School board candidates Q&A
Over the next three weeks, the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor will run candidates answers to three questions regarding their opinions on key issues facing school board members.
Below are each candidate’s answers for week one. Pick up the Oct. 22 Berthoud Weekly Surveyor for the next round of answers.
What is the highest priority issue facing the board of education currently and what do you propose to address it if elected?
Dysfunction. The first thing that a newly seated board will need to do is build trust among themselves and in the community. Right now, the board is in a stalemate that renders it ineffective. This is a crucial time for the Thompson School District. Race to the Top imposed profound changes on education within the last three years and these changes need to be managed.
The recession left districts to manage with less funding under the negative factor. In Thompson, ACT scores have declined. The district remediation rate is 54 percent and there are 10 of 30 schools on performance improvement plans. There isn’t time for a stalemate among district leadership. We need to come together to improve student achievement and strengthen these schools. But first we need to heal and create an environment that will foster collaboration.
I would like to take a measured approach to outstanding issues, utilizing a special work session to hear each member’s priorities and concerns. This would not be a voting meeting, just time to communicate.
Then, I would like to take these issues to the community and present the concerns and potential solutions. I would spend time with the community in a town-hall setting where they could express concerns and present solutions, too. These town-hall type meetings would be continuous as a necessary component to earning stakeholder trust.
The school board members may not always agree, but they must strive to set an example of civil leadership. There should be no doubt that students are the top priority for the Thompson School District.
The loss of teachers, staff, and administration. The most recent Colorado Department of Education statistics show the Thompson School District teacher turnover ratio at 20.21 percent compared to 11.48 percent in neighboring Poudre School District. Administrators exited at an astonishing 37.5 percent. Employees do not feel valued, respected or listened to by the Board of Education (BOE). Good teachers are the most important asset a school district can have and are the biggest key to the success of students. The altruistic nature of teachers can allow them to sacrifice fair compensation but not when coupled with disrespect.
Our teachers and administrators are the experts in education and it’s imperative that the BOE repair the damage created in the last two years. A collaborative atmosphere and mutual respect needs to exist where the BOE is not only working together but working with district administrators, staff and teachers as well. Solutions come from listening to all ideas.
Although there are several important issues facing the board, I feel they can’t be properly addressed without first working to come together as one board with a focus on our students. The current partisan fighting, arguing, and simply dysfunction of the board is getting in the way of progress. I will use my experience and leadership training in order to keep an open mind while working with my fellow board members. We all have the same goal of excellence in education for our children so we must return the focus to their best interests. Everything that comes before me as a board member will have to satisfy, in this order, that it benefits our students, our parents, our teachers and administrators and our taxpayers.
The board faces many issues that, when all voices are once again allowed in the boardroom, we can collaborate to find solutions. One issue that troubles me greatly is the deferred maintenance and repairs of our facilities. We cannot put off addressing our aging facilities much longer.
We currently have millions upon millions in deferred maintenance and we can’t keep putting off the bill. To face this challenge, we need to have dialogue with our community about what it wants and what it values.
We need to do more than just allow the public to speak to us for three minutes at a board meeting; we must arrive at solutions the community can get behind after collaborating with parents, civic leaders, the business community and other stakeholders residing within the Thompson School District boundaries.
Out of those conversations will emerge priorities and hard choices. Do we repurpose schools? Do we cut services? Do we seek additional funding from the community? All of those things? Whatever we decide upon, it will require community buy in.
I think the highest priority facing the board of education in the Thompson School District is the dysfunction of the board. This dysfunction has led the direction of the school board away from focusing on the needs of individual children of our district to focusing instead on personal and ideological differences.
The current board has been distracted from focusing on issues of importance, such as finding solutions for our delayed maintenance and making sure we are meeting the needs of our special education students. Although Berthoud’s scores are exemplary, many of the schools in our district have shown declining scores in statewide school rankings and in ACT scores. We need to be able to focus on improving the education in individual schools. I think we can start on a point of agreement, that we all want the children of our district to succeed. If we start there and are willing to listen to the teachers, administrators and parents, we will be able to move forward together toward solutions.
Attracting and retaining the best teachers, as well as providing our students with the material resources they need is my priority. Thompson School District does not provide competitive salaries to teachers or other district personnel. In addition, we have many physical plant and technology needs that were deferred during the Great Recession.
I will use the recommendations from the Master Plan Committee to determine possible efficiencies in our schools, allowing us to free up room in the budget to address the salary issue. Also, keeping in mind that it is not pay alone that drives employees, I will re-establish a mutually respectful and collaborative relationship with our teachers and ensure that they have the resources they need to do their jobs well.
The first and largest problem facing the board is leadership and the ability to work together with the primary focus on our students. Most everyone agrees that the current board does not function well together.
I have spent most of my 37-year-professional career bringing people together to solve complex problems. This doesn’t just happen — it’s a skill that needs to be coupled with respect for people, leadership, and communication. Most of my assignments over the past 10 years have been working on very challenging multinational accounts where there are many barriers to success. We have many of those same challenges on our current board, but they can and must be overcome. Thompson’s board sets the tone for our entire district and our community. Our teachers, parents, and students see the example being set by our board, so it is imperative that the board leads through example and that we demonstrate the type of behavior we want others to practice. This is especially true with regard to our students. It’s important for them to know that people can respectfully disagree about issues, but still come together to successfully accomplish the important challenges we face in our daily lives. I will bring this type of leadership to the board. I will listen, respect other’s views and opinions, and always keep our students first when making tough decisions.
The board’s responsibility is to provide public oversight, establish policy and set quantifiable goals and objectives. The board needs to be nonpartisan, local and represent the entire community, not just the select few. There has been much public comment about the lack of board decorum, but more important is the board majority’s lack of integrity.
Two jurists, a retired Colorado appeals court judge serving as arbitrator for the failed teacher contract negotiations and a sitting trial judge independently came to the same conclusion — the board majority did not negotiate in good faith with the teachers.
The board majority’s action resulted in the court issuing an unprecedented injunction against our school board for breach of contract. Whether you agree with the intentions of the board or not, our publicly elected officials must deal in a forthright and transparent manner. To make matters worse, on Sept. 16 the board majority announced, that as arranged by the board counsel, it would accept a $150,000 grant to pay for part of its legal fees without public comment or time to review. Within a month the $150,000 has already been spent with the trial date still to be scheduled.
The board’s lack of integrity has cost the district and our children dearly. Starting this school year 20 percent of our teachers elected not to return, 33 percent at Loveland High School alone. If the board wishes to stop this exodus, the board needs to establish a mutually respectful relationship with our teachers, and not treat them with contempt as the court ruled. The board should dismiss its costly legal counsel and concentrate on educating our children.
The highest priority is to re-establish the board’s integrity by dealing openly and forthrightly with everyone and not inadvisably following some outside ideology.
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