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School Board candidates discuss issues

BY EMILY FRIESE | SEPTEMBER 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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The nine candidates vying for seats on the Iowa City School Board are running out of time to persuade the public to vote for them.

During a Tuesday evening meeting at the Coralville Public Library, with the Sept. 10 election drawing nearer, candidates met to answer a series of questions aimed at shedding a little light on their goals and what they plan to bring to the table if elected to one of the three now available positions.

Andy Gahan, a co-president of one of the forum hosts, the Iowa City Education Association, said the goal of the event was to summarize the information provided by the candidates and relay it to around 700 members of the association.

The members are expected to then vote on whether they will endorse a candidate in the near future.

“I think the thing that is difficult now is there are nine very strong candidates,” he said. “To go and give our members the proper information is what we’ll do next, and we’ll leave it up to them on whether to choose to endorse a candidate or not.”

In all, three rounds of questions facilitated by the association was followed by a series of anonymous questions brought by community members.

Among education vision, financial oversight, communication skills, and managerial competence, candidates were asked to prioritize the issues over the next two years.

Candidate Phil Hemmingway said he believed each of the given priorities were important, but financial oversight currently stood out to him as being of the utmost significance.

“We’ve got a facilities master plan that is estimated to be $250 million to $260 million, and we don’t have that money to do all the things we want,” he said. “So there will have to be prioritization and organization to choose what we should do.

Tuyet Dorau, Jason Lewis, and Brian Kirschling all chose communication skills as their priorities, saying the School Board, as well as members of the community, need to work together to accomplish the things they both want and answer key questions.

“All these things fit into strategic planning, which is something we don’t have in our district,” Lewis said. “If we don’t have all these things lines up in a row, we won’t have a plan to move forward.”

Input regarding ideas for magnet schools — where specialized courses and curriculum(s) are offered — and how they plan on implementing those ideas, if at all, in the next two years, was also sought.

Ideas ranged from Greg Geerdes’ language-immersion program to Dorau’s partnering with Johnson County and Kirkwood Community College.

While in agreement with many ideas mentioned, candidate Sara Barron said the board needs to better partner with parents.

Specifically, she called on the future board to focus on being informed facilitators.

Additionally, candidates addressed the issue of transparency in community involvement and creating efforts to hold more board meetings.

For Chris Lynch, the board needs to set clear goals and strategies to achieve the best transparency with community members.

“We can set a vision, and we can set boundaries, but we need feedback … so let’s get feedback,” he said.

The first community question inquired what concrete change the candidates would like to see in the next two years.

Current Vice President Karla Cook, who is seeking re-election to the board, said she wants to ensure every school building is equitable.

“[The buildings] should all have air conditioning,” she said. “We lost 1 percent of instruction time with every early dismissal we had due to overheating.”

Maintaining that because the district has made recent land purchases for future school development, Dorau and Jim Tate said actions relating to those should now move forward.

“I want to see the building plans for the elementary school and the ground being broken within two years,” Tate said. “The plans for the new high school would take four or five years to complete, so we need to be ready now to prepare for the future.”


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