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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sparks joins race for District 62 state representative

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jeff Sparks
Dismayed by what he sees as increasing legislative mistreatment of public schools and teachers, Linton-Stockton Junior High School Principal Jeff Sparks will now run for District 62 state representative as a Democrat.

"In public education, teachers and schools need to have some of the respect and honor they deserve restored, rather than all this constant criticism," he said. "I would like to see public schools re-funded the way they ought to be, and the respect returned to public schools that they so richly deserve."

He's watched a steady stream of teachers -- good teachers, and experienced ones -- leave the profession.

"A lot of good teachers are leaving in the next year," he said. "And at this point, I don't think you've even seen the tip of the iceberg if things don't turn around."

As an instructor in graduate school, he's also seen enrollment in master's of education programs decline dramatically.

"Those are about done, because the changes to licensing have said a master's degree's just not important," he said.

Sparks, 54, will run unopposed in the May primary.

He's worked in Linton since 1980, beginning as a vocational agriculture teacher before becoming junior high principal in 2000.

"I see this as continuing to fight for schools and kids," he said. I think schools have been treated unfairly."

In the fall, Sparks will face incumbent Matt Ubelhor, the rural Bloomfield Republican whose first term coincided with some of the most dramatic changes to education funding in decades.

If elected, Sparks aims to enact the Teacher's Bill of Rights, an overview of the specific abilities and rights educators have which will help enable them to do work more effectively.

That proposal, originally discussed in 2008, never came to pass.

"It's more about giving teachers the tools they need to do the best job they can," he said, adding he's seen teachers spending an increasing amount of time doing paperwork imposed by the state.

"They're spending less time on teaching than they do that these days," he said, adding the state's pattern of imposing unfunded mandates where increasing requirements aren't matched by money needed to get the job done poses problems.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Education Secretary Tony Bennett spearheaded in 2010 measures which cut $600 million from state education, removed a portion of teacher's collective bargaining rights, and promoted charter and private schools.

Those changes sparked extensive debate and criticism by educators.

They also spurred Sparks to act.

"Either I'm going to sit here and gripe, or else I need to step forward for what I believe in," Sparks said. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Criticism of teachers and schools during a troubled economic period isn't new, Sparks said.

"It's the lowest common denominator: Nearly all of us attended public schools, so if things are bad for the economy, schools get blamed, as if there must be something wrong with them. In fact, it's other things."

Two weeks ago, Sparks expected to spend the summer campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, a former Speaker of the Indiana House.

Instead, a long conversation with his wife Sharon about how education and teachers are currently treated led him to a last-minute decision.

Sparks enlisted fellow educator and former Linton City Councilman Charlie Cox as his campaign manager, while Mike Williams will serve as his treasurer.

While Sparks would have to take a leave of absence during the legislative sessions, Sparks wouldn't be the first educator to serve in the General Assembly.

Although he's eligible for retirement, the idea doesn't interest him.

"I can retire, if I want to," said Sparks. " But I have no plans to retire. I don't want to retire. I love my job. I love what I do."

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I wish all political races had two solid candidates running. Good luck to both men!

-- Posted by The Raven on Wed, Feb 22, 2012, at 9:25 AM

jeff was my ag teacher in the 80,s he was a great teacher and we learned alot from him just not farming. he cares about the kids he would do a great job he has my vote

-- Posted by iumufu on Wed, Feb 22, 2012, at 12:55 PM

he is a great candidate! he has had experience as a teacher and administrator. he has a background in agri-buisness too! i wish that john gregg would find a candidate of this quality for state school super. good for you mr sparks.

-- Posted by thunderoad on Thu, Feb 23, 2012, at 10:08 PM

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