Washington Evening Journal
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Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 25, 2017

Candidates share opinions on education

Aug 31, 2017

By Xiomara Levsen, The JOURNAL

 

A school board candidate forum was held at the Washington Performing Arts and Events Center Wednesday evening.

The forum was sponsored by the Washington Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Ed Raber.

The candidates began by introducing themselves to the public.

Jason Hamilton was the first candidate to speak. He was given five minutes to make a statement because he is running unopposed for an at-large position on the Washington School Board. His wife, Dana is a teacher in the district and the couple will have two children attending the district in the future.

His expertise is in the construction field. He owns his own construction company, but being married to a teacher has kept him up to date on what is happening in the educational system locally, he said.

“Over the years there have been some issues regarding our school district,” Hamilton said. “The first of those issues that fuel my passion for this seat is the current salary issue.”

Hamilton said according to the Department of Education in the 2016-17 school year superintendent Jeff Dicks’ salary was $188,600, with the state average being $147,825. A teacher’s salary in Washington was $48,053, but the state average was $54,897 — almost $7,000 less than the state average. A person could argue having a higher salary for the superintendent would draw more qualified candidates, but the same case should be made for the teachers’ salaries, Hamilton added.

He said he would like to spend more time in the schools learning what the day-to-day functions are like, would like communication to be more open, learn more about the legislative process and the policies and financing. Understanding these things would help him serve the community better.

The biggest issue he saw were the changes to Chapter 20 — the collective bargaining law.

“Although these changes were made at the state level there were steps our school board could have taken to soften the blow to our district’s staff,” Hamilton said. “There are districts not too far from here that signed contracts before Gov. Brandstad’s signing this bill. These districts are close enough that a couple of teachers have taken positions in those districts for more pay and contracts.”

Losing highly qualified teachers isn’t OK for the community, district’s future, staff morale or students, he added. The board could have protected the teachers but chose to sit by. Hamilton said this was a slap in the face for the teachers.

Hamilton also said the employee handbook was another problem because there were a lot of clauses left open to the superintendent’s discretion. As a businessman he said taking care of the employees is his main priority.

There were some positive things happening in the district, such as the new day care at Stewart and the education program at Kirkwood for high school students, Hamilton added. He also thanked the current school board for the work they have done, even though he has strong views about some of the things they did. He thanked everyone in the district for their hard work and said he looks forward to serving on the board.

After Hamilton was done the remainder of the candidates were invited to come to the stage. They were each given two minutes to introduce themselves to the audience.

Dana McDole, who is running for a seat in District 2 and the incumbent, went first. She has her teaching certificate and three sons. One graduated from the district, another attends the high school and one is in fifth grade.

“As far as experience and qualifications, I served and advocated for the educational needs of our community’s children for over eight years serving on school boards,” McDole said. “I served on St. James school board for six years and about 2 1/2 years on the current school board.”

Student teaching brought her to the Washington district 18 years ago and she has never left, she added. The Washington School Board has dealt with declining enrollment and is getting ready for the largest classes to leave the district, which will affect state funding in the future. The district has initiated partial self-funding to help control insurance and felt she has gained trust from staff by following through with their issues they came to hear on. She wants to continue to be a part of the school board because she’s passionate about the students, staff and the community. Student performance and character building are really important to her and she feels the district should be held accountable for those items.

Catherine Glinsmann is the second candidate running for District 2. She said she retired from the district in 2016 and taught for 37 years.

“Education is a passion for me,” Glinsmann said. “I took numerous workshops and classes throughout the years to try to make the best classroom I could have for my students.”

She spent many hours in the classroom and feels that experience makes her qualified to know what the students and teachers need, she added.

“I’ve really missed being a part of education and I’ve felt that hole in the last year and so I felt like when this opportunity arrived to be on the school board it just seemed like a perfect fit,” Glinsmann said, “and I wondered why we didn’t have retired schoolteachers on the school board. I felt this would be a perfect thing for me to jump back into education from a different angle.”

Kelly Wieland is running for the District 5 board seat. She has lived in the Washington School District since 2012 and works at an independent broker in Fairfield. Her husband is a teacher in the district and they will have a son attending school in the district in the future.

“I do have experience working in the education field,” Wieland said. “I had an opportunity after I graduated college in 2009 to work for an after-school program in Iowa in Johnson County for at-risk youth and while I was there continued engaging them in the art of community service as well as improving their grades.”

She also worked at ACT to help with the scoring process of the standardized testing and worked with many school districts to make sure the scoring was done well, she added.

“I remember I reached out to Washington Middle School for their explorer testing six years ago for that,” Wieland said.

At her current job she is the team leader of the business development department, she said. If a business is looking for financial independence, she helps them to have a successful transition and works with various departments to make sure the best interest of her customer is happening.

“Why I’m running is because I have a great passion for education and I want to make sure that the present state of the school district as well as the future is very bright,” Wieland said.

Heidi Vittetoe, who is the incumbent for District 5, was the last candidate to introduce herself to the audience. She has lived in Washington County since 1980. Her husband and two daughter’s all graduated from the school district.

“You may have read earlier this year that I was not going to run again,” Vittetoe said. “I’ve been on the board since 2005. When I came on the board in 2005 I was actually appointed to fill a vacancy for a board member who had resigned and so at that time I didn’t necessarily see it as a long-term thing.”

She became more interested as a taxpayer and as an employer. she said. The quality of education students receive affect how they will be as employees in the future and who they have available to hire for work.

As a taxpayer Vittetoe said it also matters that they get the best value for the investment they make in education.

“Because at least as a rural resident the amount of money we spend on school represents about half the property tax a rural resident pays,” Vittetoe added. “With that in mind we also have a challenge now with the lower tax collections and the challenges with the state to afford — to meet all of its needs.”

The upcoming challenges with funding are why Vittetoe decided to run again for the school board, she said.

After the introductions were done, each candidate was asked three questions by Raber and had two questions from the audience they answered including a question about conflict of interest with collective bargaining. See tomorrow’s edition of The Journal for more on the candidates’ answers to those questions.

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