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School board candidates debate

Lu Snyder

FRISCO – Though all six candidates vying for the four open seats on the school board agree on a number of issues, their opinions differ when it comes to the district’s perceived top three problems.

Four school board members’ terms expire this November: Board President Bill Pelham and members Jay Brunvand, Pat Keehley and Stuart Adams.

Term limits are forcing Pelham to leave the board after eight years and Keehley is not running for the seat to which she was appointed. Brunvand is completing his first four-year term as a board member and Adams was appointed to his seat in January and must face election to his seat.

Jon Kreamelmeyer, Ruth Hertzberg, James Shaw and Robert Bowers have joined Brunvand and Adams in the bid for the vacant seats. All six candidates – with backgrounds ranging from education to business – gathered Thursday for a debate at Frisco Elementary School.

One of the district’s teachers attending Thursday’s debate said she wanted to make sure the six candidates had done their homework and asked them to name what they perceived to be the district’s top three issues and to prioritize them.

With a two-minute time limit, Kreamelmeyer was only able to list his first two priorities: that the district foster a good relationship with teachers and staff and that the district’s travel policy not discourage school trips.

“To make it so difficult to travel doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.

Brunvand, Shaw and Bowers each listed fiscal responsibility as the district’s primary responsibility.

“That will flow into everything else,” Brunvand said.

Brunvand said he feels the district also is obliged to plan for each student’s future and to invest in the professional development of the staff.

Shaw said he wants the district to improve on the education it delivers to its students by increasing academic rigor, narrowing performance gaps and investing in teachers. His third priority is to make preschool and kindergarten programs available to every potential student.

“The most important thing is to get them (in school) early,” he said.

As a former teacher, Bowers said he believes the district’s second priority should be to improve the morale of the staff.

“If teachers aren’t happy, education is not going to be very good,” he said.

The district also needs to reduce the negative atmosphere in the schools – particularly at the high school, he said.

“I think a lot of things could be solved if there were a positive environment in the schools,” Bowers said.

Hertzberg listed the integration of English Language Learner (ELL) students as the district’s primary problem. Next is the district’s responsibility to improve relations among the administration, faculty and parents. Her third priority would be to improve the education at the high school, she said.

All candidates seemed to agree that the integration and education of ELL students has become an increasingly pressing issue over the past several years.

The district has a growing population of Hispanic, West African and Eastern European students – all who have different needs, depending on their age and language levels.

“We want to deal with each student as his or her needs require,” Adams said.

Each candidate said that – if elected – he or she would support the district putting a renewal of the special mill levy on next year’s ballot. The mill levy funds the construction and renovation of the schools as well as maintenance.

It was first passed in 2001 as the first three years of a nine-year plan to build schools on a cash basis, saving taxpayers on debt interest payment associated with traditional borrowing. The mill levy raises about $10 million a year and its current big result is construction of a new Silverthorne Elementary School. About $8 million goes to school construction while the rest funds maintenance and technology.

If the mill levy is rejected in 2004, the school construction and renovation plan would skid to a halt and the general education fund would have to bear up about $800,000 in ongoing maintenance expenses, forcing school programs to be cut.

When asked if they support extracurricular activities that require students, such as those on sport teams, to miss classes, the board candidates’ answers varied.

While all candidates said they support extracurricular activities and athletics, not all seemed to support students missing class.

Bowers suggested that the district look into the potential of night or summer classes to supplement the academic time students miss as a result of extracurricular conflicts.

“I am amazed to learn that the students are missing so much school,” Hertzberg said, noting that, though she and her children were involved in sports when in school, it never required missing class. “The students are really not being served if they’re missing a quarter or a third of the year.”

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or lsnyder@summitdaily.com.


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