Meeker School Board candidates answer questions from public

MEEKER I After students escorted the Board of Education (BOE) candidates down the aisle on the evening of Oct. 13, Meeker High School Head Boy Nick Burri led off the questions at the public candidate forum.
The nine candidates were spread across the stage at the high school auditorium and nearly 50 voters were there to listen. The six candidates for the three open four-year terms on the board are Scott Aldridge, Tom Allen, Kevin Amack, Kurt Blunt, Bob Dorsett and George Henderson. The three candidates for the one two-year term open are Richard Brooks, Mindy Burke and David Smith.

Burri’s question was about advocating for more money at the state and local level to fund Meeker’s K-12 education program.
Allen remarked that there’s not much to be done at the local level, but at the state level, where Colorado is ranked 47th in the nation in K-12 education funding, we need to do a lot more.
Aldridge said we could hope for more help from the state but that it’s unlikely to come. He said the board needs to get out there and figure out how the voters are more likely to approve local increased funding.
Henderson said the district needs to start by doing a good job and building trust. He agreed, too, that a greater effort needs to be made to convince the Legislature of its funding responsibilities.
Brooks said to “cut waste.”
Blunt said locals have to be confident the board is doing a good job and doing more to collaborate with other state and regional groups also pushing for better state funding. He urged watching out for unfunded mandates.
Smith explained, in the short term, that looking to the state for more money is hopeless. He suggested the board needed to work harder locally to convince folks that the dollars are needed and that we’re doing it right.
Amack agreed that the MSD needs to look to local funding and that he thinks the district has turned the corner in overcoming past controversy. He indicated the district’s reserve of some $4 million needs to be spent down some.
Dorsett warned that the district has already cut staff and programs to the point that any more cuts would be very harmful. He said the budget situation is dire and that strong efforts need to be made at the state and local levels to capture more revenue.
Burke indicated she has been pushing for more funding for all of her nine years on the board. She expressed her hope, based on the work of the Building a Better Colorado program she attended in Craig, that there would be positive change at the state level.
Jake Smith, president of the MHS Future Farmers of America chapter, posed the second question, which concerned the role of extra- and co-curricular activities.
Burke said they are an extension of the classroom but must be a privilege for each student. “Classroom performance must be No. 1,” Burke said.
Maggie Phelan, secretary of the Class of 2017, asked about school district policies.
Henderson said many were laid on the district by the state but that community members, students and parents should work with the board to make sure the policies fit Meeker and then make sure accountability is in place.
Brooks thought that if policies were wasted, then there’s no need to have them. He concluded though that they all seem to make sense.
Senior Matt DeVore, a National Honor Society member, reminded those present that it was ultimately their decision, as voters, to vote for who would end up on the board.
His question was how each would spend additional dollars if the district received the money and how they would prioritize the need for more funds before they materialized.
Henderson said he would put more teachers in the classroom.
Aldridge said he’d make sure the board was taking good care of the teachers so they’d want to stay here and to make sure they were getting the professional development they wanted.
Allen stated he’d like to see the re-instatement of some of the funds that have already been cut and to look at professional development, curriculum and textbooks.
Burke indicated that if the district won the Lotto, she’d love to see a new high school, a new bus garage, new buses, a middle school counselor, a tech teacher at the elementary school and art instruction at the middle school.
Dorsett would restore teaching staff, aids, paraprofessionals and lost programs like art in the elementary school. He also would want to see capital expenditure projects that would help student learning, science labs and equipment. He’d like to see Chromebooks in every students’ hands so they could better access the world of knowledge.
Amack said he didn’t really know right now, that he was too new, but that he would certainly want to ask the staff and the community what would have the most benefit to the students.
Smith said he too would like to see the re-instatement of lost classes. His early experience with his daughter in college led him to want more classes and teachers that better prepare kids for college.
Blunt said the board had already done a fair amount of work identifying capital needs and that refurbishing curriculum was more expensive than he ever thought it would be. He thanked the teachers we have for doing more with less.
Senior Faith Patterson, who is expected to be the Class of 2016 valedictorian, asked how each would build or maintain relationships with local organizations that can help with district funding and objectives.
Amack suggested that it’s interesting right now that some of the local taxing districts seem to have more dollars than they really need while the schools have to scrape by. He said board members need to try harder to pass the district’s own mil levy increase.
Dorsett acknowledged that many of the other taxing entities have been more than generous, but he realizes there’s a problem expecting help from the Fire District, for example, when taxpayers expect those dollars to be spent on fire-related matters. He suggests that the community pursue a review of all taxing-district needs and funding levels.
Burke agreed that relationships with helpful entities need to be grown and maintained.
Henderson urged the district to just do a good job and other entities would be supportive.
Aldridge said many districts and businesses here are really helpful – be good stewards, he said, and it will all work for the better.
Blunt warned that monies from other entities are just short-term band-aids, not long-term solutions.
Brooks said this is not a free market system like, perhaps, home-schooling; you’ve got to be sure to thank people.
Each of the candidates was asked to make a closing statement.
Aldridge said we must continually ask is it good for the kids? Are we doing the best we can for the kids?
Dorsett mentioned that none of us can truly predict the future, so we really need to focus on giving students the tools to adapt and teach them critical thinking.
Brooks remarked that all were good candidates, that those elected should carry forth all the good ideas expressed, and that adequate funding is paramount.
Smith complimented the good ideas and good candidates. He said he thought Meeker has turned a corner, progress has been made, at least at the high school, and that he was very impressed with the new superintendent.
Allen said the district made great strides—the most valuable resource we have is our teachers.
Burke asked for voter support and reminded the public that she would be the only female on the board.
To the amusement of the audience, Amack concluded by saying he had, in his sleepless hours, actually read the student handbook and found it quite sensible, except for one part he’d like to correct. He didn’t think it was right that students should be asked to “wash their hands before or after using the restroom.” He urged a culture and a practice of excellence and to not accept anything less.
Blunt agreed that the voters had excellent choices in the candidates, who, he felt, largely had the same ideas. However, he said it would be boring if they all agreed all the time. He stated that debate is important.
Henderson closed with thanks, and he said the more people involved the better. He said he was also impressed with the new superintendent but urged the community to help keep the district accountable.