Ron Colling

Sioux City School Board candidate Ron Colling speaks with the Journal editorial board Aug. 29. He'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?

We should continue the process of building new schools to replace the remaining elementary school buildings; it should be noted three existing elementary school buildings - Hunt, Riverside, and Sunnyside - are not air-conditioned. Our high schools are over 40 years old and probably require some attention to bring them online with current educational practices and to ensure they are as energy-efficient as possible. The three middle schools should also be evaluated to determine if classrooms are large enough for current class sizes.

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

The board should aggressively lobby our legislative delegation to increase the rate of allowable growth; collaborate with other districts to coordinate our educational message in Des Moines; make sure our legislators have the information necessary to advocate for us; empower parents and other stakeholders to be education advocates by ensuring they have pertinent information to help make their views heard; address inequities in the school funding formula which disadvantage "property-poor" districts like Sioux City; and advocate that the Legislature addresses the funding formula early enough to allow districts to budget responsibly. Budgets should be able to be prepared with real figures and on time.

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

The district should survey our students and parents to determine which languages are spoken in our students' households to facilitate the provision of interpreters for parent-teacher conferences and other parent meetings. Because of the large number of non-English speaking households, school publications should be printed in English and as many languages as feasible.

The district should encourage diverse representation on the District Advisory Committee and should use the committee to gather insights and concerns when formulating district policy and procedures.

We should also invite agencies which serve different student populations to attend parent-teacher conferences to connect with parents and to staff meetings to explain services available to students and their families in an effort to better address student needs.

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?

Many of the details of Mr. Chalstrom's allegations will never be known by the public because his departure is considered a personnel matter and therefore confidential. I do feel that the investigation could have been conducted by an agent outside the school district rather than the internal investigation that was chosen. The impartiality of an external investigation might have given the public reassurance as well as serving to bring to the district's attention any shortcomings of or possible improvements needed in current practices and procedures.

While personnel matters are justifiably confidential, the public's right to know the business of the local school district is also imperative. School business deserves as much transparency and stakeholder input as possible.

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 upcoming round of collective bargaining will be the first between the district and its employee groups since the changes made during the last state legislative session. The revised collective bargaining rules allow for a labor management committee to discuss employment conditions. A labor management committee similar to the current insurance committee would be a good place to start.

For many of the district's students, parents, and community members, our administrators, teachers, instructional aides, secretaries, bus drivers and food service workers are the "face" of the Sioux City Community School District. They are the people the public thinks of when the phrase "the school" is mentioned. Therefore, the district must treat its employees as professionals who are our partners in achieving student safety and success.

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?

A 1.1 percent allowable growth rate is inadequate to ensure student success. School board members must lobby our local delegation and work with other groups to help our legislators support a reasonable allowable growth rate.

The board should empower parents as advocates for their children to state legislators. The board should direct the administration to identify parent and community groups who are advocates for each of our many student groups and provide these groups with background information and talking points so they feel more comfortable approaching legislators.

Whatever the amount funded by the Legislature, a hard look at the district budget will be necessary. I support a budgeting process that utilizes public input and puts everything on the table with student success as my guiding principle.


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