Wednesday, October 12, 2005

local politics are fun

about a week ago, i received in the mail my absentee ballot for the November election. i had requested it when i previously thought there might be reason to be out of town and, though circumstances have changed, the ballot came anyway. anyone who knows me knows i hate having things undone so i immediately set about completing it for submission. halfway through i was stopped when i came to the section for Poudre School District Board positions and discovered there was no centralized source of information on the beliefs of these individuals. heck, there was no information at all on most of them. a little digging led me to an impending forum hosted by the League of Women Voters. that forum was Tuesday.

i missed the first 10 minutes as several doors were locked and it took a bit to find the right way into the building. i admit that i do not have a photographic memory, didn't care about all the waffle and filler, and so my notes only take one so far but here are the questions they were asked and is what i learned about each of the candidates from their responses. the actual forum is being rebroadcast several times for those who care. at the end of each candidate, i have listed my impressions and a subjective score.


1. what are the 3 main issues you see as most pressing should you be elected?
2. what can you bring to the challenges of 'boundary' issues, school closures and redistricting?
3. how will you address any necessary budget cuts and what areas will you target?
4. would you support teaching of intelligent design and/or creationism in the science classroom?
5. how would you handle board conflict, as it is inevitable?
6. using a scale of 1-10 with 1 being abstinence only and 10 being teaching about birth control, STDs etc, where do you believe the health education curriculum should be on the level of sexual education provided in our schools?
7. are you for or against 'school of choice'?
8. if you could start one new program, what would it be?
9. are you for or against referenda C & D?

Director District C:

Jim Hayes: running unopposed.
1. boundary/redistricting, dirth of new teachers and poor teacher retention, the achievement gap.
2. recognized we can't please everyone. opposed to anti-'tree' options, any decision needs to be framed for the long-term
3. no real answer.
4. NO, not in science, can consider in religion.
5. team-building in advance; once decision made, all should stand behind.
6. a 5 on the scale. teach abstinence but open about options.
7. pro-school of choice.
8. program to help eliminate the phenomenon of 'turn off to school in junior high.'
9. pro. discussed high bipartisan support; refuted assertions by opponents of C&D.
overall: an upfront guy, stressed he is a 'layperson' on a number of the above issues but would work to get to the right answers. showed up even though uncontested in his district. my score 8.5/10.

Director District D: 2 candidates.

a shame one cannot be moved to District F as both were very strong and good choices (see below for problem with District F).

Jana Ley
1. building teamwork between members of the PSD board; supporting Dr. Wilson, the new superintendent of schools; improving communication between the PSD board and the community.
2. will keep listening.
3. talked about the committee that has handled trimming things so far. talked about the lack of 'low-hanging' fruit. was honest that, at this point, any cuts will affect the kids, regardless of where they are initially aimed. if less janitors, poorer working environment, etc.
4. NO, no in science. specifically stated ID isn't a science, is faith-based.
5. building teamwork; discussed that disparity and conflict are reflections of having a broad board that reflects the disparate needs of the community.
6. an 8-9 on the scale. spoke knowledgably about the approved curriculum and the importance of appropriately training teachers so the 10 lessons have appropriate impact.
7. pro-school of choice but pointed out there are concerns/issues with accessibility to all.
8. had difficulty because felt like a 'beggar at a feast.' if had to start with one, would go with grid busing for all community members and students to balance rising fuel costs and help level some of the inequity created by socioeconomic status on 'school of choice' participation.
9. absolutely supports. addressed the misleading assumption that Amendment 23 protects school funding and that it stipulates percentage increase or decrease but does not stipulate base. base is set by independent statistical formulas and would most certainly fall prey to the fiscal crisis created should C&D not pass.
overall: experienced but not pushy or preachy. very honest and level. a good egg. my score 9/10.

Bob Long
1. closing the achievement gap of the at-risk population, decreasing high school drop-out rates, improving communication between the PSD board and the community.
2. listen to community, get them involved. also suggested trying to form partnerships with the city board and board of realtors to find alternative solutions.
3. improve partnerships, try to leverage committee use of buildings to generate additional revenue, work more aggressively to correct the imbalance between state funding (1%) for cost of living increases and true cost (~4%) of living increases.
4. very hedgey about ID overall but firm that doesn't belong in science classroom.
5. emphasized importance of good of team over personal ego.
6. a 5-8 on the scale. we need to teach sex education issues because of the variety of personal situations and home life issues, would be 'disrespectful' of students to go to abstinence only education. also brought up the importance, now that the 10th grade curriculum has been decided, of developing junior high curriculum, quoted stats on percentages of teens that are sexual active while in junior high.
7. pro-school of choice, but stressed the need to find solutions for the inequities causes for families where the parents are financially disadvantaged.
8. increased methodology for PSD board to community interaction- email, website, increased forums etc.
9. supports both.
overall: a good guy, has obviously given this a lot of thought. proposed some new ideas and seemed like a good team player. my score 8.5/10.

District E: 3 candidates.

Ernest Cienfuegos-Baca
1. better securement of resources, redistricting, at-risk achievement gap.
2. increased community involvement, sell to charter school
3. no attempt to answer. 'should increase resources' not cut things.
4. very hedgey but would put ID in history not science.
5. my notes for his response to this were one word long: babble.
6. a 5. was familiar with the current curriculum. felt it is very diverse and comprehensive.
7. pro-school of choice. 'parents know best' the right choices for their kids; didn't address the challenges at all.
8. school of arts/magnet school.
9. supports both.
overall: talked a lot without ever saying much except that he has always been involved in the community and that his wife could vouch for that. didn't seem to have any substantive plan to help or address any issue raised. my score 5/10.

Bruce Smith
1. health issues (obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus), increasing parental involvement, boundary issues.
2. 'school of choice' fine but maintain local neighborhood schools by enriching local resources.
3. "I don't know frankly" where to start cuts. would try and work with the city to form partnership to decrease transportation costs by leveraging Transfort buses, which are underutilized, and decreasing actual school bus usage.
4. not in science. period. next question.
5. partnership, debate all they want but then, once the vote is cast, the board stands as one board.
6. a 10. next question. no wait. i mean it should be age appropriate but a 10. referenced articles and concerns re STDs, the importance of teaching intimacy and self-respect so that teens don't turn to sex for self-validation but a 10. definitely.
7. school of choice is positive because it involves parents and anything that increases parental involvement will be successful. but as gas prices rise, there is a risk of only the rich being able to transport their kids to the 'better' schools. "if we are not careful, Jim Crow will slip into town, and this town will lose its soul."
8. get all the kids public bus passes and get them in public transit. work to increase bike path usage. this decreased dependence on private transportation will: 1. aid the fight against medical issues as it will be harder for kids to leave at lunch and gorge on unhealthy foods, 2. decrease the negative impact of gas prices/income disparity on exposure to good school choice.
9. pro. passing C&D is "more important than voting for me."
overall: my favorite candidate. sure, he generated good soundbites, but he was also funny, unapologetic about his views, open to other people's input. his closing: i will speak up when i feel i have something to contribute and, when i don't, i won't. my score 10/10.

Larry Neal:
1. decreasing enrollment, achievement gap, community partnerships
2. as a rule, ' don't favor public schools but' need to balance niche needs against costs. [if he doesn't believe in public schools, what the heck is he doing here?]
3. no real answer. talked about business partnerships.
4. NOT in science class.
5. conflict is inevitable, try to shift the argument from opinion to data to defuse and refocus.
6. 'personally, i am a 1' but i recognize blah blah blah. not familiar with the current curriculum. thinks parents should be able to opt their kids out of sex ed.
7. pro-school of choice. posed the question- can we find a way to generalize the innovations of successful choice schools to all schools?
8. interchange of 'best practices' between schools, principals and teachers.
9. supports C&D but 'struggled with it'. stated that he believes TABOR is the best thing that ever happened to Colorado.
overall: started most of his answers with 'in my business experience.' doesn't believe in public schools, doesn't believe in any sex ed, doesn't see the harm that has been caused by TABOR. believes in bringing corporate into schools. scary. i guess he could have been worse and his answer to 7 was very insightful. my score 3/10.

District F:

Nancy Tellez running unopposed.
1. enrollment, diverse student needs, parent/community involvement.
2. we are 'early in fact finding,' need to remember it is about people not numbers.
3. no answer.
4. tried very hard to not answer. it isn't about my opinion, we should do whatever the community wants, dither dither dither. when pushed, YES.
5. talked about the importance of 'transparency' in the discussion process.
6. wouldn't give an answer.
7. pro-school of choice but concerned about equal access issues, also concerned about the lack of a standardized curriculum as students may go from school to school.
8. "professional learning communities"
9. strongly supports.
overall: for someone who stressed the importance of 'transparency' in her answer to almost every question, she did a very good job of not sharing anything or answering any of the questions. it was somewhere between offensive and comical that she was so 'transparent' in her intransigence. leaving aside the fact that ID is a dealbreaker for me--my score 4/10. including the ID issue, 0/10.

finally, for those who would like a more official report on the forum, click here.

overall, local politics are curious and attract a curious group of folks. i felt that, no matter what else, all of the candidates (except maybe one) were there to 'give back' to the community, not there for personal gain or agenda.

other upside: got to learn about health. my favorite 'learning issue' from the Health Curriculum, repeated almost verbatim at least once in the Purpose Section of every lesson: "Students will recognize that a decision of abstinence is an acceptable personal choice and why it is the best personal choice."

so take that, all you skanks, and take that Bill Maher.

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