Our View: Debate, Influence and Re-election

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Steamboat Springs School Board President Paul Fisher's announcement Monday that he will not seek re-election in November creates an unusual situation as the board prepares to make critical decisions that could affect the district for years to come.

Fisher's announcement came on the heels of Tom Sharp's decision not to seek re-election. Pat Gleason, the third member of the School Board up in November, has not decided if he will run.

Fisher and Sharp have sparked community debate with their stances on school issues. A group of residents formed a political action committee earlier this year with the specific intent of ousting Fisher, Sharp and Gleason, a significant development for a School Board that hasn't had a contested race in eight years.

Certainly, Fisher and Sharp have emerged as the most outspoken and, many would argue, most influential members of the board on controversial issues. Consider:

n When the district's policy allowing representatives from religious groups to meet with students in the middle school was challenged, it was Sharp who led the defense of the policy. And it was Sharp who wrote one of the amended policies the board adopted, preserving the opportunity for representatives from religious groups to meet with students on campus.

n Though all School Board members have opposed the creation of a Montessori charter school, Fisher and Sharp have been the most vocal critics. When Gov. Bill Owens attacked the board's stance, it was Fisher who responded that the board would not be intimidated by the governor.

n Fisher and Sharp -- along with board member Paula Stephenson -- took the controversial stand against accepting a gift from the Education Fund Board for more teachers and smaller class sizes at the elementary level.

And they are not done. During their last four months in office, Fisher and Sharp will have the chance to influence several key school district decisions including the hiring of a new superintendent and the School Board's response to the lawsuit filed by the Montessori charter school group. It's important to note that lawsuit has the support of the governor and the State Board of Education.

The district also faces pressing financial issues. The Knowledge and Skills Based Pay Plan has yet to be completed or implemented. The future of pay for performance is up in the air. The district still must finalize more than $400,000 in cuts. No doubt Fisher and Sharp will play key roles -- as they should -- in deciding those issues should they come up before their terms expire.

We don't begrudge Fisher and Sharp their decisions not to run, although they have made it easy on the political action committee. Already, the group has achieved two of its objectives without having to knock on a single door, and Gleason could make it easy for the group to achieve the third.

Let's hope it doesn't turn out that way. The community would benefit from a vigorous debate on the philosophies guiding our school district. But that debate is only going to happen when there are contested School Board races.

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