With one month remaining until Election Day, only one thing is certain in the battle for the Steamboat Springs Board of Education's District 2 seat: It will be the winner's first time on the School Board.
Brian Kelly and Jeff Troeger are vying for the seat being vacated by School Board President Paul Fisher, who did not seek re-election.
Though both would be newcomers to the School Board, neither Kelly nor Troeger are new to the district -- each has served on various committees and in other district-related capacities.
Kelly sits on the Education Fund Board and its Educational Excellence Committee; Troeger served on the Education Fund Board in the past and was one of the Technology Commission's founding members.
Both candidates share the School Board's concern regarding the financial impact a Montessori charter school would have on the district.
"I have nothing against Montessori in principle, but there is a very real question about how many charter schools a smaller school district can afford before it dramatically affects the education and funding of the core," Kelly said. "Given the size of our district, the fact we already have the North Routt Community Charter School and the inescapable financial impact of any new charter school at this point, I can see why the current Board of Education is taking this matter to court."
Troeger, however, disagrees with the way the School Board has handled the issue.
"The board's hard-line, no negotiations, take-no-prisoners stance has really made this whole thing a mess," Troeger said. "(The district is) vulnerable. Our half-cent sales tax supplements state funding with about $2 million extra dollars. Brilliant, but it has never been tested in court. We shouldn't be attracting critical attention to our district's school funding mechanisms.
"I think our only way out of this mess is by talking to Montessori and finding a way. Who knows, maybe a Montessori option in a few elementary school classes is an acceptable compromise. We try it for a specific amount of time with measurable outcomes and see if it's successful. If so, we have better schools."
If the Montessori or future charter schools endanger anything, it's class size, Kelly said.
"Class size at kindergarten through third grade should not exceed 20 students per class, and adjustments should be made at the higher grades to allow for this," Kelly said. "Class size is the No. 3 priority behind a quality group of teachers and staff and the financial health of the district. The quality of a teacher will have a greater impact than class size, but the best (teachers) do even better with less."
There is no perfect class size number, Troeger said.
"It depends on teaching style, subject matter and whether students are in elementary, middle or high school," said Troeger, who has taught at Colorado Mountain College for the past 20 years. "Everybody knows the relationship between small class size and learning. (But) small class sizes don't cause better schools by themselves. Other factors are at work, too. One of the most important is having excellent teachers in the classroom."
Troeger said policy governance is good because it keeps school boards from micromanaging but bad because of the way it interferes with communication.
"Forming a communication committee is not the answer," Troeger said. "Communication reform starts at the top with the board and this means reforming policy governance.
"As a parent you have to go through 'the process' before you get to talk to the board. You have no idea of how time-consuming and frustrating it is until you've been on the receiving end of policy governance. It almost seems like the whole thing is designed to make parents give up and go away. Many do, but others become incensed and then you get emotional school board meetings and everyone becomes polarized. This doesn't seem like a very good way to solve disputes."
Kelly said policy governance is only effective to a point.
"It is important that Board of Education directors do not spend all their time on every finite issue, but instead focus on the big picture -- promoting educational excellence and the financial health of the district," Kelly said. "Policy governance should not be a barrier between the Board of Education and any constituent, stakeholder, teacher, principal or staff member. This is too small a community to allow that.
"I just don't see how any Board of Education can be successful if (policy governance) results in a lack of communication between the board and any of the staff or constituents of the district," Kelly said. "We all have time constraints, but I would hope if any teacher, staff member, principal or constituent had a legitimate concern, that I would be available if elected."
If elected, Kelly's No. 1 priority is to unify the education community and get everyone moving in the same direction. Next is to maintain the financial health of the district and to continue to explore new means to increase the educational opportunities for district children.
Troeger said his priorities for the district would be solving the Montessori situation, fixing communication problems and re-examining policy governance. He also wants to better use technology and find real-world solutions to reduce some of the behavioral issues identified in a recent SteamboatCARES survey.
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