Iowa City Community School Board candidates shared views on equity, special education and other topics at a rally Saturday evening.
All seven candidates greeted attendees of the Community Rocks rally in University Heights, organized by Fourth Room Theatre, and talked about what drove them to seek four open board seats in the Sept. 12 school election.
Speakers who support and oppose the upcoming, $191.5 million general obligation bond referendum also participated.
Five candidates are competing for the expiring seats of Board President Chris Lynch and members Brian Kirschling and Chris Liebig, while Charlie Eastham and Shawn Eyestone are vying for a seat LaTasha DeLoach vacated when she resigned in July.
Speakers and ballot issue committee representatives spoke on the following topics:
Referencing disparities revealed by a recent survey on students’ experiences at school, Claussen said the board must ensure all students, regardless of race, sexuality or gender, feel safe.
“We have a lot of work to do on that front,” Claussen said.
Claussen is an educator at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and a former special education teacher of 10 years.
He said he is committed to improving the special education program after an investigation by the Iowa Department of Education last year, and he hopes to focus on curriculum decisions.
Achievement gaps between student subgroups are a key area Eastham said he hopes to tackle.
“We need to and can reduce those gaps to zero percent,” he said.
Eastham is a member of the district’s Equity Committee and an Iowa City resident.
He said he wants to focus on implementing the Comprehensive Equity Plan, which lays out goals for increasing staff diversity and teachers’ cultural competency, among other areas.
Eyestone said his work helping to lead and form multiple parent-teacher groups in the district provided insight that would help him on school board.
His role as a manager at Integrated DNA Technologies also allows him to investigate how people learn, he said.
Eyestone who also ran for school board in 2015, said he wants to focus on the district’s assets while also addressing deficits, adding that it’s key for board members to listen.
“If we’re not listening, we’re not doing our job right,” he said.
Godwin said she wants to ensure Iowa City schools “stay strong” by focusing on equity issues and the district’s 10-year facilities plan.
“The facilities master plan is working,” she said.
Godwin said she has “strong experience” as a leader at ACT, where she is chief operating officer.
She said she wants to challenge issues at the state and national levels that are “undermining public schools,” including efforts to channel dollars away from public schools and toward private schools.
Malone said the district has “huge strides to make” when it comes to addressing the climate survey, which indicated that nearly three-fourths of non-gender-binary respondents feel unsafe at school, among other disparities.
“The next board will be key in ensuring that this work continues,” she said.
Malone is a department administrator at the University of Iowa who oversees sociology and psychological and brain sciences.
She said she wants to hold district administrators accountable for accomplishing the rest of the facilities master plan on time and on budget.
Helping students with disabilities succeed is a passion for Westemeyer, who said she also wants to rebuild trust in the district.
“It’s clear to me that there’s a significant lack of faith and trust in the district leadership,” she said.
Westemeyer founded the Children’s Center for Therapy, now called ChildServe, in Iowa Ciity.
She said she wants to make sure district leaders listen to concerns among parents of special education students about issues including accessible playgrounds and the use of seclusion rooms.
Woltman said she wants to see “a renewed focus” on curriculum and school climate.
She said she wants to shine a spotlight on alternative district programming, such as the Home School Assistance Program, in which two of her own children are enrolled.
“The alternative programs matter, too,” she said.
Woltman is a mom and education blogger who focuses on issues in Iowa education, including state assessments.
One Community, One Bond
Parent Kelly Terrill spoke in favor of the bond referendum, saying it would address growing student enrollment, fix maintenance issues across the district and create equitable learning environments.
She said Iowa City has the lowest tax rate among the ten largest school districts in Iowa. The current rate is is $13.99 per $1,000 of taxable property value, and the bond issue would increase the rate by an estimated 98 cents.
Terrill noted that the bond issue is based on “thousands of hours” of work in the community to build the facilitiese plan.
“The good news is that we have a plan,” she said.
Vote No Sept. 12
Parent Martha Hampel, Vote No’s treasurer, said issues like plans to close Hoover Elementary led to mistrust among many parents, and this matters as residents decide whether to trust district leaders with future facilities spending.
“Some want to argue that these issues have nothing to do with the bond, but they do,” she said.
Hampel said she wants a more organized bond with fewer projects and more specific ballot language describing the district’s intentions for using the tax dollars.
Reach Holly Hines at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 319-887-5414, and follow her on Twitter at @HollyJHines.
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