Former SACS board member: ‘try to find the common ground’

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Tom Rhoades had some thoughts on the seven years he spent on the Southwest Allen County Schools board – starting with the attention board meetings have received lately compared to when he started.

“We had no one showing up at our meetings. When I ran, it was really hard to get people interested in the school board, let alone running for school board,” he said. “It’s not a lucrative position. I think by state law we make $2,000 a year. So someone’s really gotta want to serve.”

Rhoades resigned his seat last month because he moved outside the district. Tuesday the board selected Doug Copley, one of 29 applicants, to complete Rhoades’ term which expires at the end of 2022.

Rhoades has heard a national-level elected official say his time on a school board was the toughest in his political career – and that was before COVID-19.

“It’s a very challenging position. You’re at the grassroots and you’re dealing with people’s children and their educational system.”

Rhoades said few school boards were qualified for the medical decisions they were forced to make when Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R) put the mask mandate decision into their hands.

“They said ‘listen to your experts’ but there were people who are really experts on both sides.”

SACS ultimately did away with the mask mandate, based on the large percentage of vaccinated people in the district.

“I still stand by that decision. We weren’t seeing the number of kids in quarantine that other districts were seeing. We don’t know exactly why but we do know that two of our zip codes were seeing the highest number of vaccinated adults. We’ve got to believe that the vaccinations do make a difference. I think we were seeing the results of the vaccination in our schools.”

Southwest Allen board meetings avoided much of the chaos seen elsewhere. In his conversation with WANE 15, Rhoades was optimistic that local school board members could find a civil way to move forward.

“I don’t think we can ever stop trying to find the middle ground. Right now we are so polarized in so many areas that I don’t think very many people are looking for common ground. The common ground is what unites all of us – or the majority of us. This nation was founded on the idea of common ground and compromise. So we have to keep striving for that.”

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