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The Scarlet & Black

IoWhat is Going on in Politics? School board makes progressive moves


On Tuesday, Sept. 12, voters across Iowa headed to the polls to vote for members of the local school board. Progressives won competitive races across the state, including here in Grinnell, in the first statewide election since last November. Ever since the staggering losses progressives faced in November, the Democratic Party has been trying to take every chance to make a positive impact. While the Democrats have experienced success in a series of special elections since December of 2016 in which Democrats could focus large efforts on turnout within a small geographic area, they had yet to face this challenge at the statewide level. At last week’s school board election, it was finally time for local progressives to turn out. 

Following the 2017 legislative session, Iowa progressives renewed their focus on the impact a school board can have. It was another year of conservative victories — slashed public education, rollbacks of workers’ rights and collective bargaining rights for public employees. Consequently, school boards have to worry about funding basic operations, and local school districts have significantly more power when it comes to determining benefits and contracts for their teachers. Another major issue at the school level is transgender students gaining access to proper facilities. Despite Iowa state law’s clear stance on letting trans students use facilities that match their gender identity, a school board in Fairfield, Iowa still put this issue up for a vote. Progressive activists rightfully took this opportunity to create positive change, electing school board members who push for fair teacher contracts and prioritize educational accessibility funding.

At home in Grinnell, the Democratic Party put forward a positive vision for the future of our school district. Democrats focused on ensuring that new facilities are accessible and conducive to learning, especially regarding facilities for vocational learning. Admittedly, the role of the school board is relatively limited. They cannot dictate curriculum, nor can they directly hire or fire teachers or staff. Formally, their duties are limited to hiring a superintendent and approving yearly budgets. All school board candidates were aware of those limitations, but sought to present more informal ways that they could improve the Grinnell school board. The elected candidates want to make sure transparency is expanded, by receiving feedback on projects the school district has undertaken. They also want to ensure there are many opportunities to offer feedback, not just during school board meetings. Grinnell’s elected school board members also want to promote partners in the community, like Iowa Valley Community College and Grinnell College.

Each new board member has something unique to offer. Steve Sieck brings an agricultural perspective, having grown up in a farming community. He has seen the overall challenges the state faces by serving on the governor’s STEM Advisory Board. Although he ran unopposed, I am beyond excited to see the start of his tenure as an elected school board member. I feel similarly about Emily Guenther, who runs Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program. Guenther has been able to connect many institutions for the public good, and I know she’ll be able to accomplish similar things for the school district. Reelected members Meg Jones Bair, Barbara Brown and Helen Redmond’s experiences on the board and institutional knowledge will aid the school board in being as transparent as possible. I am especially excited for what Laurel Tuggle ’13 will bring to the table. Tuggle is a Grinnell alumna who completed the College’s education licensure program and then received an advanced degree in public health, where she focused her capstone on mental health among students at Grinnell Middle School. She is beyond equipped to set the tone for our school system, insisting that mental health should be important and valued for all students. 

In some ways, our school board is very different following last week’s election. We now have a majority women school board, and two millennials hold positions. But in many ways, it has maintained its same focus: the students and families in the Grinnell school system. Like progressive candidates across the state, the Grinnell school board will stand for accessible and outstanding public education for everyone.

– Austin Wadle ’18

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