Four of the five candidates for the Delta County Board of Education participated in candidate forums last week. The League of Women Voters drew a small gathering Monday, Sept. 30; the turnout was better for the two forums hosted by the school district's Coordinating Council Wednesday.
The Coordinating Council is made up of teachers within the school district, who came with questions about student achievement and district funding.
District One candidates are Ronald Germann and Arthur "Gary" Coats. That seat is currently held by Cheryl Hines, who is term limited.
Mike Mason is running against incumbent Tammy Smith in District Four.
Incumbent Jan Tuin, the uncontested candidate in District Five, did not participate in the candidate forums, in accordance with League of Women Voters policy.
Local control, particularly as it relates to Common Core, was a common theme at all three forums. All four candidates agreed retaining local control is important, but Smith pointed out the school district would be unable to function without state and federal dollars.
"Tammy, I can't believe what you just said," Mike Mason responded. "You voted for Common Core, which is a federal nose under the tent."
He said his number one priority is local control, and for that reason he opposes Common Core. "Our teachers and principals need the flexibility to make the best decisions for our students," he said.
Delta County has adopted the state's academic standards, Smith pointed out, but school district staff has developed the curriculum to meet those standards. "You can't have any more local control if you've got teachers in the classroom who have written curriculum and can tweak it and change it to meet the needs of the students," she said.
There are always strings attached when the school district accepts federal funds, Coats pointed out. "I don't think anybody 3,000 miles from our county has any business poking their nose in our business when it comes to education," he said. He also opposes Common Core. "I'm hoping there's some way we can get around that," Coats said.
Germann understands federal funds bring federal mandates. "I guess I don't understand why you can't make the two [local control and federal mandates] work together."
When asked about specific changes to policies, programs or curriculum, Germann said he would seek input from the community, staff and kids before making any proposals.
Mason was more direct. He wants parents and the public to be able to more freely interact with the school board during work sessions and board meetings. Parental choice is a top priority. He also wants to make sure graduates leave the school system understanding what makes this country great. Only by reading the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence can they come to understand "the phenomenal success of this country," he said.
Smith cited three priorities: rewarding the staff for a job well done; dedicating more resources to students, whether that be iPads, computers or written material; working together to ensure success for all the kids in the district.
Coats wants to make sure students graduate with the fundamentals. "There are kids who don't know to read and don't know how to add and subtract, yet they have a high school diploma," he said. "That's one reason why I'm running.
"They should understand the Declaration of Independence and why we're considered a free people," he added.
Responses to a question about the school district's strengths included the diversity of schools (Germann), school district staff (Smith) and the Delta-Montrose Technical College (Mason).
Mason and Smith were in full agreement about the importance of early childhood education and full-day kindergarten.
Germann cited the effectiveness of the Backpack and BELA programs. "They serve a real purpose, especially with English language learners," he said.
Coats disagreed. "Three-year-olds ought to be home with their mother, that's what I believe," he said. "The public school system is to educate kids in the 3Rs. We should not turn our public school system into a babysitter. I think age five is plenty early enough to take a child out of the home and put them in the public school system."
Discussion turned to future budget cuts. While there are still cuts that could be made, Smith said she would like to first look at ways to generate revenue. An educational foundation is one idea that's been discussed by the school board. "The bottom line is the kids," Smith said. "Whatever we do should be in the best interest of kids."
Coats said he could not discuss the budget without more information, but did say he is from Crawford and believes he has some input that would be helpful during discussions of that school's future.
Mason believes the answer is not more funding, but rather using computers, broadband and video conferencing to do more with less. Specifically, one teacher could use Skype to simultaneously teach classes like pre-calculus to students in Paonia, Hotchkiss and Cedaredge. Online courses are another option. Technology can enhance opportunities and lower the cost of education, he said.
Germann believes there are opportunities for innovative funding, as well as making some adjustments in spending. He said it may also be necessary to look at combining schools. He would seek input from staff and the community before making any decisions.
At each of the forums, candidates had an opportunity to sum up their thoughts. Coats said, "I believe in the basics of education — phonics, paper, pencil ... if it's not broke, don't try and fix it. If you're passing from grade to grade you should be able to do the work."
"I want to continue to work on student achievement," Smith said. "I believe if we keep tweaking our curriculum, it will be a model other school districts can look at.
"I think we need to get more parents involved in what's happening in school, as well as senior citizens, businesses and the community," she said.
"I want to see every student in Delta County reach their full potential," Mason said. "We need to embrace the 21st century. I want to listen to people who have good ideas and have produced results." He cited Douglas County, where students scored 66% on TCAP math; Delta scored 28%.
"I'm not going to sing the praises of District 50J," Mason added. "Being average is not acceptable. I will do everything I can to get those scores up and give every kid an opportunity for success."
Germann said, "I would like to see the students of Delta County get the very best education possible. I would like to see more community involvement, but staff involvement is the most important. I have some good ideas and I'd like to be part of the process to make Delta County Joint School District #50 even better."
At the conclusion of the Coordinating Council forum, Tuin offered a few comments. With the possibility of budget cuts in the future, Tuin said the school district will looking for creative ways to consolidate programs, "especially in my end of the valley where we can use teachers from both Hotchkiss and Paonia to do some things we've not been able to do in the past."
A retired music teacher, Tuin said he also wanted to go on record as supporting the arts.
He also wants to reinstate the early retirement bonus. Replacing older, more experienced teachers with younger staff members would help the bottom line, he said.blog comments powered by Disqus