The Academy District 20 school board candidates addressed community questions about where they stand on issues during the second of three public forums.
Candidates Kim Wright, Glenn L. Strebe, Bill Murray and Tracey Johnson answered questions regarding budget, teacher pay, how involved they are in the district, CSAP scores and even Proposition 103 during a “meet the candidates’ forum” Oct. 10 at Eagleview Middle School.
Candidates were given three minutes each to give an opening statement and one minute each to respond to the questions.
One question that was asked of the candidates regarded a topic that has plagued districts around the nation — budgets: “As school districts in Colorado continue to face financial challenges how would you work with the D-20 community to determine how to develop a budget?”
Murray tackled the question first saying that it needs to start with a baseline. He said the district has done a good job talking to parents but a poor job talking to the community at large.
“What we need to do is help the community understand the relationship between dollars and cents and student achievement. Right now you’re (district) is doing an incredible amount with very little. We will have to come out and ask for tax increases and bond issues. If the public is informed they’re most likely to assist us in accomplishing the goal that we want to set,” he said.
“You look at what you’ve done,” added Wright. “You try to anticipate those cuts that are going to come. I don’t think anyone knows for sure the level of cuts that are going to come next year when you’re working on that budget. My emphasis is being an incredible steward of the monies that we have and to be as efficient with every dollar that is given to the district and find ways to stretch it and make it go as far as we can. How do you stretch every dollar and keep those cuts from impacting the classroom? Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency.”
Johnson said the district does a wonderful job of keeping their records open and making them available online. “Communication is the key obviously in terms of bringing everyone on board to any suggested financial adaptions that might occur in response to the continuing budget cuts. We don’t want to repeat the errors that have been illustrated by some other districts in our area,” Johnson said. “Things like the public hearing that’s coming up on transportation, choices that are being presented, attend those (meetings). Involve yourself in the process. It is open and available for those to take advantage.”
Strebe said that the district has done a tremendous job in putting together a budget that is very specific. “I think that the most important thing that any school district can do is take the work that they have done and be able to communicate that to the patrons in the community, the taxpayers in the community. So what would I do? I have looked through the budget. It’s very detailed and very extensive. I need to be able to take that budget and be a staunch supporter of it and be an advocate of what the administration has done,” Strebe said. “At the school board level I believe that we have to have an intimate knowledge of that. At the same time we also have to go out and tell the community here’s what’s important: student achievement, taking care of all of the employees and administration and making sure that we have an ongoing concern.”
Another question asked of the candidates was “what are the top three issues the district faces in the next five years?”
Murray answered market outreach, marketability and innovation. “Behind every one of these particular pieces is called infrastructure. Morris law says computing power will double every 16 months. We now have the Library of Congress online but can we get it to you? We need to work on the pipes to make sure your infrastructure is robust enough to take advantage of what already exists and that’s what is critical for all of us.”
“The three issues in D-20 as I see them,” responded Strebe, “are first and foremost the budget, (it) is very crucial to the success (of the district). … Two is long-term planning. I think it’s very crucial that as the world is changing around us the demographics of the school district, the learning styles of the kids in the school district are changing (and) we have to take a very hard look. And while that may be strategic in nature, five years down the road 10 years down the road, you have to start right now. In addition I think it is very vital that we look at teachers and everybody that works in the school district and are making sure that their goals are specifically towards student achievement.”
Johnson agreed that the first priority is the continuing budget cuts. “Secondly are the legislative mandates from the state and federal level,” she said. “And finally the declining student population in certain areas of District 20. As families have children grow up and move out and how (we) continue to excite those families, who no longer have children in our schools, about D-20 and their continued active participation.”
“My three top issues, following suit with everyone, is budget,” Wright added. “Nobody has mentioned the property values declining. Locally with the mill levy bases we are going to see some continued cuts there. The second thing that really tugs at my heartstrings is parental involvement. The parents that don’t ask their kids everyday how was school or don’t get involved breaks my heart... I (also) truly believe we need to empower the teachers even a little more so that they know what the kids need.”
Candidates were also asked what academic areas need the most added emphasis based on evaluations from the past few years’ CSAP scores. Strebe, Murray and Johnson all agreed that it is math, however, Wright said she believes it is the reading and language skills.
“Everyone has spoken to math but without reading and language skills, even if you have a child who is not an excellent math student, if they have the ability to speak well and to read and communicate that in itself will take them a very long way,” Wright said. “How you say math is more important than reading and writing, I don’t know. ... I think that altogether all scores need to be improved and worked on which is what they do every day in the classroom.”
Johnson, Wright and Murray agreed that they are in favor of Proposition 103 but Strebe said he will be voting no on the ballot measure.
“Proposition 103 while it is cited for K-20, there is no differentiation for K-12 and that secondary education. It says we are going to bring $2.9 billion out of the hands of Coloradans and put it into the general fund. If you gave me a specific list of how it was going to benefit, line item by line item, for District 20 and every kid out there I would vote for it. Otherwise until you give me accountability I vote no,” Strebe said.
The last public forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Discovery Canyon Campus. The forums are monitored by the League of Women Voters.