Trustee candidates answer questions
May 1, 2009
Alice Campbell Havre Daily News [email protected]
The four candidates running for two seats on the Havre Public Schools Board of Trustees, shared opinions on most of the subjects broached at Thursday night's candidate forum. The focuses were on letting administration do what they were hired to do, the budgetary and procedural processes and the setting aside of personal agendas in favor of compromise and open communication to do what's best for students and the community. All candidates agreed that the education students receive should be the best it can be, with Lee Christianson going so far as to say that democracy depends upon educated students. They also agreed that in order to provide that education, a board member must be willing to listen to all points of view and perhaps change opinions to match that of the majority of his constituents. Board members must bring a "sense of humility" with them to meetings and when speaking with constituents, incumbent Todd Hanson said. The determination to maintain the priority of giving students the "education they need to be responsible citizens when they graduate," is a trait Harvey Capellen said he will bring to the board. It is important to be "open to ideas and look at every side of the perspective," incumbent Gus Sharp said and added that at the same time, it's important to be willing to stand up and disagree. Those disagreements have to end after the final vote though, all contesters agreed. Candidates also generally agreed that the budget presents problems. Hanson said he'd like to build on the programs already in place, including Indian Education for All and programs for at-risk students. Both Capellen and Christianson said that maintaining current programs should be the priority. Those budgetary issues also mean problems attracting and retaining teachers, whom the candidates praised for their hard work. Sharp said that better salaries and benefits would help attract and retain teachers and that using teachers and students as ambassadors would illustrate more accurately what it's like to work in Havre Public Schools. Also, "encouraging and praising the good people that we do have" would help, Sharp said. Hanson said that each of the six years he's sat on the board, he's had to ask teachers and administrators to "do more with less," which means "we run the risk of burning them out." Students and teachers should serve as ambassadors at job fairs and other events to attract new teachers and the system needs to "find a way to do more than just pat them on the back" to keep them, he said. He mentioned monetary compensation as well as creative scheduling as solutions. "It's the people. ... They're going to promote it for you," Christianson said. "I think teachers feel under-appreciated," Capellen said and mentioned money and praise as ways to show that their hard work doesn't go unnoticed. Prospective teachers need to know that this is a community that cares," he added. The candidates also recognized the role of an established chain of command that leaves them out unless there is an issue brought before them for a vote or consideration. At the same time, they all said that constituents can and should speak with them about concerns, but that they would direct them to the proper person to speak with about problems. Hanson said that, yes, administrators and teachers are hired to do a job, but that the board should be "actively engaged in the oversight." Each candidate also told those in attendance at the forum that he would be willing to stand up and disagree with the administrators if their recommendations go against the will of the majority of constituents or if they are contrary to the general purpose of the school system. Slight differences of opinion did exist last night, too. When asked by a person in attendance what they would do to ensure that they represent a broad cross-section of the community instead of just their social groups, each said that he would listen to anyone's concerns and also listen to concerns shared with other board members that he might not have heard personally. People need to "speak up" if they feel like they aren't being accurately or completely represented, Christianson said. After the earlier discussion about budgets and teacher retention and attraction, candidates were asked how they feel about merit pay systems. "We're going to have to get creative," Sharp said and reiterated that teachers should be paid more. "I do come from a world where you do make bonuses," Christianson said and added that it might be a solution for teacher salaries, but also said he feels that it will have to be tackled at a national level. While teachers are worth $1 million salaries, to pay them that is "not economically feasible," Capellen said. He, like the other candidates, questioned who would make the decision about merit. "What's the measure ... and mo r e imp o r t a n t l y, wh o decides?" Hanson asked. To be considered professionals by the rest of the professional communi ty, Hanson said that teachers would have to be paid for merit in some fashion, but added that he's not sure how that happens. Hanson and Sharp both said that a balance must be reached between academic and extra curricular activities. Hanson shared that because of high absentee numbers on Fridays for extra curricular activities, several options have been explored, including a fourday school week. "As much as we love all that stuff ... the academic has to come first," Sharp said. When students are traveling to and fro, "who says that's time down?" Said Christianson and added that with technology, they might be able to have class on busses. "It's a balance you have to find between the academic and the extra curricular," Capellen said and added that technology provides an "infinite amount of possibilities." He also said that parents need to take the responsibility to tell their children that if their grades suffer, they'll have to drop extra curricular activities. Elections will be held Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Havre High School Gymnasium to fill the two trustee seats and also for the renewal of a mill levy in the amount of $185,000 a year for the next six years. The forum Thursday night was sponsored by the Havre Education Association.