Alpine Board of Education candidates ponder how to handle district growth, enhance education
As the largest school district in the state, Alpine educators currently serve 70,863 students and that number isn't expected to dwindle anytime soon.
By 2015, the Alpine School District expects its enrollment to swell by another 6,000 students.
Mapping out a plan for how to deal with rapid growth is at the top of the issues list for candidates vying for seats on the district's school board.
Candidates are also concerned about how to improve student learning despite shrinking funds. And as election campaigning hits a fever pitch, with commercials for state and federal government races on Nov. 6 dominating the airwaves, some candidates want to remind voters not to overlook the importance of researching issues tied to electing members to their local school boards.
Vern Lindsay, who is running for a Precinct 6 seat in Lehi, said school board races are often ignored, but people need to understand that their income tax and property tax is spent on education. Local school boards help decide where that money goes, he emphasized.
When it comes down to it, local elections will affect residents more than national elections, added Brian Halladay who is campaigning for a school board seat in Precinct 4.
The Alpine School District is a prime example for how a school board's decision can impact the community. Last November, the district passed a $210 million bond to better deal with the growth that the district is experiencing. The bond is funding maintenance and construction for a variety of schools, including the building of a new school.
The influence that the board has on taxes and budgets is why Halladay said fiscal responsibility is the biggest issue that the district is facing. Halladay, a CPA who's currently working as the chief financial officer of a Lindon company, said he wants to improve the district's financial management, putting money toward technology curriculum and teachers rather than "extravagant buildings" and superintendent pay raises.
"I think the responsibility of the board member is to make sure that money that is allocated goes to the classroom where it's going to make the biggest difference," Halladay said.
Halladay's opponent, incumbent Mark Clement, said the board already has been mindful to spend on classrooms and programs.
"We really look at how can we use the money best to create the best learning experience for students," Clement said.
It may seem like a lot of money goes to administrators' salaries and schools, Clement said, but the board makes those decisions carefully and with students in mind.
Lindsay, from the Precinct 6 race, said the board needs to create more of a long-term plan to deal with the growth instead of what he calls just a "knee-jerk reaction" to it. He said he doesn't think the board is planning far enough into the future.
Lindsay's opponent, civil engineer Scott Carlson, agrees. Carlson said planning ahead and spending bond money appropriately is essential.
"The size of the growth challenges we have are beyond just needing another trailer," he said. "[Trailers are] for temporary needs. These are longer term, permanent needs of tremendous magnitude."
Debbie Taylor, who has served on Alpine's board for eight years, said the board is aware of the growth and the need for a plan. She said the district has a five-year plan that's going well, but they don't expect that to last forever.
"The district is already working on a plan for beyond that. As long as the district keeps growing we will keep working to service that," she said.
Taylor is currently serving as the president of the board in the Precinct 6 seat, but because district boundaries were realigned after the 2010 census, she is now seeking another term in Precinct 7.
In her time serving on the board, Taylor said she has supported opportunities and plans for teacher collaboration as well as parent communication.
"We need our public involved in our schools. We need our parents to be involved," she said.
Taylor's opponent, Kirby Glad, said the district needs to focus on rearing more globally competitive and engaged learners.
"Our kids are going to be competing against people in China and Asia for jobs," he said. "No longer do we just compete with people in Salt Lake and Spanish Fork."
Glad said because parents have different perspectives and diverse experiences, their suggestions and involvement through community councils can make all the difference for their children's education.
"Our schools need to ask more involvement from parents and give parents a greater voice," Glad said. Just asking them to sell cookies is no longer enough, he said.
The district does a great job of marketing its successes, Glad said, but it isn't accountable to its shortcomings.
"We never mention the areas where we need help, so we don't get help," he said.
If the district would be more open about its struggles, Glad said, the community would flood it with volunteers. He said, "I'm not blaming anything on teachers and parents, what's holding us back is the school board."
Twitter: @justiola .
Alpine Board of Education candidates
Alpine School Board 4
Mark Clement (incumbent)
Alpine School Board 6
S. Scott Carlson
Alpine School Board 7
Debbie Taylor (current board president)