Steamboat Springs School Board incumbent Pat Gleason seeks his first election to the School Board next month, when he will face challengers Jerry Kozatch and Robin Crossan for the right to represent District 4.
Gleason was appointed to the School Board in January 2002 after the resignation of the elected board member.
Even in his relatively short term, Gleason has been a member of the School Board through several contentious issues, including the conflict between former Superintendent Cyndy Simms and Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis and the continuing fight against a proposed Montessori charter school.
"I have no philosophical disagreement with the Montessori method as a matter of choice, however, I do not believe it should be publicly funded," Gleason said.
Gleason, who served on the 10+2 Committee, the District Accountability Committee and the pay-for-performance committee and currently sits on the Education Fund Board, said he supports the School Board's decision to fight the charter group.
"It does not seem wise to reduce current funding levels in a high performing school district or to penalize 1,800 students by diminishing programs merely so a small group of parents can be provided another educational choice," he said.
Kozatch and Crossan said they also support the School Board's decision on the Montessori charter school issue.
"I feel that the creation of another charter school would have a very negative financial impact and would create hardships for our administrative staff as a result of additional workload and overextending their resources," Kozatch said. "I feel that charter schools need to have more stringent standards for creation, and that individual communities should have more capacity to regulate charter schools."
A Montessori school should be a private school funded by private dollars, Crossan said. However, Crossan believes the two sides should attempt to work out their differences outside a courtroom.
"The two groups should continue to communicate with each other to try to resolve their differences without a court battle," Crossan said.
The issue of small class size has been an important one for the community in recent years, particularly as revenue from the city's half-cent sales tax for education has provided funds to achieve smaller class sizes. Many in the community continue to push for smaller class sizes, especially at the primary grade levels.
All three candidates believe small class size must be balanced with other district expenditures.
"The most up-to-date research indicates our current districtwide staffing level is adequate," Gleason said. "That research also has proven that the quality of our teachers is of greater value than reducing the number of students in the classroom. In this world of finite funding, I would rather pay competent staff more than pay more staff less for the sake of class size alone."
Small class size is an extremely high priority for most in the community, Kozatch said.
"It is my belief that with our current financial situation and declining enrollment that we must reassess all of our high priorities and spend the taxpayers' money as prudently as possible," said Kozatch, who serves on the District Accountability Committee, the Education Fund Board and its Educational Excellence Commission and the high school's School Accountability Committee. "Small class size without a comfortable and safe classroom will not produce positive results. Small class size without an excellent teacher will not produce excellent students. Small class size without well-designed and innovative curriculum will not give us the high achievement we desire."
The district, through the School Board, should continually monitor class sizes for all grades, Crossan said.
"Class size will always be important to all parents and educators for the benefit of our children," said Crossan, who serves on the Education Fund Board and its Capital Commission and the parent-information committee at the middle school. "Smaller class sizes for kindergarten through third grades, as well as all grades, will always be a benefit to our children. The district and the School Board should have a positive dialogue with parents and teachers along with research to determine when a class size is either too small or too large."
Policy governance as the management system for the Steamboat Springs School District has come under fire from some in the community who feel it debilitates communication and cohesiveness. Gleason, Kozatch and Crossan said policy governance can be an effective way of running a school district.
"All employees are empowered to make the decisions that directly affect them, and the accountability of those decisions remains with those that make those decisions," Gleason said. "Because decisions are made by those closest to the action, there may be a feeling of disconnectedness of the public with the School Board.
"This board believes that its time is better spent on planning and setting goals rather than micromanaging classrooms. Those decisions are better left to the professionals hired to implement them."
Policy governance is dependent on the policies and the people in charge of governing, Kozatch said.
"If I were elected to the board, I would certainly expect problems or concerns to process through the appropriate channels, but I would be open to discuss any type of concern with either a group or an individual and make an attempt to reach a satisfactory resolution to their problem," Kozatch said. "I think the public has perceived unwillingness from the past board to deal directly with individuals."
A more flexible communication system can avert some of the difficulties experienced over the past year, Kozatch said.
Policy governance has its benefits, Crossan said, but the past year has highlighted some of its negatives.
For one, it can be a cumbersome process for those who wish to have their concerns heard, and it doesn't allow the board to go back and review decisions that were made and already in place.
"In my opinion, policy governance is criticized because when stakeholders have an issue they want to be heard, they want to be heard now, not several months after going through the proper steps that policy governance dictates," Crossan said. "Additionally, the School Board needs to educate and communicate to the community what policy governance is, how it works and how to work within it."
Crossan said she would work closely with all members of the community if elected to the School Board. She believes a stronger teacher review process needs to be put in place and that curriculum and class size should be constantly revisited.
Kozatch said his priorities for the district closely follow the School Board's Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay program, fiscal responsibilities, communication and technology. If elected, Kozatch plans to devote every Monday to school-related issues, including weekly trips to schools, where he eventually will sit in on every class in every grade. He said he intends to be an effective liaison between staff and the School Board.
Gleason said he plans to continue to provide leadership and balance with respect to current district goals and programs. His priorities include implementing the Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay system, integrating technology to enable tracking of individual students and curriculums and assisting in the creation of a new communication plan.
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