School board candidates on budget, programming priorities

Jeffco PTA hosts forum for four candidates in two races

Posted 9/30/19

Sept. 25 saw school board candidates take to the stage in Lakewood High School's auditorium as the Jeffco PTA hosted its candidate forum for the 2019 election. The forum followed Superintendent Jason …

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School board candidates on budget, programming priorities

Jeffco PTA hosts forum for four candidates in two races

Posted

Sept. 25 saw school board candidates take to the stage in Lakewood High School's auditorium as the Jeffco PTA hosted its candidate forum for the 2019 election.

The forum followed Superintendent Jason Glass' State of the District address, in which he outlined reasons to celebrate — the district has seen increased funding and support from the community — and also goals for the new candidates to keep in mind, such as boosting overall enrollment and student performance on standardized tests.

Two of five seats on the district's Board of Education are open this year, and two candidates have entered each race.

With all four candidates having never served on the board before, the Q&A forum represented an opportunity for residents to hear what each will prioritize if elected.

District 3

The two candidates running for District 3 are Rob Applegate, who serves as a board member for several education organizations including the Colorado Military Academy; and Stephanie Schooley, executive director or education nonprofit Campus Compact of the Mountain West.

When asked about the budget, candidates agreed that the district should increase teacher compensation. Schooley added that she would oppose a shift to a pay-for-performance model, in which teacher salaries would depend on student test performance and other such factors.

To encourage further public funding, which could help increase teacher salaries, the candidates proposed different approaches.

“The district does a very good job of showing what money is spent on,” Applegate said, however, “the Board needs to show the money is being effectively used.” The board should provide the public with proof that programs have a direct impact on student success, he said.

Schooley suggested increasing communication around what students are doing with what they've learned. “We need to share the narrative of what well-educated children do for the community when they walk out of our schools,” she said.

Both candidates said they support the district's current policy to allow families to choice-enroll students into schools that are not the family's neighborhood school. For Applegate, this also means creating programs to ensure all families, particularly low-income families and those living in rural areas, have access to the same amount of choices.

The discussion then moved to how the district can better prepare Jeffco students who will not graduate college — roughly 75% of students, according to the Jeffco PTA — so that they can still pursue careers.

Applegate said he would advocate for programming that sees schools “team up with other industries in Colorado” — for example, an airline may send personnel to speak about a career in aviation, as United Airlines did in his son's preschool class, Applegate said.

Schooley recommended connecting students with opportunities in the nonprofit community. She also suggested further applying Jeffco Generations, the district's strategic plan, which aims to teach children key skills that could apply to any career.

When students have succeeded with these skills, especially the non-traditional skills, it's “changed their thoughts about themselves as students,” she said.

The candidates agreed that the district should not arm teachers. Currently, Jeffco does not arm educators with concealed weapons, nor does it have plans to do so, Glass said.

District 4

In District 4, it's a race between Joan Chávez-Lee, a former Jeffco teacher and principal, and Susan Miller, who has served on district committees and as president of the Wheat Ridge High School PTSA.

Alongside the District 3 candidates, Chávez-Lee and Miller oppose arming educators, they said.

District 4 candidates also discussed the budget, with Chávez-Lee suggesting school communities would have more faith in the district, and be more inclined to approve public funding, if the schools themselves knew exactly how budget decisions impact them.

Many principals are not ever told what district decisions mean for them, she said; she advocated for heightened communication on the topic.

For Miller, the answer is in expanding the flexibility of the budget. While the district has approximately a $1 billion budget, the majority is not discussed by the board, instead allocated to the same thing annually, she said.

“We need to look at a $1 billion budget every year,” she said. She also suggested allowing more decisions to be made at the local level by relying more heavily on Student-Based Budgeting (SBB), which lets individual schools make more funding choices.

While both support increasing teacher compensation, they gave different answers on whether the district should use pay-for-performance. Chávez-Lee said the method “can be time-consuming and expensive to develop,” and “counter-intuitive,” as pay cuts can decrease teacher motivation instead of increase it.

But Miller said she could see pros and cons; she would like to explore how “some pool of money (could) be available for those teachers” who promote performance in their schools, she said. However, she opposed cutting teacher pay based on performance.

On equity, the candidates suggested new programming to ensure families have access to both the opportunities and resources they need.

Miller said she plans to research successful examples of such programs across the country, then develop a similar model that could be feasible for Jeffco.

Chávez-Lee suggested the district focus more on supporting parents as well as children, potentially by providing resources, such as food, on-site at schools.

“At Molholm,” where Chávez-Lee was principal, she said, “we had a food bank on site. The school itself became a community hub and a safe place.”

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