School Board District 3 candidates Gaylene Adams and Jennie Earl faced off in a debate hosted last week by both the Morgan County Republican and Constitution Party and moderated by Utah State Auditor John Dougall.
Adams and Earl will join District 5 candidates Jim Brown and Adam Toone on the November ballot, along with Ronald Blunck, who is running uncontested in District 1. Long-time board members Ken Durrant and Neil Carrigan will step down in January.
“I support learning standards (that have been developed with input by those on the front lines-namely teachers and parents) that provide clear learning outcomes for students, instructional road maps for teachers working for those outcomes, and appropriate assessment to demonstrate outcomes,” Adams said.
“Standards is one thing. We need standards,” Earl said. “But education reform, data collection, teacher evaluations and school grading are great concerns and harmful for teachers and students.” Although Common Core was branded as local standards, Earl said they were, in essence, national standards.
Adams said the Utah Department of Education provides vital, significant services that districts would not have sufficient resources to accomplish on their own. Among those services are: writing the rules, regulations and procedures for every law dealing with education that the legislature or state school board passes; licensure of teachers; providing districts with professional development opportunities; overseeing the accreditation of schools; and providing counsel and support for legal issues.
Earl said educational decision should be made locally, not by the U.S. Department of Education.
Careful allocation of funds coming in so that money is funneled to teachers and not spread out over other district needs is the key to lowering class sizes in Morgan schools, Earl said. She said she appreciated the district’s underestimation of how many new students will come to the district every year while building their annual budget.
Adams said the community needs an opportunity to make the decision of how to lower class sizes in Morgan.
“I’m going to give you some scenarios on both ends of the spectrum. There are several ‘uncomfortable’ ways to lower class sizes. For instance, a year round school schedule for elementary allows for 25-33 percent greater utilization of a building. Elimination of the use of their classrooms for prep on the secondary level would free up approximately five classrooms per period. There are staggered start and end times and others,” said Adams, whose career has been spent in education. “Please take note that I am not suggesting these measures are good options for students, teachers, families of Morgan School District. They are simply options that will aid in the end result. On the other end of the spectrum would be building all the buildings and classrooms we need and staffing them with instructors to provide the ideal student-teacher ratio. That really isn’t a choice (given the debt-to-income ratio of our district).”
Debaters were asked if they would support a proposed $26 million tax increase, which would include one new school and an extensive addition to the high school. If passed, the result would be a $2 million annual payment.
“I would turn that question around and say outside of taxation, are there other ways we can generate more revenue?” Adams said. “I have been a first-hand witness to district budget cuts that I feel have taken us about as bare bones as we can get without seriously harming educational outcomes. Our students are here and we have an obligation to work together to determine the best and most responsible way of taking care of them. Again, I see it as the time for the community to come together and make some tough decisions about vision and goals and how to best achieve them.”
Earl, who sat on the district’s growth committee task force, said she would not like the district to race into something that can’t be adequately funded. She would like to see more balance in the budget, as the amount going toward capital expenditures has previously been “out of balance. In the next five years, we need plans,” she said.
Debaters were asked what a school board member’s job is.
“Setting and implementing the vision of the district is in a nutshell a school board’s main responsibility. Board members’ jobs then becomes three-fold in duty as pertaining to board function—legislative, administrative and judicial,” Adams said. “I believe if these three things are done with the best learning environment for students and the best instructional environment for teachers at the forefront of all decisions, then a board member is absolutely an advocate for students and teachers as well as an informational link between the board and constituents.”
Earl said that school board members should advocate for and put capital in today’s American families. “If it is best for the family, then it is probably best for the children, teachers and the educational system,” she said.
When asked what the district could further cut to balance its budget, Adams said the focus should instead be on how to increase revenues because things have already been cut “to the skeleton.”
Earl agreed, saying the district needed to pursue other funding methods even if it meant taking that money back from unnecessary federal programs. “Let’s take the money back to the schools,” she said.
The audience asked debaters what was more important: keeping taxes low or keeping sports programs in schools.
“There is value in sports programs,” Earl said. “And there are better ways to get tax money.” She said the government should not take money from the Morgan School District just to re-distribute it back out to other districts in the state. “We need to be proactive, watch the state, and be involved in how they create laws.”
Adams agreed, saying parents more often foot the majority of the bill for their children to participate in sports programs. “We need to watch the money and (state) funding formulas,” Adams said.
Debaters tackled the topic of bus transportation vs. students having to walk a mile to school where no sidewalks exist.
Adams said the best way to solve the issue is to “get heads together” from all entities.
Earl agreed, saying the issue would be best handled by the district transportation committee that included UDOT, county, city and school representatives.
The audience asked what the candidates would do to fix the “sad state” of special education in the district.
“The special education department in education is by far the most regulated by state and federal mandates. An analogy that comes to mind likens a special ed teacher to a nurse in the medical profession. A person whose chosen profession was to provide a compassionate and invaluable service to our most vulnerable population is now inundated with voluminous amounts of record keeping and paper work to the point that intended one-on-one service time has become minimal,” Adams said. “Our efforts need to be directed toward solving that problem.”
Special education has a high staff turn-over rate, said Earl, who taught special education for five years. Funding should go to provide support, adequately provide for IEP needs, and incentivize teachers to stay in the career.
In light of new growth and limited funds, home and charter schools could alleviate the number of students in local public schools, candidates were told. Would they support online, charter and home schooling?
“I support those resources as additional tools in the educational tool belt, tools that are there for students whose achievement of learning standards will best be accomplished through use of those tools,” Adams said.
After learning how to best educate her youngest child, who has a learning disability, Earl said she supports private, online, public and charter schools. “It is a family issue,” Earl said. “Every child should
Earl said teachers should be allowed to assess their students, which would lead to better learning in the classroom and a love of learning rather than “a race to the test at the end of the year.”
In conclusion, Earl said she would work as a representative to carry on a dialogue and engage constituents.
“I am a problem-solver, hard worker, researcher, and interested in the direction we are going,” Earl said.
have every avenue available.”
Adams said the school board needs to have a vision of where to go, set goals, and have a plan of how to get there.
“Every citizen benefits from a strong public education system. Citizens deserve to feel confidence in the results of the public education system. Citizens have a responsibility to support public education,” Adams said. “A school board has the duty to set and implement the vision and goals of the district. I desire to be a part of that vision and pledge to be that board member who practices collaboration and respect.”