School Board District 5 candidates Jim Brown and Adam Toone 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.
Browne and Toone will join District 3 candidates Gaylene Adams and Jennie Earl 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.
Toone said he does not support Common Core/Utah Common Core “in any means,” and he shouldn’t have to learn to do math again to help his four children with their homework. He said Common Core was developed by social scientists wishing to collect data.
While Brown said standards are needed, as is a mechanism is needed to assess standards, students spend too much time on testing. He does not like that students are taking English tests “too early” in March and wants teachers to be free to teach how they want and be assessed locally. “There needs to be a better way to evaluation teachers,” Brown said.
Toone said the U.S. Department of Education has no authority or power according to the Constitution. That authority belongs to the states.
Brown, who has a military background, said educational powers belong to the state and not the U.S. Department of Education.
To lower class sizes in Morgan schools, Brown said we need more classrooms and/or teachers. “We need long-term solutions, and not keep putting Band-aids on things,” he said.
Toone said Morgan needs to either reduce the number of students or increase the number of teachers to decrease district class sizes. That would take a tax increase, he said. He approves the use of classroom aides as a temporary solution, but is looking for a more long-term one.
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.
Brown said that the community should be involved and educated before voting on the $26 million tax increase. “There might be a plan we are not yet familiar with yet,” Brown said. “This decision can’t be made in a vacuum, or it won’t pass. The past has proven that.”
Toone said he is more in favor of adding on to existing school buildings and maintaining current administration instead of building a new school with a $26 million tax increase. Using a steel frame would make schools less expensive to build and easier to add on to and modify compared to more traditional brick and mortar buildings, Toone said.
Debaters were asked what a school board member’s job is.
Toone said a school board member’s job is not to advocate for students and teachers.
“The teacher’s association advocates for the teachers. The PTSO advocates for the children. The people who elect us is who we advocate for. Parents have the right to education their children,” Toone said. “Saying board members advocate for children is an emotional response.”
Because not all teachers are members of a union or association, Brown said a school board member must advocate for teachers and students. “We need a balance,” Brown said. “Educated students contribute to society, and we are all members of that team. We need to create the best educational environment we can.”
When asked what the district could further cut to balance its budget, Brown said, “We are pretty lean right now. We need to maximize every opportunity and resource we can get.”
Toone said the district could look at other creative options like the four-day school week implemented years ago by the state. “We need to be innovative in changing practices,” Toone said.
The audience asked debaters what was more important: keeping taxes low or keeping sports programs in schools.
“Extracurricular activities are exactly that; extracurricular,” Toone said. “Some sports require less infrastructure than others. There are advantages to sports. But we don’t need to travel to St. George to say we participated in a traditional athletic experience.”
“The primary reason we are here is for education,” Brown said. “I play sports. My kids have benefitted from sports. Hopefully I will not have to make that decision.”
Debaters tackled the topic of bus transportation vs. students having to walk a mile to school where no sidewalks exist.
“We have 800 bus stops. Some kindergartners ride on buses for an hour,” Brown said. “Transportation is not an easy task. It comes down to money and the need for safety.”
“I am OK with (elementary students walking a mile to school. It builds character,” Toone said. He said instead of sinking money into more bus stops and building sidewalks, he would rather see the school board focus on trying to raise the $250,000 needed to build a bridge at the end of Young Street beyond pick-up and drop-off zones so the street is no longer a dead-end street.
The audience asked what the candidates would do to fix the “sad state” of special education in the district.
Toone said due to the opinion of newcomers moving here in order to participate in the district’s special education program, he was unaware of needs not being met.
“It is a challenging career, with an average three-year burn-out rate,” Brown said. “It comes back to money, and we rely on state and federal funds. We need to capitalize on every resource, including Medicaid.”
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?
“Parents know what is best,” Brown said. “Online, charter and home schools have a place. I would advocate for a child and parent.”
“Mother knows best,” Toone said, noting that not every family is suited for homeschooling.
Brown said he believes in team work and avoiding making decisions in a vacuum. “Get everyone involved,” he said.
“People need to show up with solutions and offer to help,” Toone said. “That is the most efficient.”
In conclusion, Toone said he believes in parent rights and not expecting government to do everything for you. “A public servant is endowed with the trust of those who elect you,” Toone said.
Brown said decisions made by school board member today have the potential to impact lives for two to three generations. “We need to think strategically and pick what might not be the obvious choice to create a great opportunity for our children,” Brown said.