by Jack Minor –
Eleven of the fourteen candidates running for positions on the Greeley/Evans school board stated at a forum sponsored by the Greeley 9/12 project that they believed in local control, however for some, other questions seemed to contradict that belief.
The candidates were asked questions on a wide range of issues ranging from discipline to America’s Christian heritage in schools.
The Gazette asked the candidates the following question: “Do you believe all funding and educational standards should be handled strictly at the local level, and if not, then what is the role of the state and local government?”
All the candidates agreed that all control should be as local as possible. Bret Elliot said, “The federal government has no constitutional authority to mess with our schools.”
Richard Reilly said he would like to see the district eventually pay its own way and be able to exempt itself from state and federal regulations.
Valerie Leal-Whitehead also agreed educational issues should be handled locally, and floated the possibility of chartering the entire district.
Marlene Schuman criticized the federal government’s control over education as embodied in the “No Child Left Behind” bill. Mark Hinze also agreed saying, “The federal and state government should only be involved in an advisory, not a regulatory role. Local control has largely diminished in this state.”
The other candidates echoed similar positions.
While all of the candidates supported local control, for some, subsequent answers to questions appeared to contradict that stand.
On the question of Proposition 103, several of the candidates said they supported the measure. If passed, Prop. 103 would increase state income and sales taxes for five years. The money would be distributed to local districts to use for public or higher education. The bill does not specify exactly how the monies collected are to be distributed to school districts.
Elliot pointed out Prop. 103 only requires the revenues collected from the tax increase go to education funding the first year the tax is collected. In subsequent years the state can spend the money as it sees fit. “We are not undertaxed, it’s how we spend the money.”
Reilly supports 103 because he believes the district will not have the funding necessary without it.
Suzanne Doerner said she supports 103, “The district cannot afford any more cuts.” Whitehead said she supports the tax increase but expressed concern that the measure does not specify exactly how the funds are to be distributed. Whitehead is concerned District 6 may not gets its fair share of funding if the measure passes.
Echoing similar sentiments, Marlene Schuman also opposed Prop. 103, acknowledging that she had flip-flopped on the issue.
Doug Lidiak stated he is also opposed to the measure.
A member of the audience who wishes to remain anonymous because of their relationship with the district said, “How can you say you believe in local control and support 103? The funding will come with strings attached.”
On the question of vouchers, several candidates deferred to the state, rather than stand for local control.
Hinze said, “The courts have already said ‘No’ to vouchers. We do not make laws.”
Schuman agreed with Hinze that the issue was settled and that if a parent wants to send a child to a private school the parent should take responsibility for that choice. “If I make a choice to send my child to a private school, that is my choice but it is also my money.”
Leal-Whitehead and Doerner were also opposed to vouchers. Doerner said, “I believe in public education.”
Reilly stated the district already had competition with the number of charter schools in the district.
The other candidates expressed various degrees of support for some type of voucher system.
The candidates were also asked what they would do to reverse recent trends to revise and remove historical references to the Christian principles that guided the founding fathers as they wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
Geoff Broughton said there was already a legal way to do so. Broughton said several churches in the area had offered to donate curriculum to the district that would provide information about the Bible and Christianity as it applied to America’s founding and history. The curriculum has been approved by several courts around the country. Broughton said the district rejected the materials.
Hinze spoke in defense of the district’s rejection saying, “I’d rather spend my money on education than legal defense. I can’t imagine what it would it would be like to teach Christian learning as part of the lesson.” Hinze continued, “We’d have to honor the Muslims, the agnostics and others.”
Elliot took issue with Hinze’s response saying, “This is the United States of America, our foundation is the Bible. If they want to live under Sharia law they should have stayed where they were.”
Logan Richardson said, “It is important to teach the facts of history; whatever they are.”
Scott Rankin said he understands that we have students from other religions, but it is important for all students to know the details of how the country was founded.
Tim Pike agreed, saying that Christianity should be taught as part of American history.
Reilly said, “You cannot learn about the founding fathers without learning about Christianity. When you study American history and western civilization, Christianity is a massive part of it and to take it out destroys the history.”
Schuman acknowledged that Christian principles including prayer and the bible had historically been taught in schools; however she said we have now moved to a point where religious beliefs are solely a private matter and been taken out of the education system. “Our district has students from 65 different countries and they represent many religions. How do we present all the different beliefs?”
Lidiak acknowledged that as board members they had to work with legislatures, but said “we can’t divorce the historical facts from our kid’s education.”
Doerner said she did not support teaching religion in the schools.
Leal-Whitehead responded saying “I would have no trouble with having classes about the Bible from an historical perspective.”