Seven candidates are running for two open seats on the Dolores School Board. They are Sandra Corbitt, Rebecca Frasier, Lisa Holz, Casey McClellan, Kay Phelps, Eugene Reininger III, and Jerry Whited. Terms are for four years.
The Nov. 7 election will be by mail-in ballot, and the top two vote-getters will earn board seats. There are 2,911 active registered voters in the Dolores School District. As of Nov. 1, 592 ballots – 20 percent – had been turned in, according to the Montezuma County clerk’s office.
Due to mailing delays, the clerk’s office recommends ballots be dropped off at the ballot box in order to arrive in time. Ballots must be submitted by 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Montezuma County Clerk’s office, 140 W. Main St. Suite 1, in Cortez.
During an election forum and in a series of questions published in The Journal, the candidates offered some diverse views, and also agreed on many points.
They all agreed there were many opportunities at the Dolores School District, and some singled out specifics.
Candidate Kay Phelps urged citizen science, placed-based learning, and entrepreneur programs with help from successful local businesses like Osprey Packs and Alpaca rafts. Candidate Jerry Whited sees a new medical clinic being built at the school as a benefit to aid with the mental and physical health of students. And candidate Casey McClellan believes a strong anti-bullying program and new running track are needed at the school.
Candidate Eugene Reininger sees the diversity of the student body as an opportunity for learning about different cultures and backgrounds. He also feels the budget needs to be scrutinized harder in order to find ways to improve salaries of quality teachers to keep them here.
Candidate Lisa Holz would promote a more holistic approach to learning, and supports an optional bilingual education program in the elementary school to attract more students.
All the candidates agreed that retaining students and quality teachers is important, with some variations on how to get there.
Candidate Sandra Corbitt said offering more pay and day care services could help keep teachers, and more teacher awards are needed to give recognition. Candidate Rebecca Frasier suggested that students moving to other schools be given an exit interview to find out ways to retain them. Reininger also said exit interviews and surveys are a good idea.
Decision-making and communication are key skills for an effective board member, candidates said.
Frasier has been serving on the school board and feels information presented can be one-sided, and that more community support should be sought. Frasier is unsure whether a school-based health clinic is the best option when Southwest Memorial is also opening a health clinic in town, and she worries about the school funding the clinic long-term.
Holz said decision-making should be as thorough and open as possible. She said the school board should conduct research on tough issues and in some cases could reach out to other school districts to see how they handled similar situations. Whited said it is important that the teachers feel they can voice their concerns and be heard without fear of being punished.
All decisions need to comply with school policies and codes of conduct, added McClellan. And if a clear sense of direction cannot be determined through board discussions, the Colorado Association of School Boards should be consulted.
Phelps said when teachers leave, there needs to be more communication as to why. Is it because they are not being heard, school culture, or because of pay? She supports investing in teachers through professional development and perks, such as after-school exercise and stress management sessions, and by celebrating teacher successes on the school website.
Holz said encouraging the social and emotional intelligence of students is important, and will decrease behavior disturbances. She said the health clinic should include mental health services.
Whited said decisions should be based on what is best for all students, not just a select few. He said more input from teachers is needed on education decisions, and the public should be informed about new programs. Student input is also needed on certain issues, he added.
The candidates also weighed in on school finances and how to gain community support for increased taxes, including from those who do not have children in school.
Frasier said to gain more support entire community should be kept in the loop more on school issues, not just when money is needed. Corbitt said the public deserves more information from the schools year-round. Phelps said showcasing student and teacher accomplishments will generate more support, and that should include students participating in local service learning and internships.
McClellan said there is a mistaken tendency within government to look at taxpayer dollars as free money. He said many taxpayers are concerned their money will be squandered, but if the district has a record of handling finances responsibly, they the public will have more confidence and give their support when justified.