Policy governance as it's set up in the Steamboat Springs School District could use some tweaking to address communication barriers it has created, several School Board candidates said Wednesday.
Candidates in each of the School Board's three races gathered Wednesday afternoon at Centennial Hall for a forum hosted by the Steamboat Pilot & Today and KRMR radio.
"I think a lot of controversy has come up with policy governance because of the restrictions it places on communication in the district," District 5 candidate Michael Loomis said. Loomis is running unopposed for the seat vacated by Tom Sharp. However, Mike Skov's name also will appear on the ballot for District 5. Skov withdrew from the race several weeks ago.
District 4 hopeful Robin Crossan said the way policy governance is set up in the district is frustrating for people because they must always go through specific channels to have their problems addressed.
Jerry Kozatch, who is running against incumbent Pat Gleason and Crossan for the District 4 seat, said though he expects people to go through the appropriate channels to address their issues, he will be open to discuss any concerns with individuals or groups. Kozatch, who was out of town and unable to attend the forum, was represented by his daughter, Lia, who read his responses.
Any perceived communication problems in the district occur because the School Board is unwilling to micromanage, Gleason said. Policy governance allows district employees closest to the issues to make the decisions, he said.
Jeff Troeger, who is running against Brian Kelly for the District 2 seat being vacated by Paul Fisher, said he agrees the School Board shouldn't micromanage the district. However, he objects to the way those close to or involved with the district are referred to as stakeholders. The School Board isn't a corporation, Troeger said. It's a democracy, and people have the right to be heard by their elected officials.
"I think we really need to look at (policy governance)," he said.
Most School Board candidates agreed with Kelly's assertion there's no magic number when it comes to class sizes in the district. Candidates Kozatch and Gleason said it was important to look at where else district money could be spent to better education, including paying better teachers more money.
Loomis said small class sizes, which he firmly supports, influenced his first involvement in the school district. Administrators and the superintendent should advise the School Board what's optimal in terms of class sizes, Loomis said.
All of the candidates except Troeger support the School Board's stance against a proposed Montessori charter school. Troeger said he is concerned the School Board is breaking the law and using public defiance as its way of dealing with the issue. The school district is extremely vulnerable because of its half-cent sales tax for education, a tax yet to be tested in court, he said.
"I'm just really scared we run the risk of losing a huge benefit," Troeger said.
Like several other candidates, including Kelly, Kozatch and Loomis, Troeger hopes a resolution to the Montessori situation can be agreed to outside of the legal process.
After the question-and-answer session for School Board candidates, School Board President Paul Fisher and Steamboat Springs Montessori board members Jody Patten and David Patterson debated the proposed charter school.
Fisher said a Montessori charter school would cost the school district between $200,000 and $300,000 a year. That cost will necessitate a reduction in district staff, which will increase class sizes or reduce programs the district can offer its students.
The state won't provide the district additional funds for the charter school, which is why the School Board has used the unfunded mandate defense, Fisher said. Fisher also said the district's defense will be built upon the stances that forcing a charter on the district is in violation of local control, that the charter school is converting an existing private Montessori school into a public one and that a Montessori charter school would have a deficit budget, which is against the law.
Patten called the unfunded mandate defense a flimsy argument and said the charter school would benefit all district students through competition.
A Montessori advisory question on the November ballot will ask district voters if they support the School Board's stance on the proposed Montessori charter school.
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