Quality of education a focal point in Roaring Fork School Board candidates forum | PostIndependent.com

Quality of education a focal point in Roaring Fork School Board candidates forum

Ballot questions also addressed in Issues and Answers panel

Roaring Fork School District Board of Education candidates, from left, Chase McWhorter, Kenny Teitler and Kathryn Kuhlenberg, attend the Issues and Answers Forum at Morgridge Commons on Oct. 11.
Rich Allen / Post Independent

Meeting the diverse, ever-changing needs of students through improving teacher compensation and promoting parental involvement was a central point of discussion in a forum for the four Roaring Fork School District candidates at the Morgridge Commons in the Glenwood Springs Library on Monday night.

The Issues & Answers Forum introduced Glenwood Springs’ ballot measures for the upcoming election and asked questions of the candidates for the Board of Education’s two vacating seats.

Chase McWhorter is running against Kenny Teitler for the District A seat. Kathryn Kuhlenberg is running against Steven Fotion for District E.

Kuhlenberg and Teitler are both educators by trade, while McWhorter and Fotion are business administrators touting an outsider’s perspective.

In their evaluations of the state of education locally, Teitler and Kuhlenberg both focused on how the expectations for teachers have changed and made quality education a moving target. McWhorter and Fotion both felt the bar has been lowered nationally.

Roaring Fork School District Board of Education candidates, from left, Kathryn Kuhlenberg and Steven Fotion, attend the Issues and Answers Forum at Morgridge Commons on Oct. 11.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

“Our expectations for educating have become skewed, if you will, since we started teaching to testing instead of teaching to think,” Fotion said.

With all candidates believing there is room for improvement locally, the question became of methodology. Parental involvement, meeting students’ individual needs — especially across the English/Spanish language barrier — and increasing teacher wages for means of retention were all mentioned.

Kuhlenberg highlighted the newly mandated universal preschool programming in the state of Colorado as a way to set up students for success early.

“This program can go very well or very wrong,” Kuhlenberg said on the implementation of the programming in 2023-24. “(Early childhood education) is our only chance to prevent an achievement gap from forming. … If we can prevent this gap from forming, we’re not playing catchup with 13-year-olds, 15-year-olds.”

Kuhlenberg said utilizing mill levy override funds successfully can help promote universal preschool. She and Teitler came out in heavy favor for the mill levy override increase that would source $7.7 million from property owners to increase salaries to increase employee wages.

Fotion said he is “currently” against ballot issue 5B, but his position is shifting as he learns more about where the funds are going. McWhorter expressed a similar concern, saying he’d want to be sure the money was going to teachers.

“This one is tricky for me because I would say, in general, I’m usually against any sort of taxes unless you have exhausted cost cuts,” McWhorter said. “I completely empathize with the cost of living here. My main concern with the mill levy in supporting it is you would want a microscope on that money to make sure it is going to teachers.”

In a presentation earlier on the 5B ballot issue, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein and Glenwood Springs Middle School Teacher Autumn Rivera said the funds would result in a 10-12% raise for most staff — including maintenance, bus drivers and others — but not district leadership.

In a district with a majority Latino population, the issue of reaching these students directly was considered. Teitler, a bilingual veteran of the Roaring Fork School District, said more needs to be done to bridge the achievement gap between Latino students and their Anglo peers. He said the latter tests at 40 points higher.

“We do need to look at what children need according to their background, their education,” Teitler said. ”If you have a student who is starting kindergarten who doesn’t speak English, you can’t teach them the same way you can teach another student who’s coming into kindergarten who is fluent in English.”

All candidates agreed that promoting parental involvement is an immediate way to help foster student success. All said some form of increasing access to the school board would be a benefit, though McWhorter suggested including boundaries and Kuhlenberg suggested assigning a board member to act as a point person for a selection of schools.

Ballot Measures

Before the board candidate forum, panels on each of the Glenwood Springs sample ballot issues were held.

On Amendment 78, the Custodial Fund Appropriations Initiative, Michael Fields of Colorado Rising State Action provided a statement in favor via a provided statement.

Fields also wrote in favor of Proposition 120, the Reduce Property Tax Rates and Retain $25 Million in TABOR Surplus Revenue Initiative. Marianne Virgili of the Colorado Mountain College board of trustees spoke against it, saying lowering property taxes does not directly translate to lower rent rates.

On ballot issues 2A and 2B, which would increase taxes and the city of Glenwood Springs’ debt for construction work relating to the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport, Mayor Jonathan Godes submitted a statement in favor. Gregg Rippy, of the Federal Mineral Lease District and a pilot, said, “This ballot issue is an exorbitant price tag not being asked for by the current airport users.”

Rivera and Stein addressed concerns on 5B, the mill levy override increase.

“What we’re looking at is cutting programs, increasing class sizes, because we’ve reached a point where there’s nothing left to do,” Stein said.

Ballots were mailed out Oct. 8. The election is Nov. 2.

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