School Board candidates stress accountability | SteamboatToday.com

School Board candidates stress accountability

Mike McCollum

Steamboat Springs School Board candidate Laura Anderson speaks to a crowd at Centennial Hall during Monday night's 2007 Election Forum sponsored by the Steamboat Pilot & Today and Steamboat tv18. Anderson is running against incumbent Jerry Kozatch for a seat in District 5.

Steamboat Springs School Board candidate Char Rusk defended her decision to abstain from voting for the August buyout of Donna Howell’s contract, and she said the board was justified in cutting ties with the former superintendent.

“While I abstained from the vote on Donna’s contract, I do believe that positive results are being seen due to an improved, trusting cooperative relationship in the district,” Rusk said Monday night during a candidates forum hosted by the Steamboat Pilot & Today and Steamboat tv18.

Rusk, who was appointed in June to fill the District 4 seat vacated when former board member Pat Gleason resigned, said she was not involved in any of the mediations or facilitations between the board and Howell.

“But I do recognize the problem was created by a previous board that resulted in a certain lack of accountability from the superintendent to the school board, along with the elimination of motivation to work as a team to improve the district,” said Rusk, who stressed that Howell’s four-year contract enabled the superintendent to avoid accountability.

She said accountability has been restored to the position with the hiring of interim superintendent Sandra Smyser.

“We are now accomplishing district business – all-day kindergarten, career development and construction projects -without the animosity that was created by the superintendent conflict and other outside influences,” Rusk said.

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Rusk’s challenger, Robin Crossan, did not address Howell’s buyout Monday night, but she praised the current board’s efforts to implement all-day kindergarten, build a new Soda Creek Elementary School and expand Strawberry Park Elementary School.

Crossan, who discussed a variety of topics, such as fiscal responsibility, building relationships between the board and the community and the need for an all-day kindergarten program, said she would always put children ahead of personal interests.

“I will work to engage the community to listen to all sides of the issues, and I will communicate and be held responsible for all decisions the School Board makes,” she said.

School Board candidate Laura Anderson, who is challenging Jerry Kozatch for the District 5 seat, said she was disappointed in the board’s decision to “fire” Howell.

“The timing of the board’s decision in August to fire the superintendent was a great concern to me,” Anderson said. “With ‘Camp Soda Creek’ still under construction, and two weeks before school was to start for 2,000 students, the district was without leadership. This was not done in the best interest of our students.”

District 2 candidate Lisa Brown, who is running unopposed, also brought up the superintendent issue.

“The actions of the current board, including the firing of a superintendent without cause and conducting an internal investigation into the release of e-mails, have neither been favored nor endorsed by the community,” she said. “I hope as we move into the future, all school board members are better prepared to consider the consequences and cost of actions before they are taken.”

Anderson said despite her displeasure with the board’s handling of Howell, her campaign is focused on issues facing the board, not those from the past.

“We now have an interim superintendent in Dr. Smyser, and it’s time to look to the future to set goals, articulate curriculum, finish construction projects as we strive to be one of the best school district’s in the state,” she said.

Kozatch stressed the need for the board to look at pressing issues, such as the district’s dropout rate.

“In Steamboat, the dropout rate is approximately 10 percent, which is way below the national average, but otherwise unacceptable,” he said. “I would hope we can reduce our dropout rate by 20 percent this school year. We need to identify struggling teens at an earlier age and provide for them the tools and environment to succeed.”

– To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com