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Summit School Board Candidates Share Views on Academics, Fairness, Finance and Transparency at Election Forum

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Candidates for the Summit School District Board of Education sit on the stage in the Summit High School auditorium for a non-partisan electoral forum hosted by the Summit Daily News and the Summit Education Foundation.
Lindsey Toomer / Daily News Summit

Community members gathered in the Summit High School auditorium and on Zoom to hear all nine of the Summit School District Board of Education candidates on one stage, sharing their thoughts on academics, equity, spending on district and transparency.

Candidates for a two-year term are incumbent Kate Hudnut and 4 For the Kids team member Danielle Surette. The candidates for the three four-year terms are Toby Babich, Chris Guarino, incumbents Johanna Kugler and Lisa Webster, and 4 for The Kids roster Kim Langley, Manuela Michaels and Pat Moser.

Academics

Candidates were not blind to the fact that the district’s test scores fell below average.



Guarino said there’s no denying that board members and parents care about student performance, but it’s just as important to step back and look at the child as a whole. He said he didn’t have a perfect answer as to why scores drop, but that working with and not against teachers can allow students to thrive. Kugler also shared this sentiment.

Candidates for 4 For the Kids have touted improving school performance as a top priority, and Langley said she believes the district has fallen below standards due to numerous distractions.



“As math and reading continue to decline, we need to focus on teaching academic skills, not belief systems,” Langley said. “In other words, we intend to get back to basics. We would encourage a learning environment in which students learn to think, not what to think.

Hudnut countered that students are more than test scores, and that the district has dozens of programs that take children beyond the basics, including vocational and technical education, advanced level classes and International Baccalaureate as well as dual language and dual enrollment programs.

“We are so much more in the Summit School District than reading and writing and arithmetic,” Hudnut said. “We have amazing programs here. We have a community that has been generous.

Equity

Given the division surrounding the community conversation about the school district’s equity policy, it’s clear that not everyone has the same definition of what fairness means.

Kugler said walking into a classroom and handing each child the exact same book is equality. She said giving each child a book tailored to their own needs is fairness.

“This is fairness: looking at the child individually, giving them the tools, resources and opportunities to reach their full potential,” said Kugler.

Michaels said she thinks using the word fairness is confusing because so many people have different definitions and her stance on politics depends on which definition is used. Moser shared similar feelings.

“I’m for equity if it provides all students with the tools they need to be successful in the classroom academically and socially / emotionally,” Michaels said. “I am not for fairness if it is said like the Summit School District definition: that all white students are racist and oppressive while others are oppressed and discriminated against.”

Babich said he believes the heart of fairness policy is a commitment to the student community, something he thinks everyone would support. But he said the policy also includes ideas and themes that are seen as divisive, creating distracting debates within the community.

Budget

In June, the board adopted a budget that includes approximately $ 67.6 million in revenue for the coming year and over $ 70 million in expenses for all funds. While about 90% of that budget is spent on salaries and benefits, how the rest should be spent is up for debate.

Webster noted that the state’s formula for school budgets is incredibly outdated, and public schools aren’t getting as much money as they should be.

“We need to address this issue at the state level so that our local budgets can be more complete, because every time the state gets money back, it takes money out of us here in Summit County,” Webster said.

Moser said she would like to go line by line looking at the budget, asking how each expense helps children.

“If I can’t get an answer, then I’m going to ask a few questions because the budget has to either go to the teachers and help them help the kids, or go straight to the kids,” Moser said. “Everything has to be kid-centered – everything – because that’s why we open our doors every day. “

Babich said he was president of a business organization that had similar issues with its director last year, as the district did with former Superintendent Marion Smith Jr., paying him severance pay six digits. He said the budget must prioritize real world skills.

“Obviously it’s about seeing the payout… but I’m not going to question the integrity of the board members or the budget formulation process,” Babich said. “I believe that some of the people I know on the budget committee and these board members take their loyalty oath and fiduciary duties very seriously.”

Transparency

As school board meetings grow nationwide, parents are asking for more transparency from their children’s school districts.

Surette said she didn’t think the board had done a good job of communicating and that many parents were concerned about the class schedule, saying it should be available online. She also said the time allotted for public comment at board meetings was not enough for parents to address their concerns and that listening forums should be held for more parent feedback.

“(Parents) deserve a voice and a say in their children’s education, and the board should want to hear them,” Surette said. “Parents and teachers said they were frustrated because no one valued their opinions. … People need to feel like they’re part of the conversation, that their opinion matters.

Guarino said his first priority is to build trust by being an active listener and a transparent, proactive communicator.

“It’s our job not to represent our own beliefs, but it’s to represent all of you, even if we don’t agree with each other,” Guarino said. “… Even if I vote for or support something you don’t like, you’ll understand why I have this feeling.” “

Webster said transparency is a two-way street, saying the board posts all information of its meetings online and the community needs to make sure it follows up before a process ends. She and other candidates encouraged the community to get involved in the district by volunteering or joining a committee.


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