who are all Bethel School alumni.

Leskowich is retired from the U.S Air Force and has a master’s degree in cost analysis from the Air Force Institute of Technology. She has been married to her husband Jim for 35 years, and has two children, who attend the Bethel Schools.

Pahal currently works for the U.S. Air Force as a systems engineer with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering from Montana State University. His partner is Heather, and he has two grown sons, Ryan and Samuel.

Sebastian is the current board president and has served as a Bethel School Board Member for the last eight years. She has been married to her husband James for 28 years and has four children who have all attended Bethel schools.

Why are you running for Bethel Township Board of Education?

Butler: “I’m running for a position on the Bethel Board of Education to give back to a community that has given me and my family such a wonderful life. The school is the heart of this community and I think that is a wonderful thing.”

Leskowich: “I am running for a seat on Bethel Local Schools Board of Education because it’s the only way I know to affect change; and it’s time for change. Our community has serious concerns related to student safety, transparency, accountability, education progression, and personnel retention. As a board member, I want to be the voice for our district’s values and want to help make positive changes through identifying issues, determining solutions, and implementing change.”

Pahal: “I want to see the Bethel community overcome the divisiveness we have seen in recent years and get back to the business of making sure teachers and staff have the support and resources needed to provide all Bethel students with an education that sets them up for future success. I want to bolster the sense of community within Bethel schools by increasing staff retention and ensuring concerns voiced by parents are addressed in a timely manner.

Sebastian: “I have a wide variety of experiences with the district: chairing past levies and the 2014 bond issue, participating in PTO, serving as Athletic Booster Treasurer, and helping the music department as accompanist and with musicals. I am running to use both my math and financial expertise to help the district move forward. The last several years we have been focused on managing the growth; now we must continue to focus on academic performance.”

Why do you feel you are the best candidate to serve on the board?

Butler: “I bring a well-rounded outlook to the Board. I’m a tax-paying resident in the district, I’ve had children graduate from these schools, and I’ve been employed by the district. This gives me a unique perspective. I have empathy for the employees of the district because I’ve worked there. I have worked under the established policies. I pay taxes and have a desire to know my taxes dollars are well-utilized. My children have benefited from the education they received in the district. I want to be sure all students have the opportunities my children had available to them.”

Leskowich: “As a mother of a struggling student, I understand how to be a child’s advocate. I spent countless hours researching education laws, sought guidance from experienced educators, and learned everything I could about a student’s right to an appropriate education. I will apply the same grit and tenacity to help all struggling students. Additionally, the military provided me a broad range of opportunities and work experiences, I worked and lived along-side many different nationalities, races, and ethnic backgrounds.”

Pahal: “I have a breadth of relevant experience gained from over three decades of leading and working with a wide range of engineering, managerial, and administrative staff. My experience has taught me how to bring together people with varying perspectives to resolve conflict and work toward common goals. Bethel schools are the cornerstone on which our community is built. I want to ensure Bethel schools thrive so our community will continue to thrive as well.”

Sebastian: “My financial knowledge sets me apart from the other candidates. Our community expects frugality with our tax dollars. During my time on the school board, no new or additional tax levies were requested of residents. I obtained my Ohio School Treasurer’s License in 2017 and subsequently renewed it in 2022. Voters can trust my financial and mathematical knowledge and expertise. I had direct roles in the $56 million of community tax dollars used for construction of the 2017 High School addition and the recent K-5 elementary and athletic stadium project, all completed on time and within budget.”

Funding for the district is always a concern since state funding changes from year to year. How do you bring new money/funding to the district?

Butler: “With our unprecedented growth there will be more local taxes collected. I want to see the school board work more collaboratively with the township trustees. Our district will continue to feel the burden from the unfair annexation policies of this state. We need to establish better plans and contingency plans to support the growth of our student population. With this growth will come the opportunity to work with area businesses to establish relationships that will be economically beneficial to the school district.”

Leskowich: “The first thing I would do before asking for any funding from outside sources is look to see where the school district can reduce spending without a detriment to education. I would also look for available grants and that type of funding. Then I would determine the requirements and search for funding as applicable.”

Pahal: “Bethel has recently received a sizable grant which I believe should be used to improve pay for teachers and staff and reduce turnover. I will be doing what I can to apply for additional grants to bring in money from outside the community to fund school expenses and pay while minimizing the financial impact on our community. Additionally, if needed I will work to put forward a modest levy to raise the additional money needed to bring pay for our teachers and staff to levels more comparable to other schools in the area.”

Sebastian: “Bethel completely funded our brand-new K-5 elementary school and athletic stadium without a bond issue because the board, which I was an integral part of, created a New Construction Fund in 2017. With the growth, we continue to receive additional property tax and income tax revenue. However, there are added expenses. We must manage our new revenue wisely, or we will have to ask voters for levies. Also, the district has begun to receive additional revenue through the state’s Fair School Funding Plan. Finally, we will continue to research and apply for state and federal grants.”

What are the strengths of the district?

Butler: “Our community is built on the pride we have in the education this district has provided for more than a century. Our history is one that supports and encourages student accomplishments and achievements, while striving to make every student successful. Our community passes levies. Our teachers and classified staff have sacrificed to make the best education available to the students of this township.”

Leskowich: “We have amazing teachers who truly care about educating our kids. We have a caring community that always comes together in time of need. We have parents who want to be involved in their child(ren)’s education. We have a multicultural community, which includes many military families.”

Pahal: “We have excellent teachers and staff that put their all into the education and care of our students. Additionally, we have supportive parents working behind the scenes to support a wide range of educational and extracurricular activities. It’s those people that make Bethel the great school it is.”

Sebastian: “Our district is a tight-knit community, where people care about each other. I can think of countless times, including one when our own child had a serious health issue, that the teachers, coaches, staff, administration, and friends rallied around the student to provide necessary support. People come to Bethel because we provide good academic programs. We offer courses in technology, STEM, language, and traditional curriculum. We also encourage our students to participate in extracurriculars because we believe in well-rounded students. Whether sports, music, or arts organizations, students get the skills they need to excel in life.”

What are the weaknesses of the district? How do you improve the weaknesses?

Butler: “The district has had to embrace the greatest growth it’s ever seen. It was expected but we were not prepared for it. The relationship between the Board, central office administration and staff is strained. Relationships must be built on trust and support. I will focus on rebuilding trust between the school board and the teachers and classified staff.”

Leskowich: “Struggling Students & Teacher/Staff Retention: As a member of the board, I will insist the superintendent listens to parents and teachers of struggling students then provide applicable assistance. We will task the superintendent to investigate early literacy support and contact other districts for best practices. The superintendent will monitor progress until each student is performing at grade level. I will work with the board and ensure the district implements an exit interview process. The board will make teacher and staff salaries competitive with surrounding school districts. Lastly, I will require the superintendent supports teachers and staff when implementing consequences for students who violate school policies.”

Pahal: “Probably the biggest weakness of the district is the high turnover rate for teachers and staff. High turnover causes instability for the school and makes it difficult for teachers, staff, and students to build the sense of community we all want. It’s clear from talking with teachers and staff that we have to start providing pay competitive with other schools if we want better retention. I will make this a priority.”

Sebastian: “The district’s enrollment has increased from a small 900 student school to an over 2,000 student school in 15 years. Growth allows us more opportunities, but changes from small-town school practices are not always welcomed. We need to modernize processes because of the growth. Things as simple as making purchase orders electronic weren’t done until 2021. Even when people “complain” about change, we must move forward gradually and communicate those changes. Continuing to follow good examples and implement best practices will help us manage the growth.”

How can you improve communication with school district residents?

Butler: “I think communication would improve with a better public dialogue between the school board and the public. The school board cannot comment “off the cuff” but a public response to the questions asked at the board meeting will go a long way in restoring community trust.”

Leskowich: “I believe we need to select a few methods of communication rather than have numerous options that are all updated differently and with different information. It would also be helpful if the communication process was standardized.”

Pahal: “I plan to implement action item tracking for the board. In other words, when a question or concern is brought up by the community, we will annotate the question as an action item. A board member or staff will be assigned to resolve the action item and follow up with the board. At the next board meeting, that and any other open action items will be reviewed to let the community know what is or has been done to resolve the action items until they are resolved and closed.”

Sebastian: “We have done a lot to improve communication in my 8 years on the school board. The School District utilizes the Ohio Open Checkbook program. The Bethel School Board has videoed all public meetings since 2020. The board meeting agendas and minutes are also online for residents and community members to view. We hired a communications director to help manage all the communiques (including web page, social media outlets, the Bethel app, and quarterly newsletters). We also typically respond to requests within one business day.”

Any comments you would like to add?

Butler: “The traditions of this community school go back more than a century and have built the foundation for our legacy. There has never been a better time to be a Bethel Bee. This is a time to work together, united, to overcome the challenges we face. We need everyone in the community to come together to provide the very best we can for the rising generation.”

Leskowich: “Throughout my 23-year career, the Air Force instilled in me three core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all you do. I continue to live by these values and will embrace the same values when elected to serve on the School Board of Education.”

Pahal: “I absolutely support the freedom of parents to raise their children as they wish and believe schools need to accommodate parents’ preferences where practicable, but the school must remain within bounds of laws and statutes. As a community we strive to set and enforce common sense standards of conduct for ourselves and students to maintain order and civility. I draw a hard line at parents imposing their beliefs and standards on children not their own when doing so takes away from the freedoms of that child and their parents.”

Sebastian: “For more information, read the 8 tabs at Also, one important topic that the district needs to focus is improving staff compensation. Bethel has not been in the top half of school district compensation in the region. More competitive salaries will help improve staff retention. Two ways to accomplish this: (1) additional revenue from the Fair School Funding Plan and (2) knowledgeable administrators and board members to negotiate salary schedules that are within our district’s means to pay and that are fair to staff. I have the skill set to understand and help with this process.”

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