School candidates debate

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— The two candidates for the District 1 seat on the Steamboat Springs School Board highlighted their strengths during a candidates' forum Wednesday.

Incumbent Michael Loomis said his two years of experience on the School Board would be "invaluable to the future of the district," especially as the other two seats will be filled by people running for the first time. He also is the father of two girls in Steamboat schools.

Challenger John DeVince--ntis, a retired principal of Straw--berry Park Elementary, said he would bring needed change to the School District.

The questions that were asked Wednesday -- including those about decreasing class sizes and improving morale -- had been asked during the election two years ago, he said, which suggests not much has improved. He said he would bring a different management style to the School Board.

"I think our kids and parents deserve better," he said.

Denise Connelly, who just retired from 28 years of teaching in Steamboat schools, and Tom Miller-Freutel, an experienced businessman, also participated. They are running unopposed for the District 3 and District 5 seats, respectively.

On the question of class sizes, Loomis contended that the school district has followed a staffing ratio for several years, so although some classes might be above or below an average, they are not increasing across the board.

Plus, Loomis said, excellent teachers are as important, if not more important, than having small class sizes. For excellent teachers to stay, they have to be paid enough, which might not happen if more teachers were hired to create smaller classes.

Further decreasing class size is not the best way to spend money, he said.

DeVincentis said the city's half-cent sales tax for education was meant to provide small classes. The Education Fund Board, which administers that tax, should spend a larger portion of the tax on teachers' salaries, thus contributing more to smaller classes, he said.

He said the decision this year to have a fourth- and fifth-grade combination class to decrease class sizes at Strawberry Park Elementary is an ineffective way to meet the learning needs of all students. Putting aides in a classroom also is not effective, he said.

DeVincentis said it is crucial for the School Board to keep its focus on children and that administrators, teachers and staff need to be asked their opinions about issues regularly. If elected, he said, he would continue his connections with local schools, getting into and helping teach classes, volunteering, going to various meetings and more.

Loomis said he has visited schools as much as possible and listened to the community about issues, but emphasized that communication is a two-way street.

When asked by an audience member who they felt would be president of the School Board, as current President Paula Stephenson is not running for re-election, all the candidates said it was an inappropriate question to answer.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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