Steamboat Springs The two candidates in the only contested seat for the Hayden School Board have very different positions on two key issues: student enrollment and student achievement.
Business owner Jeff Fry is challenging incumbent Patty Bruchez for the District A seat representing an area mostly north of Hayden.
Fry, owner of Bears Ears Excavating in Hayden, is concerned about stagnant growth in student enrollment, which has declined overall in the past several years.
Some of the decline is due to fewer kindergarteners moving to Hayden, but Fry argues too many students also are going to nearby districts that offer more academic and extracurricular programs.
Maintaining academic standards, and in some cases improving students' progress, also is an important issue in the district.
This year, Hayden saw lower-than-average ACT scores among high school seniors, as well as flat or declining reading and writing scores among some middle school and high school students on the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests.
Fry said keeping more experienced teachers on board is important to improving student achievement. He is concerned the district is not renewing probationary teachers' contracts to avoid paying them higher salaries as they gain experience in the district.
"Pay them," Fry said. "It's worth it to our kids."
Teachers reach the non-probationary level their fourth year with the district. It's more difficult to not renew their contracts after that point, Superintendent Mike Luppes said.
However, the district's decision to not renew some probationary teachers' contracts almost always relates to performance, except in cases where the district eliminates a position to save money, he said.
Removing a second-grade teacher position was among budget reduction measures for this school year.
But Fry contends it's also important to understand why some teachers choose not to renew their contracts. Students need to count on seeing teachers from year to year, as was the case when he attended school in Steamboat Springs, he said.
Fry graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 1976 and moved to West Routt County in 1996. He has three children. His daughter is a senior at Hayden High School and his two younger children are in second grade and preschool.
As a member of the School Board, Fry said he would encourage the district to seek grants to build needed infrastructure, such as a full-size track, and would work to make the board friendlier and more attentive to residents' concerns.
When it comes to academic achievement, Bruchez emphasized that it's important to keep in perspective the many students who do well in Hayden schools.
"I think for this size of school district, we do an outstanding job in what we offer ... I think we lose sight of the successes so many of our kids do have," she said.
In a small district with small class sizes, one or two students' low test scores can drastically affect overall scores for classes and grades, Bruchez said.
The challenge is understanding how to address students who are not progressing with the education that exists.
"Our job is to educate the majority and do what we can for the majority," she said. "That's public education."
Bruchez, an accountant, was elected to the School Board in 2001. She also served a two-year stint on the board in the mid-1980s as a replacement for another member.
The biggest challenge facing the board is the lack of growth in student enrollment, but there is only so much the district can do when it comes to students leaving for other districts or home school, she said.
"I don't know how you can fight that ... That's what people want is choice," Bruchez said.
In addition to serving on the School Board, Bruchez also has experience working for the district. She was a district bookkeeper from 1978 to 1984 and business manager from 1987 to 1998.
She has a son who is a senior at Hayden High School and another son who attended the school and now is in college.
She understands the background of many issues as well as policies that have and have not worked in the school district, she said.