School board hopefuls largely agree at forum

Caleb Guild answers a question during a forum for Evanston school board candidates on Thursday, Nov. 1. (HERALD PHOTOS/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Eleven candidates are running for the five seats on the Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees. Nine of those candidates attended a forum held in the boardroom at the Educational Service Center on Thursday, Nov. 1. Members of the community packed the room.

Candidates in attendance were Susie Erickson, Cassie Torres, Raeanne Belnap, Caleb Guild, Christa Barker, Chris Reno, David Peterson, Jenny Welling and Russell Cox. Two candidates, Mindi Swensen and Colt Hamilton, did not attend the forum.

Moderator Mark Madia began the proceedings and advised the candidates and the audience of the time limits for each question and the required procedure. There were nine prepared questions, and each person was given one minute to respond except for one question, which they would be allowed only 30 seconds to answer.

The first question was: What are your top three reasons for running for school board? They were asked to elaborate on at least one of those reasons.

The majority of the candidates gave similar answers to that question. They all stated being an advocate for teachers and students and building communication with the community. Safety in the schools was a big issue for all in choosing to run. Barker said she would like to see more hands-on learning brought back into the schools, such as labs.

Next, each was asked for their priority regarding the roles and responsibilities of a school board member. Barker, Reno, Cox and Belnap all stressed the need to be good listeners and to encourage participation with students, staff and the community. Peterson, Welling, Erickson, Torres and Guild said working with the superintendent and striving toward meeting the goals of the “Pathway to Excellence” should be a priority.

When asked the third question regarding how they would be accessible to the public as well as to the school district, most of the candidates mentioned social media, telephone and email.

“I don’t do social media,” Reno said, “however, I will talk personally to people and ask them questions and encourage them to talk to us, the school board.”

David Peterson said, “I’m not much into social media but I like more face-to-face talk, interpersonal. I also have a cellphone and email.”

Belnap added, “I want to meet with teachers and get to know them and ask how I can help them.”

All candidates responded with full support concerning the fourth question: What is your opinion of the board and district goals listed on the strategic plan (Pathway to Excellence) and what is your level of support?

“We’ve worked hard to get to this point and I’m very proud of the plan,” Welling stated.

Torres agreed. “I highly support them,” she said. “If we achieve these goals, then students will be prepared for life, college or careers.”

A hotly debated item was included in the next question: What is your position on state statute WS 21-3-132 that allows employees to conceal carry in Wyoming schools?

“I am torn,” Torres said. “I see both sides. I am, however, dedicated to supporting a board decision. I have lots of concerns and want to make sure everyone is heard.”

Cox was also a little hesitant to give full support. “I would want to know that anyone carrying a gun was properly trained,” he said.

The rest of the candidates there were in full support of arming teachers.

“I think we need to be proactive not reactive if someone is determined to do harm,” Welling said. “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Erickson’s comment was even stronger. “I was taught to never leave home without my gun,” she said. “I am 100 percent in favor of the state statute. I refuse to be a victim.”

In reading the sixth question, Madia asked, “What are two things you believe our district does well, and two things you think the district needs to improve?”

All stated that the district does a great job of hiring and retaining quality teachers and that they have been working hard on the safety issues.

As far as what needs improvement, Belnap stressed improved reading curriculum. Improved scheduling was brought up by Peterson, and Reno said he’s concerned about providing emotional security and safety for students. Welling and Barker both want more hands-on learning curriculum, Cox stressed budget and spending accountability and getting more community involvement and Torres said she wants improved communication with the community and to see school board meetings well attended by the public. Guild emphasized safety as his number one priority.

Madia reminded the members that they were only getting 30 seconds to respond to the seventh question: What are your budget priorities for UCSD No. 1?

All agreed the most important budget priority was retaining teachers and staff and not cutting their salaries.

Next, Madia asked the candidates if they could support a decision made by the board even if they did not vote in favor of it.

Most stated that they would first try to get the board to look at all sides of the issue and would bring in as much information as possible before a vote. However, once a decision was made by the majority, they would act as a unified whole and support it.

Russell Cox disagreed, saying, “If I didn’t agree it was in the best interest of all parties, I can’t say I could support it.”

The final question was: If elected, what do you hope would be the district’s key accomplishments during your years of service?

All stated that they hoped the Pathway to Excellence goals would be achieved and to keep moving forward to educate happy, well-rounded and successful students. They also stressed the need for more community involvement including public attendance at board meetings.

Madia thanked the audience and participants and reminded them that the forum was recorded and could be found on the district’s website at www.uinta1.com.

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