Mount Vernon school board candidate questionnaires

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MOUNT VERNON — Four candidates, three of them incumbents, are running for three at-large seats on the Mount Vernon Community School District’s school board.

All responses come directly from the candidate Mount Vernon school board candidates and have not been edited for space or grammar by The Gazette. We are providing their full unedited responses, so that the public can experience the candidate’s thoughts and stances in full.

Jeremy Kunz

District: Mount Vernon

Age: 44

Educational Background: BA - Special Education, University of Northern Iowa (99)

Occupation: Employee Advocate - Iowa State Education Association

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

No

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

Currently a Foster Parent with wife Karry Putzy

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

I will vote on contracts but will not be part of the negotiation team for the district in any contract that ISEA is the employee representative.

Why are you running for school board?

I have dedicated my work life towards the betterment of the Education system in Iowa. As a parent and foster parent I believe in making sure all opportunities are available to all children. I have knowledge of education law and school finance and want that knowledge to benefit the children and families of Mount Vernon.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

1. State funding - We need to advocate for a legislature that will provide adequate growth so that districts do not need to cut opportunities.
2. Future growth - Our district looks to be growing in the next ten years and we need to set forth a plan to keep our excellence on track. This will include new classrooms and facilities while maintaining current facilities.
3. Changes in collective bargaining and maintaining great staff - As a school board we will need to make decisions to fight for the best employees with competing metro schools.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

Our district has approximately 25% of its general fund authority available and 14% of those funds in cash reserves, I do not for see any need to cut. If we were forced to cut my rule is simple. Only cut where we will not increase class size or reduce offerings. I believe those two factors to be the most important in regards to the quality of education.

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

Our biggest strength is our staff. I will support them by making sure that the district will offer a fair and comprehensive contract and employee handbook

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

We need to develope a plan for growth and work to pass a bond initiative to keep us a destination district. I will work with the community to create a plan that addresses current and future needs and campaign to get the public behind it.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

I have spent my adult life working to better the education system in Iowa. I have worked in adult education, worked as a classroom teacher, and currently work with School Districts in the area to keep great teachers in our area. I believe I have knowledge of school systems that will greatly benefit the Mount Vernon schools.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

My email and phone numbers will be available to all members of the community. The district currently communicates with parents through a weekly email at the elementary. I think this should be printed in the paper with a board report monthly or sent home. If we expect the public to support the growth we need, we need to be able to tell them why we are asking for funding.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

We need to pass a bond to improve and maintain current facilities. I will support a plan that starts with non-athletic improvements first.

Lori Merlak

District: Mount Vernon

Age: 48

Educational Background: Hold a Masters in Management and currently a Doctoral Student at St Ambrose

Occupation: Assistant Professor of Management at Kirkwood Community College

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

Currently the School Board President. This was my first term.

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

International Student Mentor at Kirkwood working with students from around the world to help them learn about American culture. They spend time with my family and me and participate in community and family events.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

I am a passionate educator and I love Mount Vernon. I want to continue the great work that we have begun. I always approach issues from the angle that is in the best interest for kids. At the same time, my experience on the board has given me a wealth of knowledge connected to school finance which is needed with the many challenges and potential issues we face. I would be honored to be elected and serve another term on the Mount Vernon School Board.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

"There are many challenges in education right now. Just to name a few: • The needs of our students are changing because the world is changing. • State funding keeps diminishing. • Many facilities need updated. As a board member, I will address these challenges by remaining open and responsible to requests that are made via our superintendent. And, I believe our new superintendent will address these challenges by strategically assessing our district’s needs. Improving communication will also be key! "

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

"We are very lucky to have a financial director and a new superintendent who work tirelessly to ensure we haven’t had to make any cuts in any of the above. However, with state cutbacks, it remains challenging to do everything the district wants done. This current board works well together and, if I am reelected, we will continue to address these difficulties as they come to the board table. "

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

"So very many that it’s hard to include them all. These are in no particular order. • Students are amazing! • Teachers help make them this way by providing challenging opportunities that meet the needs of many learning styles. • A new leader who comes to us with a wealth of experience and knowledge. • Beautiful community full of uniquely talented people who make this a district of choice! "

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

Work with the Superintendent to create a strategic plan for facility and academic needs with a timeline to address these needs in a fiscally responsible and productive manner.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

I bring experience to the table along with the other incumbents. Although I greatly respect and appreciate the other candidates for running, I'd like to see all 3 of us continue the great work we have started.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

My number is made available on our district website and I am open to calls anytime. However, I will always encourage a process be followed so that communication is made with the right person first. The current board communicates well and is kept well informed by our district leaders.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

This has been an ongoing process and one that will continue. We have several sharing opportunities that we are currently working on, we are building new tennis courts and we plan to investigate a possible bond election. The board will work our new Superintendent to create a long term strategic plan that addresses the many needs in our district.

Rick Elliott

District: Mount Vernon

Age: 69

Educational Background: LaPorte City high school, Iowa State University

Occupation: Construction

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

Yes, 4 grandchildren

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

Mount Vernon City Council, Mount Vernon Mayor, Mount Vernon School Board

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

No Answer Provided

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No Answer Provided

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for a position on the Mt. Vernon School board. My wife, Trudi, and I have had three sons graduate from Mt. Vernon Schools. Presently, we have 4 grandchildren enrolled in the Mt. Vernon Community Schools. Mt. Vernon is known for its excellence in education. My primary reason for running for the school board is to continue that tradtion of excellence in education, athletics and the arts. We have students and staff all committed to this pursuit of excellence. As a community and school board we must support their committment. As a member of the Mt. Vernon School Board, I help set goals and policy for the district, manage the budget and supervise the superintendent. It is my intention to continue to support and promote programs which encourage growth in each and every student, growth in the abilities of the faculty and staff, and growth in the community understanding of the importance of education in the lives of each student. Constant and continual improvement of facilities is neccessary for the success of our district. Everyday we are competing for the talents of motivated students, enlightened staff, and prospective new students. We must not only have programs to draw these new students, we must have the facilities to promote these programs. If you are not moving foward; you are falling behind. Lastly we deal with the elephant in the room, finances. We must do whatever it talks to finance the education of our kids, encourage new development to increase our tax base, pursue excellence to promote open enrollment, or elect representatives in Des Moines and Washington DC who will support public education. There is a way to be the best we can be and still be fiscally responsible. I am a no-nonsense, fiscally grounded, experienced old guy with a construction business backgroud. I want on the best opportunities for our young people to grow and be successful. I will do what I can to help them along.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

No Answer Provided

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

No Answer Provided

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

No Answer Provided

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

No Answer Provided

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

No Answer Provided

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

No Answer Provided

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

No Answer Provided

Ryan Williams

District: Mount Vernon

Age: 18

Educational Background: Mount Vernon High School

Occupation: Current IT Student Worker at MVCSD. Soon to be full time student at Cornell College.

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

No

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

Mount Vernon High School Student Council

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

Volunteered in a MV first grade classroom the 2016-2017 school year.

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No.

Why are you running for school board?

Being a recent graduate of Mount Vernon, I know what it’s like for the students in the district. I would like to ensure that the students of Mount Vernon have their voices heard by the board when it comes time to make decisions. I would also like to make sure that we never put extracurricular activities ahead of academic importance. Our main focus should be on the quality of education that we provide as well as the comfort and safety of our learning environments.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

1. Need for updating facilities. Mount Vernon in recent years has been trying for a bond issue that would grant them many necessary improvements to educational facilities, as well as new additions to our extracurricular programs. I think that with the most recent bond, we sacrificed comfort and safety of our students and staff by having so much on the bond. The first thing that we need to worry about is getting what is needed in the education realm of the district. Additional classrooms, perhaps another school for a soon to be growing population. Focussing on these things first, and extracurriculars after we improve educational facilities.
2. Need for college level and AP classes. This would give our students more educational opportunities by enhancing their education further. It would allow them to transfer college credit with them and start ahead in college. Currently at Mount Vernon there are very few classes that allow for students to get that further, college-level education while still in high school.
3. Curriculum consistency. Mount Vernon has had some trouble with keeping a consistent curriculum. Recently, we have had TLC (Teacher Leadership Compensation) staff working with our teachers to help create a consistent curriculum. I believe that there should be a permanent curriculum director to ensure that all teachers are on the same page, teaching what they should, so that when students move to the next level in school there is no re-teaching.

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

"There would be two things that would be a funding priority that financial troubles should not affect: curriculum and salaries. We can not allow for the quality of education to be diminished in anyway due to cuts in the curriculum budget. If cuts were made in this area, the students would be directly hurt by this cut, because their education value would decrease. We can also not allow our staff to take any pay cuts or lose their benefits. If we allowed for that to happen, we would lose quality educators that would look elsewhere for jobs. It would also make it harder for us to find new, quality educators that would replace vacant jobs. This would also ruin the quality of education that we provide for the students. If we absolutely had to cut something, then I would say we could take a very, very small portion from extracurriculars and encourage the individual groups to fundraise that gap that we would remove. I would like for the amount that would be cut to be very small across all extracurriculars, which could save the school as a whole a large amount, but not hurt the extracurriculars to where we would lose the program entirely."

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

I think that the students and staff are the biggest strengths this district has. They are so driven to do the best that they can do in all they participate in. With students, they strive to not only excel academically, but also in their extracurriculars. The teachers are also striving to do their best at providing the best education that they can to their students. The people at Mount Vernon are so determined and driven that it makes this district very special. One way to support these students and staff, is to ensure that no education is always put first. When it comes to funding, ensuring that no cuts are made to curriculum budget or to staff salaries so that we can continue to have quality educators providing a quality education to our students, keeping them striving for that excellence in the classroom, giving them time to strive for excellence on stage or in the arena.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

"A major challenge that I have seen in the district is that there tends to be gaps in the curriculum when transitioning through grades. In the last year, Mount Vernon has began to fix this with our Teacher Leadership Compensation Grant (TLC). Our TLC staff have been working hard as curriculum coordinators to make sure that we no longer see gaps in the curriculum. Having these gaps lowers the quality of education within the district, as well as it harder for teachers when they have to make up for that gap that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I would advocate for a permanent position where a curriculum director would ensure that there are no gaps. It is also important that we listen to all people within the district. Students are the group with the lowest advocacy and I would like to change that by getting the word out that students are welcome to attend meetings. I would also like to see the development of a group of students that can provide opinions and ideas to the board, giving them more involvement in the decisions that are made."

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

Being a recent graduate of Mount Vernon, I know what it’s like for the students in the district. I would like to ensure that the students of Mount Vernon have their voices heard by the board when it comes time to make decisions. I would also like to make sure that we never put extracurricular activities ahead of academic importance. Our main focus should be on the quality of education that we provide as well as the comfort and safety of our learning environments.

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

Currently, I have a website located at www.rymwilliams.com, where people can reach out to me through a contact form. I have also been reaching out to students and staff in the district and listening to their opinions on a wide variety of issues. If elected, I would keep these lines of communication open. I will always listen to what people have to say, I value all opinions. Knowing the opinions of all would help me make decisions that would be beneficial to all.

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

"I believe that if and when another facilities bond comes to the table, we should first reach out to different people within the district (students, staff, community members) and ask them, “In your opinion, what are some of the things that you need, or would like to see in this bond?”. We could create a long list of all the possible upgrades to facilities and see what the hot items are with this first survey, take it back to the board, and create the bond that we would then move to a vote. It is always good to first get an idea for what is really the important things that the district would like to see. In the past facilities bond, it seemed as if we were sacrificing the quality of education and the comfort and safety of our students by having an all or nothing deal, where if you don’t want the football field, then your middle schooler won’t have a secure entry put on the building, or if you don’t want the auditorium, then there won’t be additional classrooms added to the schools. That in my opinion is 100% wrong to do to the students and educators that work in these buildings."

Sherry Grunder

District: Mount Vernon

Age: 55

Educational Background: B.S. Child Development-Teaching Prekindergarten/Kindergarten Special Education from ISU

Occupation: Preschool teacher at Mt Vernon Community Preschool

Questions

Do you have any children enrolled in the school district for the board seat you are seeking?

My daughters are graduates of MVHS

Have you held any prior elected offices? If yes, please list them.

Only my first term on school board

What other volunteer or community involvement should voters know about? Please explain below.

No Answer Provided

Are there any issues, personal or professional, in which you have a conflict and may not be able to vote? If yes, please explain.

No

Why are you running for school board?

I originally ran with the hope to give back to a district that has given much to my family. This is still my primary goal. I am amazed at how much I've learned over the last four years. I would like to put the experience and knowledge I've gained to use in a second term. I believe that it would be beneficial to our district to return all three incumbents to the board. We are prepared to work with our new superintendent to develop long term plans and a cohesive vision for our schools.

What are the three largest issues facing the district? What will you do to address them?

"Change is often hard, and we have a few big changes ahead of us. A new housing development and the construction of a bypass will bring new opportunities and challenges. Internally, we have the challenge of providing a stellar education to of all of our students without literally overtaxing our community. Long term planning will be a necessary step to meet these challenges. As a board, we will need to gather input from the city, our financial advisers, our administrators, staff and community to form a plan that ensures that our schools remain exceptional. "

If you're forced to cut the school district's budget, where do you look for savings? What would your funding priorities be? Please explain your answer.

No Answer Provided

What are the district's strengths? What will you do to support them?

Our district has many strengths beginning with exceptional parents and involved families. We have a long tradition of high achievement and continue to set high academic standards as our goal. Our schools are large enough to provide excellent opportunities for our students and small enough for students to be involved in many activities. I’m pleased that my daughters were able to take part in the fine arts, athletics and a variety of clubs during their school years. We are blessed with a community that values education and volunteers time, money and talents to make our schools the best they can be.

What areas can the school district improve or change? What will you do to help lead that improvement or change?

One of our board goals has been to improve communication. We have made progress, but there is still more that we can do to ensure that our community is aware of what's going on with our schools. I'm looking forward to working with our superintendent to develop new avenues of communication both within and outside of the schools.

Why should voters elect you and not one of your opponents?

No Answer Provided

How will you communicate with constituents and board members? What should the district do to communicate with those who don't have kids in the district?

No Answer Provided

How should the district handle long term facility needs? What process do you envision supporting?

No Answer Provided

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

 

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