Meet the candidates: Seat-seekers reflect on Silver Falls School District

April 2019 Posted in Community

By Brenna Wiegand

Six candidates are running for four open seats on the Silver Falls School District School Board of Directors in the May 21 election. These include Janet Allanach and Leslie Martin running for the Zone 1 seat; unopposed candidates Laurie McLaughlin for Zone 3, and incumbent Jonathan Edmonds for Zone 6; and Dawn Tacker vs. incumbent Tom Buchholz for the Zone 7 spot.

The seven-member board is composed of representatives from each of the district’s seven boundary zones. They volunteer for four-year terms, are the district’s only elected officials and may not be district employees. The terms commence on July 1, 2019.

The board is the principal governing body and decision-making force of the district, representing citizens on education and school-related issues. The board’s role includes:

  • Establishing policies and regulations by which the district is governed.
  • Hiring, evaluating and terminating the district superintendent, who is considered the board’s only employee.
  • Prioritizing and approving the budget.
  • Establishing a vision that reflects overall goals of the community, staff and board.
  • Making decisions on school expansion and closures.

Here, the candidates in contested races address issues in the district.

Zone 1: Janet Allanach, Executive Director, Association of Centers for Independent Living

Zone 1: Leslie Martin, Employee Benefits Specialist, Marion County

Zone 7: Tom Buchholz, Owner, Buchholz-Schmitz Farms; Evergreen Christmas Tree Equipment

Zone 7: Dawn Tacker, Owner/Director, Traverse Dyslexia

 

  1. What motivated you to run for school board?

Allanach: We need an engaged and highly qualified board to address them and to lead us into the future as a high-performing district. This means governing with transparency and accountability, developing a clear, long-term vision with robust goals, and setting high expectations for student achievement.

Martin: I want to be a force of change in our district. I want to encourage the great work already being done yet focus on improving relationships with our community both in Silverton and in our entire district. I believe we can do great things together.

Buchholz: I am running for my third term. I want to continue to maintain our smaller-sized, community located schools. Even our in-town schools are small when compared to other districts our size. Kids and parents do better in smaller schools as it resembles an extended family of sorts. Staff does better as it encourages ownership.

Tacker: As a dyslexia specialist and a mother of sons with learning differences, I have a unique understanding of individual needs and barriers to education. I want our community to provide the best education for all students, regardless of learning differences, race, income and school.

 

  1. What do you believe is the biggest issue or challenge facing Silver Falls School District today and how would you like to address it?

Allanach: Strategic goals informed by rigorous analysis should drive the allocation of our resources so that the educational needs of students come first. Up-to-date curriculum, project-based and other best-practice learning, professional development for teachers, the fine arts, college readiness – these aren’t “extras.” They are the foundation of good education.

Martin: Trust/transparency is a big issue in our district. Events of years and decades past have led to an environment where some feel that the administration, and sometimes the board, in our district is not to be trusted… I want to listen to the people of our district, really hear their concerns, and be part of a solution to help mend fences and rebuild the trust so we can all move forward as one unified district.

Buchholz: Money! Due to mismanagement of the PERS funds at the state level, the state does not have enough money to cover the retirees’ guaranteed benefits. We have to make up our share – currently 9 percent of our entire budget – of the shortfall out of our operational funds… I’m skeptical the voters will support more taxes; therefore we will have to address it by tightening our belts to maintain current services.

Tacker: The biggest challenge for our district is limited resources, compounded by aging buildings. I have 25 years of experience in financial management; I’m excited to dive into this issue. I recommend creating a permanent facilities committee, focused on solutions. Another essential board role is lobbying for increased state funding.

 

  1. What about the district would you most like to change?

Allanach: We need to encourage, throughout the district, a culture of partnership and collaboration that invites open communication, constructive criticism, and the courage to be innovative. Without it, meaningful improvement is impossible… We are capable of it, and our students deserve nothing less.

Martin: We need to change the way we plan. What happened to Eugene Field should not happen to another school in our district. We need to start having open, serious conversations about the state of our facilities district wide, including the creation of a long-term facilities planning committee with representatives from all zones… We need to prioritize the needs of each individual school and make a plan for addressing them…

Buchholz: Not much. This is a high-performing district. My focus would be to always remind people what our strengths are and not take them for granted.

Tacker: I will focus on improving literacy outcomes. We have room for growth; 49 percent of our third graders read at grade level. Without proficient reading, kids struggle in other subjects. I want to give our excellent teachers the curricula, professional development, coaching and materials they need to improve outcomes.

 

  1. The district has maintained financial reserves to buffer the unpredictability of school funding in Oregon. How important are reserves and stability versus addressing evolving needs?

Allanach: Fiscal and facility planning should be long range and connected, especially given the changing reality of the PERS obligation and district buildings that are in a state of decline. This kind of proactive, thoughtful forecasting enables us to set a level for reserves that is appropriate and data-informed.

Martin: There is a balance to be had. Reserves – appropriated and unappropriated – are important to offset unplanned events and revenue shortfalls. At the same time, we need to evaluate the perceived risk of said events and determine if it is appropriate to use a portion of funds to address current needs…

Buchholz: Financial reserves are what any responsible family, business or public institution maintains to weather an unexpected financial setback… You never read about large layoffs in the Silver Falls School District. Why? Because we maintain a healthy reserve fund that we add to when the economy is good and tap into to maintain services when the economy struggles.

Tacker: We need healthy reserves to weather unpredictable state education spending. Oregon School Boards Association recommends a 5-8 percent reserve, which we have exceeded consistently. I would like to see reserves capped at 8-9 percent, with the excess spent directly on student instruction. I also recommend multi-year financial forecasting…

 

  1. The district has identified 70 to 90 students as homeless and mental health is an issue at the high school. How can the district help support at-risk populations?

Allanach: Students who are homeless or struggling emotionally face real barriers to learning. We need to talk openly about these issues, remove the stigma of asking for help, and partner creatively with the community to address the problem. One idea: A community run student center on campus to provide resources and support.

Martin: Mental health and homelessness are huge issues that need to be addressed. One way we can help is by building genuine relationships. All it takes is one adult to care about a child to help them realize there is hope. We need to make sure we are adequately staffed with trained counselors who are aware of support services in our area. I would love to see a food pantry or similar project implemented in our schools to help our vulnerable population…

Buchholz: Everyone struggles at some time in their lives. I know I have. I encourage everyone to make an effort now and then to try and have a meaningful relationship with someone struggling or different than they are. Give them opportunities to better and improve themselves. Challenge them and see if they rise to it. You might learn something about yourself too.

Tacker: The district can expand partnerships with community organizations to help provide essential support. Also I would like to expand the number of Student Success Advocates, mental health training for teachers, and access to mental health services district wide…

 

  1. What is the board’s role in seeing that the district retain both new and experienced teachers?

Allanach: Retention improves when teachers are appropriately compensated, are treated fairly and respected, enjoy a positive and supportive work environment, and are encouraged to regularly provide their own insights into needed improvements. For departing teachers and administrators, exit interviews are an essential source of information for the board.

Martin: Retention of quality educators is important. …I will be available to work with administrators, however deemed appropriate, to make sure we recruit the best possible candidates as well as provide ample training opportunities and support to current staff. I believe in learning from our past and would encourage us to look at why people move on from Silver Falls School District…

Buchholz: The Board keeps an eye on who is hired into the District and who leaves. On balance, we have a very experienced group of teachers that stay here longer than other districts in our state.

Tacker: Most large employers have a formal process to explore why staff members leave. This reflection includes thorough exit interviews. When we fully understand why teachers leave, we can make Silver Falls an even greater place to teach.

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