OGDEN – Several Ogden School Board of Education candidates are in support of an $87 million bond initiative on the ballot in November.
At a public forum Wednesday, both incumbent and new candidates fielded questions regarding the district’s graduation rate, diversity, standardized testing and the bond, which if passed will fund renovations at several area schools.
“I would love to see the bond passed and I would love to see those dollars put into the right places so we can see our schools flourish,” candidate Saren Loosli said.
Loosli is trying to oust 14-year board member Joyce Wilson in District 7. Sunni Wilkinson and Iain Hueton are running for sitting board president Jeff Heiner’s seat in District 4 with Heiner opting not to run. Incumbent Douglas Barker and David Smith are vying for the District 2 post, though Smith was not at the forum.
Wilkinson said she has visited all but three of the district’s elementary schools as part of her campaign and supports the bond because it would make some schools safer. She said aside from the New Bridge School, which opened in 2016, she found security lacking.
“You could walk in and wander the halls and nobody would know you’re there,” she said. “You need a building where you are able to go into a lockdown.”
The $87 million bond will fund the renovation of Polk Elementary School and replacement of Horace Mann and T.O. Smith elementary schools. An addition would also be built on to Wasatch Elementary School.
This comes after a failed 2017 bond initiative where the district asked for $106.5 million to rebuild three elementary schools, renovate the Ben Lomond High School gym and build Professional Gateway Centers at every junior high school.
Wilson said she was in favor of the previous bond but has listened to voters’ concerns and supports the new iteration.
“About 85-87 percent of our budget is salary and benefits,” she said. “There’s very little left to take care of everything else that needs to happen in a school district. That’s how bonding comes about.”
Hueton also touched on the previous bond, saying he voted against it because it was poorly planned and too large. He still has reservations about the bond that will be on the ballot this fall but ultimately supports it because it’s necessary to improve the safety and functionality of Ogden’s schools.
Barker said he is in favor of the bond but he would have liked it to be bigger. But according to district data, this bond requires a tax increase. The property taxes on an average valued home of $196,000 would go up by about $11.50 per month.
“But do we want to all pay for it? That’s the key,” Barker said.
The bond initiative will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Candidates also discussed Utah’s benchmark test system, specifically the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence, more commonly known as SAGE. Most agreed there needs to me some way to measure school performance but the current system isn’t working.
“A lot of kids are opting out so we’re not getting a clear picture,” Loosli said. “SAGE scores aren’t really meaning much.”
Ogden’s SAGE dropout rate has increased in recent years from .5 percent in 2015 to 2.6 percent in 2017, according to data from the Utah State Board of Education.
Scores have hovered around 30 percent proficient in all categories since 2014. The most recent data from the state shows 35 percent of students tested proficient in language arts, 31 percent proficient in math and 32 percent proficient in science.
These scores are all below the state average in each category. Statewide, 44 percent of students tested proficient in language arts, 46 percent did in math and 48 percent did in science.
Hueton called benchmark testing a “handicap.”
“You make (testing) mandatory or use an incentive,” he said. “ACT and SAT have an incentive because they’re trying to get into college but in the third grade, what do you offer a kid?”
Candidates also discussed the district’s graduation rate, which was 75 percent as of the 2016-2017 school year. That was 11 percent lower than the state average according to data from the Utah State Board of Education.
Barker and Wilson talked about the need to build pathways through school to higher education and gainful employment.
“A lot of parents don’t also realize their kids can go to a technical college for free as a secondary student, Wilson said.
Wilkinson said a districtwide preschool program would give students the best start possible to finish school successfully.
Candidates also spoke in favor of increasing mental health support for students and being racially and economically inclusive. The meeting was hosted by the Weber County League of Women Voters.