Sun, Oct. 20

Unification takes center stage <br>in school board candidate forum<br><br>

One hundred was Monday night's lucky number.

With the November election two weeks away, 100 community members attended a candidate forum for Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board candidates. Those who attended listened while nine school board candidates voiced their opinions on key educational issues.

Specifics were in short supply.

So was analysis.

Sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the rhetoric flowed amicably within the confines of the MUHS cafeteria.

Slogans like, "What's best for the kids, what's good for the youngsters, the best interest of all students etc.," were thrown about by most candidates as the basis for future decisions.

The majority of candidates citing standard arguments such as K-12 districts create cohesive curriculum; unification provides an economizing of resources; benefits of incentive moneys shouldn’t be ignored and salaries should be equalized supported unification.

"It directly benefits students generally through the coordination of curriculum and the economies gained in the business office and transportation. More than that, it affords us an opportunity to work together in terms of educational opportunities and programs. Children stand to benefit from unification," said C-OC school board member and candidate Rudy Stadelman.

C-OC candidate and MUHS school board member Susan Foley said in her experience, curriculum articulation between the two districts is minimal and a unified district would enjoy the benefits of a single coordinator for K-12 curriculum.

"Consolidation is a golden opportunity," said Norman Deal, MUHS school board member and candidate. "I think the incentive pay is really great. It’s supposed to go into the classroom"

"I believe unification will ultimately provide children with a quality education, a unification of resources and purchasing power," said MUHS school board candidate Michael Emmett. "The $3 million comes over three years. If properly managed, it can go directly into the classroom."

"It will be a terrific job to unify salaries and health services on a 10-member board," said MUHS candidate George Burns.

Candidates such as Ernie Gabrielson for the C-OC school board along with MUHS school board candidates Leland Wieweck and Harmon Avera expressed real concerns about the divisiveness unification has spurred with teachers, and its overall effectiveness in generating a cohesive K-12 curriculum.

"I’ve taught math in the high school and the middle school," said Avera. "As far as teachers are concerned, the curriculum is unified."

"There are advantages and disadvantages to unification," said Gabrielson. "A larger district isn’t necessary better. We’ve functioned very well not unified. Schools cooperate now and I’m sure they would continue to cooperate."

"I’m not sure there is a riff but rather a difference of opinion and we’ll work on that," said Wieweck, referring to salary issues. "I’m not sure there is much difference between the two."

According to staff at both the C-OC and MUHS District offices, beginning salaries for C-OC teachers is $23,397 vs. MUHS starts of $21,998. Vertical steps at C-OC districts for professional development are $840 in comparison to $890 at MUHS. Tenure-based increases are available at both districts, C-OC at $900 and MUHS at $1,320.

When discourse turned to salary disparities between the elementary and high school districts, many in attendance held what was purported to be evidence of the high salaries of Mingus teachers.

"I had intended to pass those out myself," said Marilyn Sward of the pink flyers supportive of district unification that arrived in some local mailboxes Monday. The flyer listed the current salaries of Mingus teachers. "People ought to see what they’re voting for," said Sward.

The candidate forum provided just that as many candidates assured those in attendance of their intention to supply a sense of professionalism to their respective boards.

"I will conduct myself in a professional manner and will value your input," said Tom Parmarter, candidate for the MUHS school board.

"I have respect for administrators," said Foley. "I’m also able to listen to both sides of an issue."

"My strong point is that I’m open minded," said Gabrielson. "At the same time we face those who haven’t been open minded."

"Respect can only be learned by listening to others and what they say," said Avera. "To listen to all points of view and then make up my mind."

"I see myself as a professional, listener and as a problem solver," said Emmett. "As a board member it will be incumbent upon me to examine issues and resolve them to the good of students."

Candidates also agreed that retaining qualified teachers was essential to maintaining high standards within both districts.

Deal suggested considering non-certified teachers as a remedy for the anticipated teacher shortage while most candidates suggested quality working conditions, good salaries and benefits and overall respect for performance.

"Good teachers take good students and make them excellent," said Wieweck.

The candidates did not lay out any particular plans for the disbursement of unification funds nor did they address specific ways to improve the quality of education at either the C-OC or MUHS districts.

In attendance were C-OC school board candidates Rudy Stadelman, Marilyn Sward, Ernie Gabrielson and Susan Foley, and MUHS school board candidates Harmon Avera, Leland Wieweck, George Burns, Tom Parmarter and Norman Deal.

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