Education

Iowa City school board candidates on board's high turnover

People have ideas on its causes and what's needed to bring continuity

Iowa is combining city and school elections for the first time this year. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5, and early voting is possible at county auditor offices. In Iowa City, seven people are running for four open seats on the Iowa City school board.
Iowa is combining city and school elections for the first time this year. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5, and early voting is possible at county auditor offices. In Iowa City, seven people are running for four open seats on the Iowa City school board.

IOWA CITY — Seven candidates are seeking four seats on the Iowa City school board in Tuesday’s election.

All terms on the board are for four years and at-large — meaning everyone can vote on all the candidates.

Two incumbents are on the ballot — Paul Roesler and Shawn Eyestone — as are five others: Charlie Eastham, Michael Tilley, Julie VanDyke, Lisa Williams and Stephanie Van Housen.

A Gazette questionnaire asked each candidate for their views on four issues:

BOARD TURNOVER: How do you think the high turnover on the school board impacts families and staff, and how would you minimize it? Responses from each candidate are below and have been edited for length.

Read the other questionnaires here:

POLICE IN SCHOOLS: Should law enforcement have a bigger role on school campuses?

MOST IN NEED: How will you increase support for underserved students?

NEW SUPERINTENDENT: What are you looking for in a new district leader?

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Candidates are presented here in the order they appear on the ballot.

Board turnover

Charlie Eastham: I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with all of the other candidates and continuing school board members. I hope that we are laying a foundation for cooperative work together that will extend to and include our constituents. I believe that my background and experience in social justice advocacy are a basis for listening and hearing the stories, concerns and aspirations of students, parents, staff, community members and board members and finding ways to work together to create a school system that works for all students.

My current and past work on the following boards, commissions and organizations has provided a network of relationships and experience with addressing complicated institutional and community challenges that I believe will aid and inform my work on the school board: the school district’s Equity Advisory Committee, the district’s Support for Immigrant Students and Families Taskforce, Center for Worker Justice, The Black Voices Project, Johnson County Interfaith Coalition, Iowa City Housing and Community Development Commission, and the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission.

Michael Tilley: The high turnover of school board members has substantially limited the impact that the board can have over time. I think this partly is a result of the board not having a clear, comprehensive vision for the district as a whole. As a result, the implicit and unstated vision held by a majority of board members ends up shaping the district’s policy in a haphazard way, and it tends to change pretty dramatically with each new election, particularly when there is a substantial turnover of board members.

The best way to limit this harm going forward is to make that vision explicit and encourage community buy-in so that it is the governing principle and culture for the entire district. That would give stability to the district beyond the unstated convictions and ideas of the majority of the board members.

For me, the district’s primary aim should be to create a more inclusive and just educational system.

Stephanie Van Housen: It is painful to watch the rubber stamp approval the school board offers for each expensive best-new-thing, consultant, administrator, building or land purchase, etc. I am running because I know a lot about how schools work and how policies impact students and families. I have a great deal of experience in the areas where our schools are failing the kids.

It would be a relief if more than one board director(s) questioned what they are being told, or if the other directors could support the need for more board questions and better answers rather than resort to the need to try to quash the voices of fiscally and legally responsible peer(s).

This dysfunction could be owned by the board as a whole, and it is the majority who harm the students’ hopes and dreams and the students’ learning through their bullying behaviors. I ask why would anyone wants to stay on a board where some members have repeated bullying actions and who mock members of the school community. I would also suggest that community and board members in Iowa City bullying and threatening of board members is a poor example for students.

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Julie VanDyke: The term is four years. It might seem candidates who resign early don’t understand what the commitment will involve. I’ve been attending and following board meetings, work sessions, committee meetings, board retreats, redistricting, RPS/bond meetings, listening sessions, board and district events for 11 years. I was on the Magnet School Task Force for the entire project. I attended pre-K through first grade and eighth- through 12th-grade in this district. I know what the commitment will involve.

Board members and community members have been threatened, retaliated against, harassed and targeted by some of the more powerful stakeholders and boosters in the community. If I see evidence of that kind of behavior, I will bring it right out into the daylight for it to be publicly addressed. Much of the bullying in this school district occurs between the adults. If we address that, it will help change the culture and set a better example for our children.

Lisa Williams: To ensure stability and consistency in policymaking, it is important to have board members with institutional knowledge and a well-established vision for the direction of the district. The high turnover on the board that has occurred over the past 10 years has led to decisions being revisited and constantly second-guessed.

To minimize the harm of turnover, we need to elect board members who are qualified and have experience making decisions based upon the best interests of the community.

I was trained in these roles to analyze problems, issue spot solutions, ask question, and collect information before making an informed decision.

Board members must not come to the table with personal vendettas, agendas or geographic biases but instead must be able to impartially analyze issues from multiple perspectives. As a former Iowa City school district student, the wife of an Iowa City high school teacher, a mom of an Iowa City elementary school student, and the coach of an Iowa City extracurricular activity, I believe I have the requisite knowledge on a variety of school-related subjects.

Paul Roesler: In my three-plus years of serving on the board, I have served with 10 different school board members, which is unusually high. If re-elected I will be the most senior member on the board. I firmly believe that my time on the board, along with working with and following previous boards, is a strength I bring to the table.

Historical knowledge of the district combined with a firm knowledge of policies and why decisions were made is important as boards tackle future topics. I firmly believe that a school board that respects one another, understands each other’s strengths and weaknesses and has the respect of teachers, staff and community can be an effective decision-making unit.

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It is OK to disagree on topics, and I welcome all the different voices and perspectives that board members bring. But, in the end, when a decision is made, all seven board members need to honor that decision. We have not always had that, but we have the opportunity to do so, with the three sitting board members and the right combination of the seven candidates currently running.

No board members have resigned since 2017. Before that, we were averaging one per year for four straight years.

Running for this position with past grudges, a personality that brings out conflict or one that doesn’t understand the importance of following board norms will contribute to a dysfunctional board. The community finally has its first opportunity in six years and four school board elections to vote back incumbents in Shawn Eyestone and myself, I firmly believe that going into this next phase of looking for and hiring a superintendent you need a strong, well-informed, experienced board team.

Shawn Eyestone: High turnover causes anxiety and confusion for both our staff and our families, not to mention the district’s administrative team. It is hard to put into place long-term solutions if a new board will change the priorities for the next year or two. You have to go back to 2013 to find the last time the majority of the board did not turn over. Six years is an entire secondary duration or almost a full elementary duration for a student. That can be a lot of change for students, staff and families.

We have a chance this year to re-elect two incumbents, which would keep the majority of the board. Obviously, that mitigates high turnover issues.

But what will go a long way is creating the long-term vision for the district. What experiences do we want our graduates to have? How are we preparing them for success after their secondary education in our district? If we can create that vision, than future boards can make decisions to achieve that vision and hopefully minimize any negative impacts a personnel change at the board table would have.

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

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