IGNACIO – School board candidates competed for votes Monday at a forum, and they highlighted improving communication as a top priority for the Ignacio School District.
Five candidates – two incumbents and three newcomers – are vying for three open seats on the Ignacio School Board just weeks ahead of the Nov. 5 elections.
Toby Roderick, a newcomer candidate and employee at Red Cedar Gathering Co., said the elementary school and middle school communicate well, but it’s often “done wrong” at the high school. Parents need to get more regular updates about activities, extracurriculars and other school events, he said.
The school board candidates emphasized better communication throughout the forum.
“We find who’s doing it good, we model it, and we set a program – this is how you’re going to communicate,” Roderick said, advocating for a districtwide communication plan.
Yvonne Chapman, an incumbent candidate and financial coordinator at Vaughn Johnson Orthodontics, called for an open dialogue between stakeholders and board members – “eliminating the barriers of who you can talk to and when you can talk to people.”
Allen McCaw, a newcomer candidate and forest engineer for the U.S. Forest Service, said multiple communication methods were a solution. Not everybody visits a website, but they do have cellphones, tablets, social media and other ways to receive information from the school district, he said.
Doug Little, an incumbent candidate and retired industrial arts teacher, said using work sessions and meetings more efficiently could help board communication. Community participation was harder, he said – even free food at past events didn’t encourage it.
Gina Schulz, a newcomer candidate and board chair of ELHI Community Center, talked about meeting people where they’re at, transparency and constant communication. She suggested regular meetings, like breakfast “chat and chews,” and feedback drop boxes around town.
“We’re all rooted here. ... I don’t feel like communication should ever be an issue because I feel like we’re all one big family,” said Dawn Rock, a substitute teacher in the district.
After hearing candidates answer seven audience-generated questions, several community members said communication, then budget and school safety, were top issues.
“I feel like the communication is a huge thing, and I feel like if they’re talking about it, then maybe they’re going to follow through with it,” Rock said.
The goal of improving communication doesn’t just fall on the school district. Rock said the district’s technology team does a great job of updating information on the website or through dialers. Parents can fill in the gaps by taking the time to use those resources, she said.
Rock and other audience members called for better communication between stakeholders, mainly teachers, parents and administrators, after the event hosted by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. The deadline to mail in ballots is Oct. 28, and in-person ballots are due at the county Clerk and Recorder’s Office by Nov. 5. A 24-hour ballot box is located at Farmers Fresh Market in Ignacio.
One parent, Kristen Ray, said she needed to know when her kids leave their school building for field trips, even if they are just walking across the street.
Christine Sage, chairman for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, asked candidates about how important it is to communicate with the tribe and how much they would advocate for Native American students.
“They said they’re going to treat all students the same, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Sage said. The tribe does meet with the school board regularly, which she said is vital for tribal members.
Ray prioritized school safety – knowing that her 5-year-old son could go to kindergarten and be safe there. While audience members didn’t ask board candidates a question about school safety, candidates emphasized its importance throughout the forum.
“I’m very hopeful,” Ray said. “There are a lot of representatives, not all of the representatives, that have a background in some of the issues, like financial situations.”
McCaw said he manages a multimillion-dollar budget in his job, and Roderick also said his work experience included budget management. Schulz highlighted her experience working with budgets as a board member for two community organizations.
On managing the budget, Chapman said she leaned on her experience managing the multimillion-dollar school district budget as a board member. Little also emphasized his experience with the school district budget but called himself the “weak link.”
“I have trouble keeping my ... take-home (pay) balanced; I don’t know how the big guys do it,” he said.