Money a topic at schools forum

Candidates also debate standardized tests, curriculum reforms

District 51 School Board candidates debated the relevancy of state standardized tests, whether money can help a school, and if older changes are having an impact in local schools or need to be replaced with new reforms Tuesday morning at a candidate forum hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce at its office.

District E candidate John Sluder touted the success of a $2.5 million federal grant that helped Western Colorado Community College, where he teaches, introduce six new certificate programs.

His opponent, incumbent Greg Mikolai, was confused after Sluder commented later in the forum that well-funded Washington, D.C., schools are failing while lower-funded Utah schools are performing well.

“I do not currently see a direct correlation between higher money and higher scores,” Sluder said.

Mikolai responded that well-funded schools in Massachusetts produce high student test scores while Wyoming, also well-funded, does the same.

“John alludes to money not solving the problem, but he already talked about a federal grant at WCCC. He wouldn’t tell you that’s not an effective use of dollars,” Mikolai said.

Sluder responded that the grant was helpful because it included one-time funding. The four-year grant ends in 2016.

District D candidate Tom Parrish said money is effective in schools if it is used in an area that can be measured for success.

Parrish and other candidates agreed the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program may not be the best way to test student or teacher success due to lack of student accountability for scores and the time it takes to get results back.

While the new teacher evaluations rolled out this year through Senate Bill 191 are not linked to teacher pay, some school board candidates suggested they should be.

Sluder and District C candidate Mike Lowenstein said the district should run more like a business and that merit-based pay should be a priority.

“In a business when the workers are good but the product is not that good you look at the management,” Lowenstein said, labeling teachers as workers and management as the school board.

Lowenstein said he wants to visit other districts to see what they are doing and implement elements of those reforms here. Mikolai said District 51 has laid a foundation for student success and gradual gains are being made despite budget cuts. If he had extra money, though, he said he would spend it on extra school days or interventions. Sluder said he would spend any extra dollars to “pull administrative burdens off our teachers.”

District C candidate Pat Kanda said he would spend more on curriculum and teacher compensation. Parrish and District C’s John Williams would spend money on teaching coaches.

The chamber plans to endorse three of the candidates Thursday based on member interviews.


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