The four candidates for the Teton School District 401 Board of Trustees found plenty of common ground during Wednesday’s online forum hosted by the Rotary Club of Teton Valley.
Two trustees will be elected to serve four-year terms on the school board. In Zone 3, Jeannette Boner and Ray Hinchcliff will face off. Zone 4 incumbent Jake Kunz is running against Kathleen Haar. Using questions gathered from the candidates and selected by the Valley of the Tetons Library, Rotary president Jim Schulz moderated the Sept. 29 forum.
When asked what educational programs the district should focus on, Haar, Kunz, and Hinchcliff mentioned STEM offerings and vocational training, and Hinchcliff added a need for emphasis on English Language Learning classes.
Kunz said that the district could work more closely with the College of Eastern Idaho, and needs to be more willing to adopt out-of-the-box thinking.
Boner turned the question toward the budget, saying that the district can’t prioritize improving educational programs until it has a budget that works toward teacher and staff recruitment and retention.
One question obliquely referenced some of the hot button issues the board has recently faced; Schulz asked the candidates how they would weigh their own opinions with input from their constituents.
Kunz spoke against the “noise that distracts from the educational process,” and said he comes to each meeting without preconceived notions. Hinchcliff also promised to listen to input with an open mind. Haar and Boner focused on how the board could be more effective in its engagement with the community.
“Where personal opinions and constituent opinions collide, if we are not focused on student achievement, we are shirking our duty not only as board members, but as a community committed to supporting and uplifting our youngest,” Boner said.
Haar, who may have attended more board meetings than anyone besides the district staff and board members themselves, stressed that she has always advocated for transparency and communication between the board and the community.
Schulz then brought up the controversial new state law prohibiting the teaching of the topic known as “critical race theory.” Hinchcliff said he was opposed to critical race theory. Haar noted that the text of the law says that schools should foster intellectual honesty, freedom of speech, and freedom of inquiry. Boner directed the conversation back to student achievement.
The district is currently facing staffing shortages across all the schools. Schulz asked the candidates how that issue could be alleviated. Kunz and Boner pointed to housing as one of the key ways to attract staff. Hinchcliff said the district needs to be competitive in order to bring in qualified educators.
Haar proposed a team approach for teachers. “A collaborative, team-oriented environment would be more supportive of our classroom staff, helping them succeed in teaching and stay in our valley.”
Each candidate put most of the blame for the district’s funding woes on the state, and acknowledged that the burden for improving local education falls on county taxpayers.
“We need our constituents to put pressure on the state to get more funding,” Hinchcliff said.
“The legislature will continue to disappoint us year after year,” said Kunz, who advocated for a substantial rainy day fund, as did Haar and Boner.
Haar said that the timing of budget planning and salary negotiations is challenging because it’s dependent on what happens in the statehouse.
“The budget must reflect what we deem important and vital in student achievement,” Boner said. She also brought up Reclaim Idaho’s ballot initiative to increase education funding from the state.
As the only incumbent in the race, Kunz stressed his experience in finance and as a board member. “The logistics of the role take some learning,” he said in his closing statement.
“I’m running because the school board needs my leadership,” Hinchcliff said.
“I have the best interests of my neighbors in mind while making small and big decisions about how I move through this community,” Boner said.
Haar pledged to be “direct and detailed, and to create solutions that address the needs of us all.”
Only residents of the respective zones can vote in the school board election. Find your voting zone at the Teton County GIS portal at tetonidaho.maps.arcgis.com. Early voting at the courthouse or via mail-in ballot began this Monday, Oct. 4.
For a more in-depth dive into the candidate’s views, see the C section of this paper.