TEMPERANCE - Bedford Public School officials yesterday were measuring just how deep the split is within their community after a weekend spent fielding phone calls from local residents about John Kerry's planned speech to Bedford's graduates on June 6.
"I was on the phone all weekend," school board member Laura Senters said. "It was funny. All the people that were against [Senator Kerry's speech] called on Friday, but by Saturday it was as if someone had thrown a switch and I got a bunch of calls from people supporting it."
Mr. Kerry's planned commencement address will be discussed when the board of education meets at 7:30 tonight in Monroe Road Elementary. The meeting was to have been an executive session on negotiations but now is likely to turn into a political free-for-all regarding whether the Democratic presidential candidate should speak during the graduation ceremony.
The issue arose when a Bedford student asked President Bush and Mr. Kerry for interviews for the high school newspaper. Mr. Kerry's campaign responded by volunteering him as a speaker at the graduation, to be held at the University of Toledo's Savage Hall.
Among those opposed to the speech is board member Steve Lennex. An eight-year school board member who is active in local political circles, Mr. Lennex has a long history of criticizing those with whom he disagrees, such as when the commercial real estate broker referred to fellow school board members as "bobble-heads."
Mr. Lennex's outspoken opposition to the commencement address from Senator Kerry has found support within the community from parents upset that the proceedings might be disrupted or undignified to others who object to the potentially partisan nature of the event.
Supporting the student-initiated visit by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee are likely to be some of Mr. Lennex's colleagues on the school board, almost all of Bedford's administration, a majority of graduates, and some
parents as well.
Bedford High School principal Denny Caldwell set the ground rules for Mr. Kerry's appearance, and conducted his own survey among faculty, staff, and students to gauge support before agreeing to it. School officials did not allow media access to students yesterday.
"I think [Mr. Caldwell] has done a responsible job of surveying people," outgoing Bedford Superintendent Jim Goebel said.
The high school principal found just two people out of his staff of 100 who objected to permitting the speech, while support among the student body was "about 90 percent or more," Mr. Goebel said.
In preliminary talks with campaign officials, Mr. Cald-well "was adamant" that there be no political statements in the senator's remarks, which are to focus on the importance of community service, Mr. Goebel said.
District officials also said there would be no signs allowed, and that Mr. Kerry's remarks would only be made in the ceremony after four honors graduates gave their remarks and the school's Soiree Singers perform, as is the district's usual practice.
Tickets for the event would be limited to 10 per family, but Mr. Goebel said if any graduate's family wanted or needed more, they would be provided.
"The whole idea of tickets is to screen out the public and keep this to friends and family," the superintendent said. "We normally have about 4,200 people at our graduation ceremonies, but the capacity at UT is about 11,000, so space isn't going to be an issue."
Security for Senator Kerry's appearance would be provided by the Secret Service, and wouldn't cost the cash-strapped district any additional money, school officials said.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:
or 419-724-6091.41.77877 -83.56882