1) What are your priorities for building projects, including new schools?
First, we must finish current and planned projects in a timely and efficient manner. We need to ensure that completion of the new Bryant building is on track. Next, we will need to make sure that the plans for the new Hunt school fit the needs of the community and will integrate seamlessly into the neighborhood. We also need to prioritize getting air conditioning to all students in the district.
In addition, we need to emphasize maintenance and longevity of our existing buildings, especially our aging high schools, since we do not yet know if the Legislature will extend the SAVE program. If that program is not extended, we will likely need to begin looking at repurposing and retrofitting existing buildings to meet new needs.
2) On what education issues at the state level should the local Board of Education take a leadership position?
We must push the Legislature to extend the SAVE program (the penny sales tax that supports construction and maintenance of school infrastructure). Without that extension, we will not have funding for future building projects and may have difficulty funding proper maintenance of our buildings.
In addition, we must insist on adequate funding through state supplemental aid (SSA) and adjustments to the state funding formula so that all school districts are treated equally. There is no excuse for the state continuing to fund our district at a lower rate than others. Finally, we must advocate for an alignment of our student assessment process with our classroom curriculum so that we can obtain more accurate information about where we are succeeding and where we need to improve.
3) What steps do you advocate our school system take to meet the challenges of a student population growing in diversity?
Our district’s diverse population provides both challenges and opportunities. We should find more ways to emphasize language skills in early grades for all students. This will put our students in better position to learn and excel in the substantive language-based classes in later grades, such as English, history and civics. We will also need to make sure we are reaching out to parents from all parts of the community for input and evaluate whether there are better communication outlets to reach our diverse populations. We should also encourage interested students to take advantage of open enrollment to specialty schools across the district so that students from different parts of our district have an opportunity to interact with one another and learn from each other.
4) What is your opinion on how the school board responded earlier this year to allegations made by John Chalstrom, former chief financial officer for the district, about Superintendent Paul Gausman? How would you seek to protect the public’s right to know the business of the local school district?
Supervising the superintendent is a fundamental part of the board’s job. Just as an allegation of employee misconduct would be handled by a supervisor, so too should allegations against the superintendent be handled initially by his supervisor: the board.
However, if the board determines that there is a significant risk of liability or that the available resources are inadequate to yield accurate and independent facts, the board should consider hiring an outside investigator to make a report and recommendations.
Without access to the confidential facts, I can’t determine whether the board struck the right balance in this case. In general, the board can only perform its supervisory function properly if it has adequate information and resources. Ultimately, however, it is up to the board to make the final decision on these matters and to answer to the electorate for its decision.
5) What principles will guide your decisions when salaries and benefits for employees of the school district are discussed during budget deliberations? How, if at all, will changes made during the last legislative session to the state’s collective bargaining laws impact your approach?
The guiding principle for all of my decisions on the board will be the welfare of students and advancing student achievement. Because strong, well-trained teachers are the most important factor in student success, salary and benefits decisions should always consider our district’s need to attract and retain the best teachers. As we face tight budgets in the coming years, input from teachers will become even more vital to that process.
Recent legislative changes notwithstanding, I want teachers at the bargaining table helping the district figure out how to attract and retain the best and the brightest in the face of difficult economic circumstances. Working together will allow us to make sure our students aren’t short-changed by tight budgets.
6) What steps will you support and do you believe the Board of Education should take if state budget challenges result in allowable growth of 1.1 percent (the figure approved by the Legislature this year) next year?
Difficult budgets will require the board to be creative as we try to do more with less, to reduce costs without reducing services to our students. We must consider working with the city, the county and other school districts to find synergies and efficiencies in purchasing and in the delivery of services. We will also need to work with employee groups to find savings. We must continue to find ways to streamline our processes – such as reducing meetings and paperwork so that teachers can focus more energy on teaching and preparing to teach – to maximize our resources while keeping class sizes manageable.
In addition, we need to focus on energy-efficient infrastructure and equipment in our new buildings and existing buildings to reduce operating costs.