Bartlesville Board of Education President Scott Bilger addressed voters in a Wednesday meet-and-greet, answering questions about the campaign for his seat on the board, a position he has held for 12 years, and 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 the campaigns leading up to the April 5 election.
Bilger discussed accomplishments of the board during his tenure, the district’s COVID-19 response, challenges facing the district and his opponent.
Bilger made clear his campaign will need to raise money to compete against the “real campaign” Bolding will run. When asked about his opponent’s motivations, Bilger said he met with Bolding for coffee in December and was told Bolding is a “fix-it guy,” but does not have specific ideas of what to fix.
“I’ve been in every board meeting for the last, I don’t know how many years, and he’s come twice. He spoke both times about masks and the fact that we were having vaccination clinics in the school,” Bilger said.
He said he hoped to have public debates during the campaign.
Among accomplishments since his time on the board, Bilger included the creation of an internship program for high school seniors, an agriculture program and of a lab for science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning.
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The addition of the STEM lab impacted the culture of the school district 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 view as 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 the 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 have been told to cut costs, get more out of less … it was eye-opening.”
Bilger said the “biggest challenge” facing the district in coming years is the ability to recruit and retain teachers as less people pursue teaching certificates and more students enter the school system.
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To stay competitive, the district will need to continue to make strides in teacher pay and culture and will need to maintain previous progress made to maintain a reasonable teacher-to-student ratio.
He also expressed concern, however, about the possibility of losing Bartlesville Public Schools Superintendent Chuck McCauley, who has led the district through a teacher walk-out and pandemic.
Bilger said he has a good relationship with McCauley and larger school districts in the state have superintendent openings that offer higher salaries.
“Chuck and I are close. I’m not telling you Chuck McCauley is leaving if I lose this election, but just like any of us, it’s hard to turn down a significant pay raise,” Bilger said. “If you’re having to deal with some stuff you just don’t really want to deal with all of a sudden around masks, vaccines and all those things that are way down the list of big issues to run a school district, that becomes an easier question to say yes to.”