RSD candidates answer questions

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RANGELY I Monday night the Rangely Colorado Education Association hosted a Meet the Candidates Night for the four candidates seeking election to the three spots open on the Rangely School Board.
Those running include incumbents Leslie Nielsen, Kurt Douglas and Joyce Key and challenger Bart Nielsen. Each candidate was given the opportunity to answer each question in a rotating order.
The following is a summary of candidate answers to the seven questions posed at the forum.

Please introduce yourself, and tell us why you are running for school board, and why you feel you are qualified for this position.
Douglas: Douglas is a retired teacher who spent 19 years teaching in Rangely. Both his wife and son-in-law are currently teachers within the district. He cites his experience in education as a benefit to the board. “I think I know some of the things that go on in the schools that others might not,” he said.
Key: Key was also a teacher in the district, teaching at Parkview Elementary for nine years. She also taught at Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC). Key said, “It’s important to give back to the community.” She also stated that she would like to get more involved at the state level if reelected.
B. Nielsen: Nielsen told the audience that his motivation for running was a desire to help make sure that kids graduate able to contribute to their communities and succeed in life. He also said that he would provide the perspective of a local business owner who interacts daily with the general public.
L. Nielsen: “Being a school board member is an evolution,” said Nielsen, who said that she is active in both school buildings. “The district is going in a positive direction and I’m happy to be on that train.”

What are the major challenges you feel are facing the school district and how do you feel they should be addressed?
Key: The biggest problem facing the district is that the state and federal government are too involved, pushing too many mandates without giving money to back them up. “Right now everything is out of our hands,” she said.
B. Nielsen: Nielsen also saw the state mandates as problematic saying “I’d have to hire a lawyer to understand all of the state policies on education. The talk is all about the money but the ultimate issue is educating our kids. We rank 102 out of 146 school districts. Ten years ago we were 81st.” He said that he believes that the staff goes above and beyond but that the district must find a way to improve parental involvement. “We can’t rely on the schools to raise our kids,” he said.
L. Nielsen: Mrs. Nielsen agreed with the previous answers but said, “There’s only one thing we can control, our attitudes. We have apathetic children; we have to get them to care.”
Douglas: Douglas also discussed issues with the state, specifically citing the lack of funding and the $3.5 million in lost funding in the last several years. He also said there is “too much emphasis on standardized test scores,” adding “we have a really good staff… we need to just let them teach.”

How do you feel the school district can strengthen its partnership with parents in helping their children reach their full potential?
B. Nielsen: Nielsen said he believes that the district already does a great job of putting the information out there for parents, but needs to find a way to get them more involved. He suggested home visits if parents aren’t willing to show up.
L. Nielsen: “Parents need to feel needed and welcomed in the classrooms,” she said.
Douglas: “That’s the $100,000 question,” responded Douglas. “It’s difficult to get parents in, but when they do they feel welcome.”
Key: Key suggested the district find organizations that meet after typical work hours to get parents more involved. “It takes a community to raise a child, but it takes a family too. Because education is free, not everyone values it,” she said.

How do you think the school district can strengthen its relationship with the community in support of public education?
L. Nielsen: Nielsen cited the cooperative bond with the Recreation District has a great example of the community working together. She is hopeful that it will lead to other successful community partnerships.
Douglas: Douglas discussed the impact of sporting events on the community including the recent volleyball ‘Pink Out’ game which supports local mammograms as well as a charity basketball game. “It’s a shame that more don’t attend games, but we do what we can,” he said.
Key: Key said she felt the district currently has a strong relationship with the community, and it should be built upon.
B. Nielsen: Nielsen believes the district has an outstanding relationship with the community and that local businesses regularly donate money to help the district along.

As a school board member, you’ll be asked to make many important school finance decisions. Provide us with some general thoughts on your approach to school budgets.
Douglas: “We don’t have a lot of choice in it [the budget],” he said. Douglas is hopeful that the ballot issue will pass and keep the district from having to make tough decisions.
Key: “Finances are our basic job, that’s our responsibility,” she said.
B. Nielsen: Nielsen said that community involvement is how the district has been able to survive the last few years, and it will continue to be vital.
L. Nielsen: Nielsen passionately responded “The greatest ‘yay’ vote I ever made as a board member was making Matt Scoggins superintendent. He’s great with the finances.” However she also said that sometimes tough decisions have to be made and it’s the board’s job to be good stewards of the town’s money.

How much of an impact do you feel staff morale has on student learning and behavior? Also, what might be ways to positively impact staff morale?
Key: “Keeping morale up when salaries are low is a challenge,” said Key, who thought simplifying demands and allowing teachers to “just teach” would help.
B. Nielsen: “The best way to get a positive reaction is with a positive action,” he said.
L. Nielsen: Nielsen believes that students can have a role in improving morale saying, “We need to teach kids to help lead morale.”
Douglas: Douglas said that morale is “the single most important thing that impacts the kids and how they learn. We need to lighten their [teachers] load.”

What do you see as the role of the local union in the development of school policy?
B. Nielsen: Nielsen felt the district and union should work together for what is best for kids. “They should express their input,” he said.
L. Nielsen: Nielsen agreed with the previous comment adding “as long as it’s an influence for good for students.”
Douglas: Douglas said that because majority of teachers in Rangely don’t belong to the association they don’t have much of an impact.
Key: Key positively discussed her experience at CNCC where the teachers met and gave recommendations to the administration.