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Candidate forum held for school board elections


The League of Women Voters and the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a community forum on Thursday, Aug. 3 at the Drake Community Library in anticipation of the upcoming school board elections. The biennial Grinnell-Newburg Community District school board elections will be held on Sept. 12. All eight candidates for the five open board seats spoke at the forum.

The League of Women Voters is a national nonpartisan group, and the main goals of Grinnell’s chapter as expressed by League President Terese Grant are providing access to voting and awareness of the candidates’ stances. “Making sure people are educated,” she said, “which is why we hold candidate forums, to make sure that people have an opportunity to ask questions directly to candidates.”

Five of the seven seats on the board are up for election this season. The forum served as an opportunity for candidates to introduce themselves and their platforms. The forum, especially the question and answer segment, offered insight into many of the issues currently facing the Grinnell public schools and the community at large as the candidates fielded questions from attendees.

In Grant’s opinion, for most voters, the candidate’s personal background becomes more important than politics in these elections.

“The person’s background — were they educated themselves? Do they know about education? Do they have children who are in the school? Can they relate to what is going on in the school district? Are they a respected person in the community? Can I trust them?”

There will be elections for Districts 1, 2 and 3, as well as for two director-at-large positions. While one of these director-at-large positions has a four-year term, the other has a two- year term. The representative for District 4 is not up for re-election. Every voter is allowed to cast a vote in each district representative race, including districts other than their own, as well as in the races for directors-at-large.

District 1 covers the greatest area, circling Grinnell’s city’s limits and extending to the school district’s edges. Dennis Phelps and Laurel Tuggle ’13 are running for election to replace Jeff Smith.

Phelps was approached just over a month ago to consider running for the position by fellow community members. He has served a myriad of positions, including teacher, coach, principal and superintendent, and has been dedicated to service. He hopes to continue that theme as a member of the school board.

Tuggle majored in history and completed the College’s education licensure program, student-teaching at Grinnell High School in the process. She recently went through the Ambassadors of Public Health program at the University of Iowa during which she conducted her capstone project at Grinnell Middle School, which centered on a mental health survey, a focus that is key to her platform of improving mental health within the school district.

Running uncontested for re-election in District 2 is Helen Redmond. She initially ran for the board at a time when transparency between the board and community was not encouraged, an improvement she has seen with the hiring of Dr. Janet Stutz to fill the position of superintendent. Redmond’s focuses lie in community communications and remodeling of the school’s budget to simultaneously reduce costs while providing more course offerings.

Running uncontested for the District 3 director seat is Emily Guenther ’07. She currently runs the Liberal Arts in Prison program at the College and is looking to apply her experience in non-public education to the board and become more civically engaged in the community.

Former District 3 representative Meg Jones-Bair will be running for the four-year term at-large seat after moving outside of District 3. She is running against Barbara Brown, the incumbent, and Andy Stewart.

Jones-Bair, like Redmond, became involved with the board when she was dissatisfied with the district’s former leadership. Currently, her biggest agenda item for the board is to push for the consolidation of the elementary schools into a single K-12 building that would improve efficiency and coherence within the district.

Brown has held a position on the board of education for eight years and is currently the board president. As a staff member at the College and the mother of students in the district, she wants to continue being an active community member, keeping the district on the upward trend it has been experiencing.

This is Stewart’s first campaign for election to the board of education. He was out of town for the forum, but the statement that he submitted stressed that too many career-based classes have been cut and it is essential that students have options for technical and life skills classes.

Stephen Sieck has been acting as an interim director at-large. He is running uncontested for the two year at-large position. Sieck has been involved in the governor’s STEM advisory board, his main goals centering around giving students the necessary options for the future through improved facilities, technology and continued staff engagement.

Grant offered insight into some of the board’s most pressing issues, including the bond-issue vote that the former superintendent attempted to push but which ended up falling through. This vote will determine what the district should do with their property and how they should consolidate most efficiently. Stutz, the current superintendent, will likely push this vote as soon as the new board comes into session.

The main concerns touched on by audience members in the question portion of the forum revolved greatly around the budget. As state legislature continues with budget cuts, the school district is likely to see the effects. Community members were concerned with determining how to most efficiently use the district’s property, offering more options for courses that will better prepare students for the workplace or college and collective bargaining increasing the threat of losing teachers. Next year’s board will be focused on staying ahead despite tax breaks for companies and low-revenue agricultural seasons that have contributed to the state’s deepening recession.

Grant says that she rarely sees Grinnell College students at forums or polling places for local elections. For the community though, school board and other local elections have the power to be incredibly influential. For students eager to engage with the community and put their vote to use, the school board election will be held on Sept. 12 at The Elks Lodge. The League will be tabling at the College in the JRC on Sept. 26, National Voter Registration Day, to fulfill these goals and provide Grinnell students with a chance to register in preparation for state wide elections in November.

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  • B

    B BrownSep 8, 2017 at 9:19 am

    If I may add clarification: 6 of 7 board seats are on the ballot. There are two 4-year at-large seats available. Three people are running in that category. The top two vote-getters will be elected. Individuals can vote for up to two people in that election.