The Nine Mile Falls School District board of directors unanimously chose Kirsten Foose to fill a school board seat that was empty after the resignation of longtime board member Bill McBride last month.
Foose, the director of quality improvement at CHAS Health, ran unsuccessfully in 2019 for a vacant school board seat against two other candidates. Current board member Eric Olsen won that election. The other applicants were Steve Karl, owner of Karl Equipment Co., and Tara Brown, a commercial banker who ran a write-in campaign for a school board seat last year.
The special board meeting held Wednesday to conduct interviews and select a new board member was held after some controversy about the original application window in February before McBride publicly announced his resignation. By the time McBride made his announcement, the process to accept applications from those interested in filling the seat had already closed. After receiving complaints from community members, including Brown, the application process was reopened.
The candidates drew numbers at the beginning of the meeting that determined in what order they were interviewed. Each was asked the same questions by board members and the candidates were not allowed in the room or on the Zoom call while the other candidates were interviewed.
Karl said he’s lived in the district for 16 years and his wife works for the district as a speech therapist. “I feel it’s a way to give back to the community that has been great for us,” he said of the decision to apply for the vacant seat.
Foose, who has several children in district schools, said her background in strategic and financial planning would be an asset to the district. “I believe very much in public education,” she said. “I think it’s important for the community to focus on youth. I really do think I can have an impact.”
Brown said her oldest graduated from high school in 2020 and her youngest will start kindergarten next year. “We are long haulers,” she said. “We are super invested.”
Karl said one of the challenges the district is facing going forward is the need to pass a facilities bond to build and repair schools. Several bonds have failed at the ballot box in the past few years, but Karl pointed to the “crumbling roof” at the high school as evidence of the district’s need. “There’s a quieter minority out there that really wants new facilities,” he said.
Foose also talked about the need for a successful bond measure and pointed to the need for a new gymnasium roof at Nine Mile Falls Elementary School.
“That roof is leaking so bad,” she said. “It’s hard to play basketball around big buckets catching the splashes.”
The community needs to understand the importance of investing in school facilities, Foose said.
“It’s not just about new books,” she said.
Another upcoming challenge for the district is growth, Brown said.
The former Sun Dance Golf Course is slated to become a large housing development that will bring a surge of children into the district. The district must accommodate those children while also trying to maintain its culture, she said.
“The growth is coming,” she said.
Brown said the district also needs to focus on helping students who lost ground during the pandemic.
“We need to make up educational ground that has been lost with our kids,” she said. “There’s a lot of kiddos who have fallen behind.”
Karl said his best asset is that he’s level-headed.
“I’m not one that rushes off and gets hot headed,” he said.
Brown said she learned a lot about people’s concerns when she was knocking on doors last fall before the election.
“I love this community and I really care about the school district,” she said.
Foose warned the board that she’s always “all in” and can sometimes get intense, but said she’s willing to work with the community.
“I can listen to people I don’t agree with,” she said. “I don’t have a pet issue. I don’t have a thing where I beat that drum so loud, I don’t hear what’s going on.”
The unanimous board vote to select Foose was held after a short executive session. Board Vice Chairman Kyle Yancy said it was a hard decision.
“You’re all in and I look forward to working with you,” he said to Foose.
Olsen said he appreciated the time the candidates took to apply.
“I appreciate Tara’s desire and her heart,” he said.
Board member Mac Mikkelsen said he was pleased that there were three candidates for the position since board incumbents often run for re-election unopposed.
“Thank you all for coming tonight,” he said.
Foose will be sworn in at the next regular board meeting at 6 p.m. March 22 at Lakeside Middle School, 6169 Highway 291.
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