Carson City school board candidates voice issues
School board candidates discussed their strategies for coping with revenue shortfalls and improving student achievement during a forum Friday sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Nevada Appeal.
Candidates for districts 1 and 6 of the Carson City School board agreed it will take community support for schools to be successful.
“It’s about kids,” said Barbara Meyers, who has worked 38 years in public schools and served 20 years on school boards in Nevada and California. “It’s about what you do to help them grow and meet their maximum potential. It takes money. It takes dedication. It takes parents. It takes people working together.”
Meyers, a speech pathologist in the Lyon County School District and former eight-year member of the Nevada State Board of Education, is challenging incumbent Randy Carlson for the District 6 seat.
Throughout the forum, she cited teachers as the greatest resource schools have and identified increasing alternative education, including career and technical classes and online services as opportunities for improvement.
She applauded the 2010 Legislature for mandating individual education plans for all students, rather than only those designated as special education, as a way to increase graduation rates.
“They got it right,” she said.
Carlson, who was appointed to the board in December to replace Barbara Howe, has lived in Carson City for 26 years and raised a daughter through the school district here.
“I think our schools do something that is really critical, really important to the community, the state and the country,” he said. “I’m very concerned that our school system do the very best job preparing students for the economy and the world they are going into.”
He listed financial challenges, parent involvement and integrating higher technology as the most important issues facing the district. He said focusing on online education could help the district deal with decreasing revenue.
“That is a mechanism by which we could maintain quality and the breadth of education we currently offer,” he said.
He commended Carson Middle School’s recent implementation of a behavior and dress code as an example of success.
However, one audience member asked why former principal Sam Santillo was allowed to keep his $100,000 salary when he was removed from the position and placed in an administrative job at the district office after his DUI arrest.
Carlson assured the audience that the board had been on top of the situation, weeks before it came to light in the media, but were limited by state law as to what it could do.
“State law severely restricts what the district can do in regards to certificated employees,” he said. “No one with the school board was particularly happy with the recourse we were allowed by state law.”
Ron Swirczek, a 40-year Carson City resident is a former business owner, city elected official and government employee. In his last five years of government service, he said, he worked in job training programs and workforce education.
That experience helped him form his current platform in his run for District 1 to shift the education model from a local one to a global one.
Swirczek advocated for what he called, “comprehensive community partnerships” that link students, teachers, families, businesses, organizations, government agencies and higher education. The emphasis would be on quality teachers.
By doing so, he said, it could relieve some financial pressure.
“We need to establish a vision for education in the Carson City School District. That hasn’t been done,” Swirczek said. “If we restructure the learning environment, we may be able to add instead of take away.”
Although he said he understood the reason the school district could not take substantive action against Santillo, he criticized officials for not being more forthcoming with the public.
“If I’m on the board, we’ll correct this situation,” he said. “The public will be aware way before things get out of hand.”
Opposing Swirczek in the race for District 1, is Julie Bushner, a financial consultant in Carson City.
She worked 25 years as director of finance and controller of Fortune 500 companies, where she negotiated multimillion dollar contracts. She’s served on the PTA, is a trained CASA volunteer and former operations director of the local nonprofit Food for Thought.
Her main interest in the school board, however, are her two children who attend Bordewich-Bray Elementary School and Carson Middle School.
“I have a vested interest in improving education,” she said. “Doing nothing is not an option. Kids are my focus, I have no personal agendas.”
She proposed a mentor program where members of the community worked with students starting in kindergarten up through graduation.
“They can explain how important education is,” she said. “It’s like a back up.”
Her background in finance, she said, has prepared her for making tough decisions when it comes to budget cuts. But her priority, she said, will be maintaining quality education.
“I’ve got kids in those classrooms,” she said.
Swirczek and Bushner are running for Norm Scoggin’s seat. Scoggin is term limited.