IOWA CITY — Nearly all the candidates for the Iowa City school board are ready to move on.
From arguments about facilities, from what candidate JP Claussen calls “ugly” board meetings, and away from a district culture state officials describe as “retaliatory.”
“Good leadership starts at the top, and at the top is the board,” candidate Ruthina Malone said during a meeting with The Gazette Editorial Board. “We need to model that we don’t always have to agree, but we can always treat each other with respect.”
“I feel we as a school district have lost our way,” added candidate Laura Westemeyer. She said she decided it was time to run for a board seat because “it was time to help the community … find its way again.”
“If we don’t start rebuilding that trust, it will make everything else harder,” said Janet Godwin, as the Iowa City school district’s other six school board candidates nodded in agreement.
The seven candidates are running for four seats on the school board. Three — Claussen, 44, Malone, 41, Janet Godwin, 51, Westemeyer, 53, or Karen Woltman, 46 — will be elected to four-year terms in the Sept. 12 election. Either Charlie Eastham, 75, or Shawn Eyestone, 45, will win a two-year term.
Winners will join incumbents Phil Hemingway, Paul Roesler and Lori Roetlin on the board. Members serve without pay.
On most issues, they said they seem to align with each other.
“I’m optimistic with this group,” Claussen said. “ … I think we can get to a place where five, six, seven of us are on the same page.”
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Major issues plaguing the board, which governs the state’s fifth-largest school district of 14,000 students, include a divided and at times combative tone at meetings, candidates said, as well as perceived stifling of public comment and recent state citations over the district’s special education practices.
Before filing to run, Godwin said she tried to persuade others to run but they were incredulous. “That’s the hardest elected official position,” she said people told her.
In addition to electing four new members to the board — no incumbents are running for reelection — voters also will decide whether the district can levy a $191.5 million bond — the largest school bond ever in the state — to complete the district’s master facility plan.
Except for Westemeyer and Woltman, all of the candidates said they support the bond. Westemeyer said she would be more comfortable with a smaller dollar amount; Woltman declined to answer how she would vote on the issue.
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