Bartlesville School Board President Scott Bilger addressed voters at a meet and greet on Wednesday, answering questions about the campaign for his board seat, a position he has held for 12 years, and his challenger Jonathan Bolding.
About 30 people attended the intimate meeting, held in the back room of Sterling’s Grille, 2905 E. Frank Phillips Blvd., to discuss campaigns leading up to the April 5 election.
Bilger discussed the council’s accomplishments during his tenure, the district’s COVID-19 response, the challenges facing the district and his opponent.
Bilger has made it clear that his campaign will need to raise funds to compete with the “real campaign” that Bolding will be running. Asked about his opponent’s motives, Bilger said he met Bolding for coffee in December and was told that Bolding was a “fixer” but had no specific idea. what needed to be fixed.
“I’ve been to every board meeting for, I don’t know how many years, and he’s been here twice. He talked both times about masks and the fact that we had vaccination clinics at school,” Bilger said.
He said he hoped to have public debates during the campaign.
Among the accomplishments since his time on the board, Bilger included the creation of an internship program for high school seniors, an agriculture program, and a science, technology, technology learning lab. engineering and mathematics.
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The addition of the STEM lab has impacted the school district‘s culture and now 4,200 of the district’s 6,000 students use it regularly, he said.
“We’ve made a lot of changes in 12 years and a lot of what I consider to be dramatic improvements in what we’ve been able to do,” Bilger said.
“It was a culture-changing event because probably half a dozen times we went to teachers and administrators and said, ‘No, you don’t understand. Dream bigger.’ … For people who have never worked in an environment where that was a possibility, where they were told to cut costs, to get more with less … it was eye-opening.
Bilger said the “biggest challenge” the district will face in the coming years is the ability to recruit and retain teachers as fewer people pursue teaching certificates and more students enter the school system.
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To remain competitive, the district will need to continue to make progress in teacher compensation and culture and will need to maintain past progress made in maintaining a reasonable teacher-student ratio.
He also expressed concern, however, about the possibility of losing Bartlesville Public Schools Superintendent Chuck McCauley, who led the district through a teacher strike and pandemic.
Bilger said he has a good relationship with McCauley and that major school districts in the state have superintendent positions that offer higher salaries.
“Chuck and I are close. I’m not telling you that Chuck McCauley will leave if I lose this election, but like all of us, it’s hard to turn down a meaningful pay raise,” Bilger said. “If you have to deal with some things that you just don’t really want to deal with all of a sudden around masks and vaccines and all those things that are at the bottom of the list of big problems in running a school district, it becomes an easier question to say yes to.