The East Valley school board seems to be the hot ticket for the November elections, with four people filing for the seat being vacated by longtime board member June Sine and two incumbents each drawing a challenger.
Incumbent board members in the Central Valley and West Valley school districts are all running unopposed and will automatically win their seats again.
Christie Burton-Hart is running against current East Valley board chairwoman Kerri Lunstroth, and Roger T. Cox has filed to run against incumbent Roger Trainor. Bill Powers, Heidi Gillingham, Guy Gifford and Kay Sieck have all filed for Sine’s seat.
Powers, 63, is semiretired from his video production company and once worked for the school district briefly as a bus mechanic and driver in 1979 or 1980. He moved into the district in 1976 and both his adult children attended school there. He’s running in the election because he wants to give back to the community. “I’m at the point in life where I have the time and the energy,” he said. “I’m just at a place where I think I can be of help. If I didn’t think I could, I wouldn’t run.”
Powers sees balancing the budget as the board’s most important task. “The most immediate concern is the budget deficit the state is experiencing,” he said.
Gillingham, 40, said she has been involved in her children’s schools for years. “I feel very passionate about the school systems, and I want to see the best opportunity for our kids,” she said. “I just felt it’s time to take it up to the district level and see what can be done there.”
The issue she will focus on is the importance of communicating with the public. If parents and community members don’t attend the board meetings, there’s not much of a flow of information. “I feel like communication has been a hurdle,” she said.
Still, she feels that the district has been improving. “I feel like our district is starting to get some positive momentum going,” she said.
Gifford has four children in the district’s year-round choice school, the Continuous Curriculum School. He frequently appears at board meetings to talk about activities at the school. “This is my second time running,” he said. “I believe in being involved in my community. This is a place where I can have input.”
Gifford, 42, also mentioned communication as an area needing improvement. “Earlier on, there seemed to be a lot of communication problems,” he said. “(Superintendent John) Glenewinkel has made several good efforts to do that.”
Gifford said he is pleased with how the current board has handled budget cuts. “They got community input,” he said. “I thought they did a good job.”
Sieck, 50, has served on all three bond committees that the district formed to help with its three failed attempts to get a construction bond passed. Sieck said she was heavily involved in her children’s schools before they graduated and has lived in the district for 20 years. “I don’t have a particular school that I would favor more than others, so my work would be for the entire district,” she said.
The district is a good one but often unfairly is seen as less than stellar, she said. “I think that image needs to be changed,” she said. “Part of my mission is to be able to change that image. We have a great superintendent who really is an out-of-the-box thinker. I am looking forward to working for the betterment of students, being open to the teachers and approachable.”
Burton-Hart is challenging Lunstroth because she believes there needs to be new faces on the board. “It’s obvious the district needs to see some changes on the school board,” she said. “We have a new superintendent who is making amazing changes. I think getting a fresh new school board is the next step.”
Burton-Hart, 38, is troubled by the board’s refusal to change the 5:30 p.m. start time for board meetings. Other districts in the area start at 6:30 or 7 p.m. “I still think they’re sending the wrong message when they won’t change their start time,” she said. “The school board is supposed to represent the parents and the parents can’t get there that early.”
On the other hand, Lunstroth believes that the school board needs continuity. She is in her fourth year on the board and her second as board chairwoman. “I think we need to have some stability, especially with June’s current position being open,” she said. “We’ve faced many challenges. It’s all coming together.”
Lunstroth, 49, enjoys her work on the board. “It has certainly become a passion of mine,” she said. “I want to be part of what the district has started with our new superintendent. I think I’ve gained the respect of the staff and the students and the community, and I think I’ve been effective in this role.”
Her goal is for East Valley to become a premier school district that other districts look to as a leader. “All the puzzle pieces are there, but they’re scattered. John (Glenewinkel) deserves the credit. In the short time he’s been here, he’s made significant progress in bringing those pieces together. I want to be part of that. I don’t know what’s going to happen if we have three new board members. Are they going to think the same way?”
Cox, 51, said he filed for the school board seat because his children, two in high school and one in elementary school, are getting too old for him to volunteer much in the classroom. “This would be one way to stay involved in their and other kids’ schools,” he said. “At this point I don’t have an agenda.”
Like the other board candidates, Cox has praise for the superintendent, who sent Cox information on current issues so he can get up to speed, Cox said. “I feel like he’s been doing a very good job,” he said.
Incumbent Trainor, 50, said he was thrilled to see so much competition for the empty seat. “I think it’s so neat to see four people,” he said. “I wish there had been 30.”
He said he plans to try and sit down for coffee with Cox. “I like competition,” he said. “I think people should have a voice. I really do. I think it’s great that someone will take the time to do that.”
Trainor has been on the board for four years. “The first time I ran I wanted people to have a voice, to be a voice for teachers,” he said. “I feel there are too many members on the board that don’t do that. I feel a lot of good ideas are lost when we don’t listen.
“I really think we should have a suggestion box in every one of our schools. We never know where one great idea is going to come from.”
He also agrees that the start time of the board meetings should be changed. “I don’t think they’re user friendly,” he said. “People don’t want to walk into the meeting late. I think that’s totally wrong.”
Trainor said he deliberately selected the East Valley district for his children when deciding where to live. “We picked this district because we thought East Valley was the best. I still totally believe that.”
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