No politics, school candidates say

District 51 School Board candidates said Monday night at their first public forum they have no plans to make the board a partisan one.

That’s despite Mesa County Republicans endorsing three of the candidates — Pat Kanda, Mike Lowenstein and John Sluder, all of whom have appeared at Republican events — and three of the board’s seven candidates registering an affiliation on their candidate affidavits with the Colorado Secretary of State.

Sluder and Lowenstein selected “Republican” on their candidate affidavits while school board candidate Tom Parrish selected “Democrat.” Current board members Ann Tisue, Jeff Leany, Greg Mikolai and John Williams all selected “non-partisan” on their affidavits, while board member Leslie Kiesler selected “Republican.”

Lowenstein said at Monday’s forum; hosted on campus by Colorado Mesa University Associated Student Government and Strong Schools, Strong Community; the only people he has heard talking about a partisan election are people writing letters to the editor.

“I have not heard a single candidate state that he’s a Republican member, he has different ideas,” he said. “I expect this to be a nonpartisan election and if it looks like I’m receiving support from someone that’s probably because they agree with my viewpoints. It has nothing to do with what party I belong to.”

Parrish, Lowenstein’s challenger for the board’s District D seat, said the board should not have a consensus any more than its members should have one religious affiliation.

“I think our role is really what’s best for kids and how we can take our collective experience and knowledge and differences and make decisions that are best for our children,” Parrish said.

Incumbent board member and District E candidate Greg Mikolai said late board member Harry Butler, who died in June, told him it was wrong to make politics part of school board service, a sentiment fellow District E candidate Sluder agreed with. District C candidates John Williams and Kanda agreed partisanship is not ideal for school board service.

During the event, candidates also were asked for their views on curriculum, budget cuts, preparing students for the workforce, and what they believe are the largest challenges facing education. Kanda said education’s biggest challenge is the federal government, which he said has gone from assisting education to driving it. Parrish cited socioeconomic troubles, Sluder said bureaucracy is hampering teachers, Mikolai and Williams mentioned a lack of resources, and Lowenstein pointed to a lack of the basics being taught in schools.

When asked about the role of a school board member, each candidate agreed their main duties are to hire or fire a superintendent, pass a balanced budget and set policy.

All agreed during a separate question that it is not their job to dictate curriculum, but said teachers should have more input in which texts are used in classrooms.


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