School Board Candidates and the Bond

While I’m far from done posting about the GO Bond, I want to use this space to talk a little bit about candidates in the upcoming school board election. I’m planning to do at least short entries on each of the 7 candidates that are vying for positions on the board.  Today though, I want to talk briefly about the general field of candidates and the GO Bond, and to make some recommendations.

In general, I strongly recommend that you vote for candidates who are using their platforms to urge passage of the bond. It’s certainly not the only issue in this election, or the only issue facing the District, but it is preeminent in terms of timeliness, and it’s adoption puts the new board on better footing to address other issues.  Because the bond requires a 60% approval in order to pass, the question of how candidates are using the spotlight they gain from running is important. Candidates who urge voters to pass the Bond demonstrate a clear understanding of these points.

Happily for me, (and I hope for all of you as well) the candidates who publicly and vocally support the Bond are also the candidates who are most qualified to address the District’s other issues going forward. Unhappily for me (but happily for the District, because one of these two will definitely be seated on the board) two of these candidates are running against each other.

These two candidates are Charlie Eastham and Shawn Eyestone.  I have worked beside Shawn in the District Parents Organization for years, and I have supported him since he declared his candidacy.  I have a sign for him in my yard and I respect his judgment, temperament, and knowledge of district issues a great deal.  I have seen Charlie Eastham at school board meetings, work sessions, and listening posts often over the years, and have come to greatly respect his nuanced understanding of equity.  I was overjoyed when I heard he was entering the race, but the fact that he and Shawn are competing for the same 2-year seat is unfortunate.

In the race for the 3 four year seats, JP Claussen, Janet Godwin, and Ruthina Malone have all urged passage of the bond and have made strong, clear arguments on its behalf.  Each has also demonstrated qualities that would do them well in the process of overseeing implementation of projects on the Facilities Master Plan. Godwin and Malone have both articulated detailed and holistic visions regarding the challenges facing the District and how the board can align itself best to address those challenges. Malone has paid particular attention to the relationships between the Board, administration, and families, and Godwin shows a great understanding of what it takes to make a public board work effectively. Both have professional backgrounds that prepare them well for this work.  Claussen brings great passion to the table, and the knowledge and experience gained by being a special education teacher in our District.  Since his last run for Board, he seems to have abetted his passion with a commitment to listening to and responding thoughtfully to opposing viewpoints.

Karen Woltman, who is also running for a 4-year seat, has not taken a public position on the passage of the bond, saying only that she will “abide by the will of the voters.”  I have friends who have great respect for her thoughts on issues of curriculum and instruction, but I’m dismayed by Woltman’s ambiguous stance here. Any director elected will have to abide by the will of the voters wrt the GO Bond. If someone doesn’t have or won’t offer an unambiguous position on such an important issue, then I’m not inclined to vote to put them in charge of the disposition of said issue. I do agree with her stated desire to move the board’s focus away from buildings and towards learning, but that goal would be better served by passing the bond than not doing so.

Laura Westemeyer is, at least, clear in her opposition to the Bond.  Her initial statements, suggesting that this bond needed to be put forth under a new set of directors, made it seem that she did not quite understand her own role if elected regarding the bond’s implementation.  She’s since clarified that what she wants is to be part of a board that writes a new bond, with said new bond adding an elementary school in the North, revisiting Hills Elementary, and also somehow being smaller than the current ask. Her statements regarding schools being left out of the bond don’t show much familiarity with the work already done on the Facilities Master Plan (and therefore not needing to be paid for with bonding authority).  I have other reservations about Westemeyer, including  an apparent contradiction between her vocal advocacy for the rights of disabled students in this race, and her citation for unlawfully denying a disabled tenant permission to keep a service animal.

Given what I’ve argued above, I urge you to see support for the GO Bond as a bright line between candidates in this election.

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Author: Eric D. Johnson

I do American Studies (PhD University of Iowa 2012) scholarship, including but not limited to: Race and Genre in American Popular Music, Critical Southern Studies, and African American Memory and History in the Ozarks. I also write about educational policy and politics, focusing on integration and desegregation and the intersection of school and housing policies.

3 thoughts on “School Board Candidates and the Bond”

  1. There should be no question about Karen Woltman’s commitment to the Democratic Party or her commitment to public education.

    We all know how supportive Representative
    Amy Nielsen is of public education with her campaign speeches emphasizing more funding for our public schools. Karen’s values matched Nielsen’s so perfectly that she put in a lot of time to help her get elected!

    I hope people put these false reasons to rest instead of continuing to perpetuate this falsehood everywhere on Facebook.

    Check out the Amy Nielsen for Iowa page to see photographic evidence and a thank you to Karen Woltman on Election Day 2016.

    1. I do appreciate that Karen helped Amy Nielsen’s campaign. And that’s not the only good thing she’s done. But I have a hard time squaring an unequivocal commitment to public education with her family’s contributions to right wing politicians in the state (including Steve King) I do appreciate that she’s given time and money to Democratic politicians as well, and I appreciate the fact that her and her husband’s political positions seem to differ from hers. But the labor that she contributes to their household subsidizes his significant donations to state Republicans who have worked to gut collective bargaining for teachers and who have been starving our schools for per-pupil funding for years. Were she simply remaining a private citizen, this might not be such a meaningful conflict, but she’s running for School Board. This gives me pause, and her equivocation on the bond is a deal breaker for me. Your mileage may vary.

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