WASHINGTON COUNTY – Polls across the county will open as early as 7 a.m. Tuesday and several important local positions are on the ballot this year, including four open seats on the Washington County School District Board.
In a county where there is a lot of push to regain and retain local control over education, especially with the implementation of Common Core State Standards, school board members play a vital role within the school district and the county.
Districts 4, 5, 6 and 7 will all head to general election to decide which candidates will sit on the board.
In district 4, LaRene L. Cox will face off against Brent Holloway. In district 5, Eileen McKell and David B. Stirland will compete. In district 6, incumbent Kelly Blake will face challenger Peato L. Ena. In district 7, incumbent Laura Hesson will be challenged by Scott P. Robison.
In order to help you cast your vote on Tuesday, the St. George News team tasked the candidates with answering questions ranging from opinions of common core and their understanding of their taxation power to their top priorities for the coming school year and why they want to sit on the board.
STGnews: What is your understanding of the school board’s taxing authority?
LaRene L. Cox: It is my understanding that school boards are the governing bodies that operate public school districts. This must be done in compliance with the laws and rules created by the state legislature and state board of education.
The school board may vote to raise property taxes. However, if taxing entities receive more money year-over-year for the same properties a truth-in-taxation hearing is required by law. Earlier this year, a truth-in-taxation hearing was held and the school board voted in favor of a property tax increase to help our teachers with a much needed salary increase.
Brent Holloway: A pretty small piece of the budget can be affected by how much the school board can affect taxes. This last session we had to have an increase in taxes…there was a slight increase and the amount was…about the cost of a Big Mac.
This year’s truth-in-taxation increase is such a small amount that I don’t think it barely addressed what lack of resources we are really facing. I mean there are no two ways to cut it, Utah is the lowest in the country for funding our public schools and we have been for 27 years.
The legislature has the primary responsibility to fund our schools. It’s unfortunate that the school board has such a minimal effect on the funding of our schools.
STGnews: How do you feel about Common Core? What are the pros and cons? How would you like to see it better implemeted in the district (if you do)? Is it any different from curriculums in the past?
Eileen McKell: There have been educational standards for many years. Similarly, the Common Core State Standards are educational benchmarks that students should master in each grade level. It has become a controversial issue because of misunderstandings and lack of communication.
I believe we all perform better when given specific goals. Better communication is needed between the state administrators down through the districts and the educators and parents. Once there is real understanding of the standards (goals) and method of testing, I believe Common Core will not be so controversial, it will be a useful tool to help teachers and parents identify student strengths and weaknesses.
David B. Stirland: First of all, I’m pretty against any federal mandates or intervention in the education of our students. That being said, the money that is provided at the federal level is pretty vital.
One of the things I’d like to do is be able to disseminate and make changes where possible. Things like assessment testing and understanding, just making sure our children can compete on a state and national level.
My general statement would be anything federally mandated is kind of a bad thing. I think we have able educators and administrators in the area and I think they do a really good job. They can make sure that those things are happening and I don’t know that we need the federal government to intervene with our people.
STGnews: What makes you want to serve on the school board? What is the importance of education to you?
Kelly Blake: My passion for education has only increased since I have been on the board. I have six children that have come through or are currently in the system. I have a granddaughter now that’s just starting in the system and I want to make sure that they have the best possible education that we can afford here in Washington County.
We want our students to be prepared with the skill set necessary to be good employees and good citizens. That is what we’re trying to do is to create good citizens in Washington County.
Peato L. Ena: Ena declined to respond to St. George News’ queries.
STGnews: As a member of the board what would your top prioritiese be in the coming school years?
Laura Hesson: One of my top priorities will be to keep working toward a full implementation of the Professional Learning Community of team teachers. I believe that the Professional Learning Community will be instrumental in the future success of students.
Keeping classroom sizes from increasing is also an important goal. When there is a smaller student to teacher ratio, students are more successful because they can receive the amount of attention that is needed. Teachers are more successful when they are teaching in smaller classrooms because they are not so overworked that they feel they should look elsewhere for employment because they are too overwhelmed and under compensated for their efforts.
Scott P. Robison: There needs to be a greater emphasis on the education of children in Kindergarten through third grade. This is especially important when it comes to their ability to read. If they can’t read by third grade they are lost for the rest of their education.
Early intervention in the school program will make them much more successful later on.
I would also like to see the funding for the schools be better managed.
St. George News reporters Cami Cox Jim, Kimberly Scott, Brett Brostrom, Carin Miller, Devan Chavez and Holly Coombs contributed to this report.
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