FOUR VIE FOR TWO MUSD SEATS - The Explorer: Import

FOUR VIE FOR TWO MUSD SEATS

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Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

But the lack of rancor does not mean that there aren't challenges ahead and important issues at hand for whichever two candidates citizens choose to sit on the five member board Nov. 5.

Governing Board President Bonnie Demorotski has set her eye on returning to school rather than to the dais, and has chosen not to seek re-election. Real estate broker Bill Kuhn, who has served eight years on the board, is running for a third term.

Seeking to fill those two seats for the next four years are Evan Adelstein, who manages a local chapter of a national small business advocacy group, attorney Ken Moeller, and Sandi Nielson, a typist in a legal office.

Whoever is chosen for the two unpaid, nonpartisan board seats, will join Board Vice President Dan Post and Boardmembers Jan Mitich and Debbie Schmich in setting policies and shaping the district. The three sitting members ran unopposed in 2000 and will go before voters again in two years.

At a forum sponsored by the Marana Education Association and held at Coyote Trail Elementary Oct. 17, the candidates were mostly in agreement that the number one challenge was to maintain the course of civility and achievement that has characterized MUSD over the last five years.

Questions asked of the candidates at the forum ranged from how they would bolster teacher pay to how they would raise scores on the state-mandated AIMS test students are required to pass in order to graduate.

After the forum, the MEA, the district's teachers union, threw its endorsement to Kuhn. It made no specific recommendations as to the three challengers, saying they were all equally qualified.

Unlike the Amphitheater Public and Tucson Unified school districts, which have seen more than their fair share of picketing teachers demanding higher salaries and schools struggling with state-mandated standards, MUSD has been sailing along downright pacifically.

But it wasn't always so. The early 1990s saw a district fractured by growth and under funding. Teachers staged walk outs that crippled MUSD's schools. The board and administrators took an almost arrogant view of the teachers demanding decent salaries and also of the parents who turned out at board meetings outraged at the crowded classrooms.

The economics of the times, coupled with a board unwilling to negotiate, left MUSD in a state of chaos.

Relations now between the board, the district administrators that do its bidding, and the MEA and support staff, are excellent. Both sides have demonstrated repeatedly their flexibility and willingness to negotiate in a forthright manner when contract time rolls around. The basis for their healthy partnership is a sharp-eyed understanding that the key to all school funding lies in Phoenix. MUSD and MEA have formed a legislative lobbying campaign that has become the model for other districts throughout the state.

Being privy to the machinations of the Arizona Legislature and the Arizona Department of Education through its vigorous lobbying activities, and through the ears of MUSD Superintendent Wade McLean, who also serves on the Arizona State Board of Education, has allowed the district to prepare itself well in advance of the latest whims from Phoenix.

MUSD saw the handwriting on the wall two years before last week's Arizona LEARNS school performance rankings were released by the state. The district embarked on an ambitious program to completely align its curriculum, and most other aspects of the district's operations, to raising test scores.

When the state released its school performance list, none of MUSD's 17 schools fell in the category of "under performing."

But beyond maintaining the status quo of good employee relations, student progression and a safe, relatively uncrowded learning environment, challenges loom on the horizon.

The new board will face an even more parsimonious Legislature than those seen in the last decade. The state is mired in a swelling deficit, and the economy remains in decline.

Within those cost restraints, MUSD faces the galloping growth that has continued unabated in the Marana area. The 2000 U.S. census tagged the town as the fastest growing municipality in the state.

In 1985, MUSD held the responsibility of educating 4,722 students. That number has soared to more than 12,000 children.

The bottom line - which affects teacher salaries and provides the funding for building new schools and foots the cost of the programs needed to meet the state's mandate for higher student scores - will be the greatest challenge faced by MUSD, and for voters who will choose the board members who will help negotiate the choppy water ahead.

EVAN ADELSTEIN WANTS TO MAINTAIN EXCELLENCE

Answers to two questions asked at the Oct. 17 candidate forum hosted by the Marana Education Association:

Why are you seeking election to the MUSD Governing Board?

EA: I'm basically running for the board because the board president is not running for re-election. When I found out that Ms. (Bonnie) Demorotski was not running for re-election, my thought process was that I think that the quality of education my kids have received in this district has been outstanding. And specifically what I mean by that is that our district has the highest percentage of A Plus schools than any other district in the state. And what I'm also talking about is that zero percent of our schools qualify as being failing schools based upon the AIMS test. My wife and I have been very, very impressed and very happy with the quality of education that our kids have received in this district. So, my concern was that whoever takes the new seats (on the board) might get in there and mess things up, and that's my motivation to throw my hat in the ring, to make sure we maintain the status quo and make sure our kids get the best education possible will continue over the next four years. One of the things that I do want to see changed if I am elected, is that I think everybody remembers that last year one of the school bus drivers ran off the side of the road because they were under the influence (of alcohol). One of the things I would like to see implemented immediately if I'm elected is that we should have 100 percent of our school bus drivers randomly tested for drugs and alcohol. Right now it's only being done with between 20 and 45 percent of drivers, and this is not acceptable to me. A huge percentage of our district is made up of rural areas, we have a lot of kids in the district that depend on the bus to get to school, and they need to get there safely. It's a very big priority of mine that I think needs to be addressed. I also want to make it clear that I do have a conflict of interest as far as my candidacy goes. I don't just want to be a good board member for your kids, or her kids, or your teachers, or that teacher over there. My own three kids attend schools in this district, and so part of my motivation in trying to be the best board member possible is not just for your kids, but just as importantly, if not more importantly, for my own three children.

What is your top priority for MUSD?

EA: Obviously, the quality of education has to be the number one priority. It just makes perfect sense. And along with that goes appropriate compensation for the teachers in our district. There is a direct correlation between those two things that we need to accomplish. However, before you reach quality education, something else has to happen. And that is that everyone must be able to attend school safely in the first place, and that goes back to my previous issue, mandatory random testing for alcohol and drugs of all school bus drivers. The reason that this is such an issue, is that we only do testing on 20 to 45 percent of drivers right now. Some get tested three or four times, and others don't get tested once. This is an issue that has to be addressed because if you don't get to school safely, the rest is pretty much a waste of time.

BILL KUHN BROUGHT STABILITY

Answers to two questions asked at the Oct. 17 candidate forum hosted by the Marana Education Association:

Why are you seeking election to the MUSD Governing Board?

BK: I have been a member of the Marana Unified School District Governing Board for the last eight years. This is a district where school board members, district administrators, teachers, support staff and parents all work together. But nine years ago, it was a different school district - upset employees, because they thought the district was hiding money, top-down management, no trust in the school board to honor a negotiated agreement. For example, a teacher applies for an opening in a grade that the teacher has taught for several years in the same building and the principal said no. The teacher files a grievance, and goes all the way through the grievance procedure. The arbitrator looks at it and decides the teacher should get that position because that was in accordance with the negotiated agreement. It goes before the school board, and the school board votes 4-1 not to uphold the arbitrator's decision. That said, that the school board cannot be trusted to honor a negotiated agreement, how can you believe what the board says about compensation for the employees? We had demonstrations and employees wearing red shirts to show solidarity, blue flu sick-outs, coverage in the media that resulted in students in the classroom asking questions. Students and parents and others were attending board meetings and basically saying 'why aren't you paying our teachers more money?' The students wanted to leave their classrooms to demonstrate in favor of their teachers. It became a very disruptive influence on the education process. All of this was a sign that the school district was not working together. When I ran for the board eight years ago, I promised to improve relations between the employees and the school board. We did it by opening lines of communications, opening the books, establishing trust and changing the management style to one of inclusion, as opposed to top-down. We all have ownership of the school district, and I would like to continue what I started eight years ago.

What is your top priority for MUSD?

BK: My top priority for the Marana Unified School District, in this particular year coming up, is to do everything possible to have our students pass the AIMS test. AIMS is here to stay. It's not going to go away, so we have to have the procedures in place, and we can help educate the parents, and educate the students, that they have to succeed in the AIMS test. It's not going away because we don't like it.

KEN MOELLER'S TEACHERS SHAPED LIFE

Answers to two questions asked at the Oct. 17 candidate forum hosted by the Marana Education Association:

Why are you seeking election to the MUSD Governing Board?

KM: I may be running for the school board for sentimental reasons. In my life, some of the people who have influenced me the most have been good teachers. I've talked to many of you about my senior English teacher, and the changes he made in my life, and the new horizons he opened for me.

I look at this district, as I go around to the sporting events and to the schools, and I see a lot right. There's a lot of good things going on here. I'm proud to walk into the Mountain View (High School) office and see the pictures up on the wall of some of those kids that are National High School Merit Scholars. It tells me that if someone wants to get a good education here in the Marana school district, they can find it. I want to keep that possibility, that opportunity, open.

We're in a time of transition. The (Arizona) Legislature has done us some dirty deeds, I think, and I think there's some tough times ahead. We will have to work with our faculty, work with our administration and be honest and above board with each other, to make sure that these budget cuts that we are about to be facing, don't take down the standard of education that we as parents have become accustomed to in this great school district. I think we're in a time of transition.

I'm an attorney by trade, I'm not proud of that necessarily, but I'm not a bad lawyer. My experience is in negotiating, in bringing people to a consensus to get the deal done. I think that's the kind of leadership we need in the Marana district as these lean times unfold. I just hope that we continue to have open horizons, where kids graduate from Mountain View or Marana High School, and when they get out of those schools, the opportunities remain unlimited so they can go study where they want, and be what they want, and be success ful in life.

What is your top priority for MUSD?

KM: I actually have a number of priorities. The principal one that I worry about is the impact of the AIMS test on those students who might become discouraged in thinking that they can't pass it, saying 'why should I even stay in school?' and they drop out. We need to have alternatives for these students so they stay in school. There's opportunities for them to get vocational education or something that they can use in life. And maybe by keeping them in school for that purpose, you just might be able to teach them enough math and English to actually have them pass the AIMS test.

I would like to see all our kids graduate from high school, but realistically, the AIMS test is going to frighten a lot of kids off and we need to somehow deal with people who may drop out and lose the opportunities that we have and that we pay all our tax dollars for in our schools.

SANDI NELSON A LIFE-LONG VOLUNTEER

Answers to two questions asked at the Oct. 17 candidate forum hosted by the Marana Education Association:

Why are you seeking election to the MUSD Governing Board?

SN: I am running for the Marana school board because I have been involved in volunteerism my whole life. All my children have attended schools here in the district and have graduated here as well. We have excellent schools and we have excellent teachers that I have come to know personally.

I think that it's important as a parent to get involved in our children's lives, and that's one of the biggest things that I feel that is lacking in our district is that a lot of people will put down the teacher as being at fault for kids having bad grades or for this or that, and I think that it all goes back to the home. If we don't teach our children at home and spend time with them with their homework and helping them understand the importance of a good education, and being supportive and making sure they are doing the homework, how can the teachers teach?

I think that it's very important that they have parental support, and one of the things that I would really like to see is to somehow get more parents involved in the schools. Even on a high school level, there's different parent committees that I have been on, but there's only been eight parents that show up for the entire high school. I think we need to have more involvement.

I also think that it's also important to look at the report cards a little bit. I have received a lot of parent complaints or concerns over the new report cards and as I've been studying it, I'm beginning to understand it a little more myself. I think that it would be good to look into a little more and expand it and make it more parent-friendly to use it and to adjust to it. There's a lot of concern and questions that need to be explained a little better so that parents understand where their kids are at and how it relates to their education.

I would also like to see more money coming to our district. In the past couple of years, lobbyists have been excellent up in Phoenix, but I think we need to do a better job in bringing more money in.

What is your top priority for MUSD?

SN: I also think that AIMS is here to stay. I feel that it's too bad that we have to have it in our country. We have a wonderful country and we've always had a lot of freedoms and haven't had to have exit exams. But like Mr. Kuhn said, it is here, and I think that we do have to find ways to help in getting our kids to pass it. I feel there are a lot of kids who don't have self-esteem and confidence in education, or help at home. And that's my concern with the parent issue, is that somehow we need to more inform the parents so that they are there to assist their students and children so that they can become better at their studies and have the assistance that they need at home so that when they go into the classroom, they are better prepared (and) they're better rested. I think that there's a lot that correlates with that.

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