Candidates address hard issues

James Kitchen

by Marcie Klomp

This is a very hard time for school districts in Iowa, with budget cuts affecting everyone.

In the past few years, budget cuts at Howard-Winneshiek has involved the talk of closing outlying elementaries, and it happened at Ridgeway at the end of the 2009-10 school year.

It was not an easy decision for school board members, and it is likely that debate will arise again with the Elma and Lime Springs-Chester Elementaries. With that said, anyone willing to run for school board is to be commended on being willing to tackle such difficult situations.

Three school board members are going off the board—Marilyn Reis after serving 13 years; Jan Carman, nine years; and Jeff Murphy, three years. Duane Bodermann and Karlos McClure will be up for re-election in 2013.

In Howard-Winneshiek, every board member is considered “At Large” since everyone votes for the candidates in every category, including District 2 and 3 and At Large. There is one candidate for District 2—Scott F. Fortune; one candidate for District 3—James L. Kitchen; and six candidates for Director At Large—Douglas M. Berg, Narren J. Brown, Carol Foley, Cindi A. Grover, Thomas Platte and Kim Hudecek Soukup.

There is a Candidate Forum where those running for election will answer questions on Tuesday, September 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Crestwood High School auditorium. It is sponsored by the Cresco PTO.

There will not be time to get the information from that meeting in the paper before the September 13 election, so plan to attend.

Below are some questions asked of the candidates running in Districts 2 and 3. Next week, the six At Large candidates will be featured.

During this stressful economic time with budget cuts a major issue, why do you want to be elected to the school board?

What ideas and assets can you bring to the board to keep the district fiscally strong?

What would be your first priority in being a school board member?

What are your thoughts on keeping the satellite elementary schools open?

Anything you would like to add?

Scott Fortune, Cresco, District 2

Why running?: Our school district is not alone in its budget woes. It is a state and nationwide issue. This presents a challenge, which I think is intriguing and will be rewarding when resolved. I have chosen to run for the School Board because I feel I can make a difference in the value of the education our young people receive by bringing business integrity and background, as well as experience in identifying and implementing cost reduction opportunities, to the Howard-Winneshiek School Board.

Ideas and Assets:

~ Experience as a Member of the School District Advisory Boards in Fort Dodge and Indianola.

~ Chairman of the Grow for It Campaign – A community/parent based group who help the school district obtain overwhelming community support for a school bond issue to build a new grade school in Indianola.

~ Vice President of the Work Force development committee with the Fort Dodge Chamber of Commerce. In this role, my committee and I were able to bring the business community together with the School District Administration and Educators. This allowed the School District personnel to understand the needs of employers and the various jobs present, and then compare that to what was being taught in the schools. These discussions spurred development of new curriculum, which better prepared the students for the future.

Throughout my working career I have been able to identify methods and ways to reduce costs while maintaining or improving the quality of the product {in this case, education provided to the young people}. This allowed the respective company to meet the needs of its customers {in this case, the young people} and remain profitable {District operates within its budget}. This is a skill and ability I can share, and one our school district needs.

First priority: Actually two priorities:

Insure the data presented in budget numbers, are correct and accurate.

Our school district needs to analyze itself and identify:

Why do we exist, what is our purpose? I am concerned that the District has focused so hard on budget issues that it has lost its sense of why it exists; to educate the young people in the Howard-Winneshiek School District.

And Ask: What is it we do well? List these items. What services could we share or offer to another school system? This would add value to the other school district and income to Howard-Winneshiek.

What do we not do well? List these items. Of those items not done well, what are the ones that the school district should not be involved in? What could and should we privatize? For example, is it wise for a school district to have a sizeable investment in transportation? Could this investment be best used in another area which will improve the quality of education?

Satellite elementary schools: The reason the Howard-Winneshiek Schools exist is to educate the students. Education prepares the student to be a productive member of society. In order to achieve this, the education system must be of the highest possible quality. This means maintaining a reasonable instructor to student ratio.

Closing a school(s) and piling a large number of students into a classroom, negatively affects the instructor to student ratio, which in turn negatively affects the quality of the education the student receives. With this in mind,

I am not in favor of closing outlying schools. In addition, the school in a small community is important to the life in and of that community. The schools give the community an identity. However, this identity does not come without a cost and a commitment of the community.

To help keep these schools open – changes, which might be outside of the norm, may need to be implemented. Community members need to step up to the plate and assist the educators and school district. It is important that all communities realize we are all in this together.

We need to look outside the proverbial box for cost reduction opportunities to stay within our budget. Layoffs and closings are a short-term fix for a long-term problem.

What happens when you have closed all of the outlying schools, lay off all of the staff and still cannot meet budget? Who suffers the most? The customer; namely the students. We must be creative and look outside of the box.

Anything else?: During the course of the last two to three years, the budget has taken the main focus of many meetings and decisions. I struggled, and continue to struggle, with accepting the closing of the Ridgeway school.

The focus of future decisions and discussions must be maintaining and improving the quality of the education provided to all the students. The next two years will be undoubtedly challenging. It will require parents, educators, administrators and school board members to work together to insure the young people attending Howard-Winneshiek Schools are afforded an education of the highest quality.

James Kitchen of Lime Springs, District 3

Ideas and Assets: Future ideas and ways to strengthen the Howard-Winn. school is to have the communities in the district be informed with the budget numbers with written documentation to explain what each number on the budget does include and what it does not include, so concerned people could have time and opportunity to review this info.

And if anybody has written documentation to show budget numbers are not correct they will have an opportunity to be heard. And after all challenges have been presented and we can get ALL communities together versus how they are now challenging one another.

I believe we all will know the right things to do and the right direction to go. The communities need to hang together, or they will hang by themselves!

The question needs to be asked to all, what would it take for one of your friends or neighbors to want to come to our school? Ask 1,000 people and use the results to have growth in the district. I would like to personally have this information to work with.

Ideas to bring to the board to keep the district fiscally strong. First I am open to any good ideas. Most of the ideas I hear are about making cuts. Would spending more money in the right areas actually increase the numbers of students coming to our district?

If the only direction of discussion is cuts, cuts, cuts, I believe the district will be engulfed by the tornado effect. Communication is a strength we all need to exercise. Accountability needs to be documented.

First priority: Communicate

Satellite elementary schools: The documented numbers in the budget will tell a lot.

Anything else?: Finally, parents need to step up and help their children give their 100 percent to do their best and to support the cause of success for themselves and people around them. I will be the board member that will be asking a lot of questions and will pursue answers.



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