District 51 debate one-sided

District B challenger Ann Tisue got to have the most say in Monday night’s District 51 school board candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters and Kids Voting Mesa County.

Tisue’s opponent, incumbent Cindy Enos-Martinez, was absent from the debate recuperating from knee surgery. School Board member Leslie Kiesler of District D filled in for Enos-Martinez, offering statements her fellow board member prepared for the debate.

When it came time for inquiries from the audience, though, Kiesler was unable to answer most of the detailed questions because she was not sure how Enos-Martinez would respond. She did get to say Enos-Martinez is supporting the district’s mill levy override question, believes mandates have made it harder to deal with state funding cuts in recent years and that the district will have to consider cuts from various areas, including non-mandated services, if more cuts are made by the state.

Other questions were directed only to non-incumbents. The debate’s organizers decided Tisue would have to field those because non-incumbent District A candidate Jeff Leany is running unopposed and was only allowed an opening and a closing statement in order to keep the debate shorter than an hour.

Tisue reiterated her position on the district’s mill levy override ballot question is “it’s up to the voters to decide” and said she is not in favor of Proposition 103, a statewide measure that would increase income and sales taxes for preschool through higher education in Colorado.

When asked what she would do if District 51 budget cuts had to be made next year due to funding reductions from the state and the override does not pass, Tisue, who has said she does not personally plan to vote for the override, replied, “It isn’t necessarily a given there will be cuts.”

After replying to one question that she would support offering incentives to teachers who work in schools with several impoverished children, another question was asked: where would the money come from for incentives. Tisue said the district could look for cost savings to pay for monetary incentives, but added some incentives could come in the form of esteem instead of money.

Leany reserved his time to focus on money and tenure. He said he is confident the board will find places to save money in the budget and he said the assertion that District 51 is one of the lowest-funded districts in the state is misleading because its funding is comparable to similar-sized districts. He also said Senate Bill 191, which revamps teacher and principal evaluations, will take away the worries of a tenure system.

“Teachers aren’t going to be able to coast,” he said. “We need teachers in there who have life in them.”

The forum ended with a panel discussing the pros and cons of Proposition 103 and the District 51 mill levy override, which would increase property taxes by 7 mills to help District 51 cover state funding cuts and restore items previously cut from the district’s budget. Carol Hedges of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute spoke in favor of Proposition 103 and Colorado Board of Education member Marcia Neal spoke against it. Former West End School District Superintendent Phyllis Hunsinger spoke against the override and Friends of School District 51 member Duke Wortmann spoke for it.


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