Miyuki Nelson

Sioux City School Board candidate Miyuki Nelson speaks with the Journal editorial board Wednesday. She's one of five candidates seeking one of three seats in the Sept. 12 election.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

1) What are your priorities for building projects, including new schools?

My priorities for building projects are:

• To replace vintage-age old buildings with energy efficient schools.

• To complete the Bryant project and to proceed with the Hunt project on budget and on time.

• Eliminate early outs due to extreme temps by adding air conditioning to remaining elementary schools.

• To remodel aging high schools.

• To continue to serve the transportation needs of the district.

• To fund technology expansion and facilitate the growth of the Career Academies and continue to provide students with adaptable skills and knowledge needed to enter the highly competitive global workforce.

• I will advocate to get the penny sales tax extension passed and to eliminate the sunset date, to ensure it continues to be used for school infrastructure and to note there’s no cost to extend because it’s already in place.

2) On what education issues at the state level should the local Board of Education take a leadership position?

I will take a direct leadership role to advocate for adequate, equitable and timely funding by requesting the Legislature provide state supplemental assistance to match the cost of inflation and the national average (Iowa averages 10 percent below).

• Equitable funding providing all-school-district authority to spend the same amount of money on each student.

Iowa's school funding formula was revised to define the state cost per pupil and brought all district spending less than that amount up to cost by paying for it with a combination of local property tax and state aid. Only those districts previously spending more than the newly defined SCPP were allowed to continue to spend more, paid for with local property tax. Hence, in some districts some students are worth more than our students.

The fiscal year 2017 SCPP was $6,591 and, currently, 48.8 percent of districts are limited to this amount. However, the remaining 52.8 percent of districts are allowed to spend a range of $6,592 to $6,766, or $1 to $175 more. Therefore, in some districts some students are worth more than in other districts; it is unacceptable that ours are worth less.

The request to the Legislature is to revise the formula to provide the same amount of money per student for all districts (to close the gap would cost the state an estimated $82 million). The reality of this request being met is small. But the Legislature could consider alternative ways to provide flexibility to use resources without adding additional funding such as providing school districts with more authority in the meantime to close the funding gap over a period of time.

• To request an overhaul of the state education funding formula to meet the needs of 21st-century students.

• To consider alternatives ways to provide flexibility to use resources without additional funding.

• To announce supplemental funding in a timely manner to allow districts to formulate accurate forecasting.

3) What steps do you advocate our school system take to meet the challenges of a student population growing in diversity?

The educational benefits of diversity provide students with meaningful interactions and cultural awareness. In order to meet the diverse needs of English language learners, or ELL, I would advocate for flexibility and blending of funds to be considered by the state Legislature. I would engage legislators in understanding the importance to increase funding for ELL students to allow them more time to bridge the learning gap. These decisions are a good investment because better-prepared students meet and close achievement gaps, increase the graduation rate and meet strategic goals for our school district. It also provides a prepared workforce for our community.

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?

First and foremost, it is my expectation that everyone will be treated with dignity and respect. 

On the specific situation noted, it would have been my recommendation to acquire the services of a third party to assess the allegations and report back to the school board.  Thereafter, the school board would provide a statement on the findings to the community.

I will strive to keep the public informed of pertinent information within the constraints of HR practices, legal counsel and the law as it allows.

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 most important principle that will guide my decision-making process during budget deliberation is that all stakeholders have one common goal, which is to place students at the center of everything we do by providing quality education.

I believe all potential cost savings and prospective efficiencies must be evaluated and realized. The school district can’t exist without its education professionals and support groups and that in itself is valuable. These are tough economic times when everyone may have to sacrifice in order to achieve the mission to see students succeed. These are decisions that must be made with all stakeholders having a voice, support/validation for said needs and all reaching consensus to what is best for our community, school district, staff and, most important, students.

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?

I would support a districtwide evaluation of all expenditures to identify potential cost savings. I would look at program-based costs to ensure they are delivering the intended results. I would support renewing talks to evaluate the opportunities for shared efficiencies with the county, city and the outlaying school districts. I would propose shared initiatives. At the legislative level, I would advocate for the opportunity to capitalize on the energy savings from new-built schools and utilize that savings as spendable dollars (opportunity to reopen the Iowa Energy Bank).

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