School board candidates all say they will serve with integrity
All four candidates running for the two seats open on the Hudson Board of Education in the April 2 election pledged that they would serve with integrity and not act as a "rubber stamp" for the district's administration.
There were only about 35 residents of the district at last week's forum held at The Phipps Center for the Arts and sponsored by Hudson Patch. The candidates, Bruce Hanson, Jamie Johnson, Jeanette Kunz and Jim Schrock, answered a series of questions presented by moderator Mike Foley.
The candidates were asked about continued enrollment growth in the district and what to do about it, especially at the secondary level where both the Hudson Middle School and Hudson High School are currently at or over capacity.
Johnson said that he expects enrollment to continue to grow in the district. He says a long-term solution to the secondary space shortage needs to be addressed and soon. He would like to see a referendum put before voters that would include where to build a new school, when to do it and what it would cost. He said he currently does not support the construction of a four-year high school but would like a solution that is cost effective and makes use of the existing secondary buildings.
Kunz questioned the efficacy of the enrollment projections currently used by the district. She also said she questions whether there is really a space shortage at the Hudson Middle School. She said she was disappointed that none of the current secondary school options being considered by the school board include adding on to the current middle and high schools. She said she would like to see a "smaller option" considered but that she needed to do more research.
Schrock questioned whether Hudson enrollment would continue to grow and said it is unclear if we can expect student numbers to increase. As to what secondary space option he would support, he said he liked the STEM school, which would focus on science, technology and math for up to 700 students grades 6-12 because it would "best prepare our students for the future." He also said he would support adding onto Hudson High School on the west side of the campus.
Hanson believes Hudson will continue to grow, particularly with a new interstate bridge. Regarding secondary space, he said he doesn't believe any of the current proposals will "solve the whole problem." He said the school board needs to give the public a definitive answer on whether the property at County UU can be used as part of the solution. He said he would like to see more community discussion about the issue before the board moves ahead. "I don't have enough information at this point to say what option I could support."
The candidates were asked about the school board's recent vote to give Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten a $13,000 (8.9 percent) salary increase and the board's move to make Hudson teacher salaries more competitive.
None of the candidates said they supported the size of the superintendent's raise and some questioned the timing of it.
Kunz said she would have voted no on the raise and took issue with the fact that it was approved before the superintendent's annual evaluation. She said that salaries across the district need to be competitive but the board also needs to make fiscally responsible decisions.
Schrock described the superintendent's raise as a "windfall" and said that the district doesn't have much to show for it.
Hanson said he too would have voted not on the raise if he had been on the board. He believes the raise should have been considered as part of the performance appraisal process. He said that district salaries need to be competitive but mindful of the district is facing financially. He suggested that the district look for additional cost savings.
Johnson said that when it comes to compensation, he believes "in pay for performance." He said he was not aware of what the board considered when they approved the raise but he said he would not have voted for an 8.9 percent increase at this time and before a performance evaluation was completed. He said the district needs to remain competitive, most especially when it comes to the teachers. He also noted that the current administration has gotten the district through "some tough times."
When asked about how the district's financial resources should be directed, Hanson said that the school board needs to work together to make sure they are making good investments with school dollars.
He considers getting the capacity problem resolved as one of those investments and pointed to funds that will be available as some of the district's debt is paid off that could be used to offset the cost of any new construction. He also supports more investment in technology for students and teachers.
Johnson said he would approach the issue with an open mind. He believes that teachers, who have told him that district is doing a good job, understand the budget constraints facing the board. He said he would "use a scalpel, not an ax" when it came to controlling the budget.
Kunz said she would like the district to pursue more ways to share costs with other community organizations. She suggested that some costs could be consolidated by putting the Hudson Public Library inside a school to provide more efficiency.
She said she believed the district's administration was "top heavy" and that some of the resources spent there could be shifted to teachers and technology where they would have a more direct impact on students. She said she would like to see the district be more creative with how to address school space issues and not "over build."
Schrock said he believes in supporting those on the front line in schools and being sure that "every single person in the district working in support of the teachers, not just with money but resources."
When asked about their willingness to compromise as a board member, Johnson said that he believes in collaboration and compromise. He said he would stick to his principals but also being willing to work with others to achieve the district's goals, and work to build consensus to advance the greater good.
Kunz said she too would work with others on the board and try and see their perspective but she said she "won't be pushed around." She said was open to negotiate on certain issues but that she would not compromise her principles.
Schrock said he was open to compromise on anything except his principles
Hanson said that while he would not stray from his core principals, "listening to other individuals is very important" to his decision-making process. He believes that listening and compromise can "get some good things done."
The forum concluded with the candidates asking questions of one another.
Kunz asked Johnson if he ever challenged the district administration on any issues. Johnson said he was not initially supportive of the referendum to purchase the dog track but made up his own mind about it. "I am not running because someone is falling down on the job." He said he would not be afraid to ask tough questions of the administration.
Schrock asked Hanson if he believed it was appropriate for to discuss his candidacy with the district's superintendent. Hanson said he did not "have a personal issue with that."
Hanson asked Schrock about what he believed the school board and the district have done right.
Schrock said that his children received a first class education in the Hudson School District but said he hadn't heard a lot of support from the administration and board for teachers.
Johnson asked Kunz about what short term space solutions had been ignored by the district and the board. She pointed to the most recent addition at the middle school that expanded instructional space for the orchestra and music program as well as the cafeteria but did not add classrooms. She also said the district had no back-up plan when the city of Hudson refused to rezone the dog track following the referendum by district voters to purchase the property for a new secondary school.
Candidates' responses to questions from the Star-Observer will appear in March 21 issue.
The forum can be viewed in its entirety on public access television at www.riverchannel.org.