ROY – Weber School Board candidates introduced themselves to the community on Tuesday at an event hosted by the League of Women Voters. Only candidates in contested districts participated.
Jan Burrell and Marcia Geilmann are running for the seat in Precinct 2, which is comprised of a portion of Roy.
Burrell currently works in the student services department of Weber School District as a coordinator and is close to retiring. She taught for 24 years in multiple grade levels, ranging from second to ninth, and has 17 years of experience in student services and counseling, including six years as an elementary school counselor.
Geilmann also has teaching experience. She has lived in Roy for 31 years and “taught in almost every Roy school you could teach at,” she said at the meeting. She served an officer in the Weber Education Association and has experience lobbying state legislators in that role.
Stacy Palen is challenging Paul Widdison, the incumbent, for the Precinct 4 seat, which includes Hooper, West Haven, Taylor, Marriott-Slaterville, Plain City, parts of Farr West and other communities in western Weber County.
Palen is a professor of physics at Weber State University and has worked there since 2002. She has been the director of the Ott Planetarium in Ogden since 2003 and has 24 years of experience working in astrophysics. Palen is a first-generation college graduate and the first in her family to earn a PhD. She grew up in several different states and worked at the University of Washington before settling in Utah.
Widdison, the incumbent, was originally selected by the Weber School Board to fill the open board position after Richard Favero died unexpectedly in January 2017. Widdison’s background is in business. Born and raised in Hooper, he has 35 years of experience in the aerospace industry and currently works for Northrop Grumman at a rocket motor facility, which was formerly owned by Orbital ATK.
Question 1 calls for a tax increase of 10 cents per gallon on gas, which is projected to yield $180 million in tax revenue.
The increased gas tax revenue will go toward transportation costs that are currently paid for by the state general fund. This will free up $180 million dollars from the general fund that can then be put toward public education.
Question 1 is a non-binding public vote, meaning that it is a show of voter opinion. A gas tax will not occur without action from the Utah Legislature.
Regarding Question 1, Burrell said “any funding for kids is going to be good funding. I think any investment that we give to education is going to be a good investment.”
Geilmann is also in favor of Question 1, but she is concerned that “it doesn’t specifically delineate how much money will go to the schools and how much money will go to the streets.” Having lived in the times of Gov. Norman Bangerter, Geilmann says she saw school money go toward road construction.
Palen’s favorite aspect of Question 1 is that it will add a different source of school funding.
“To spread out the school funding among a bunch of different baskets is really smart,” she said. “If you have all of your school money in, say, property taxes and then the real estate market fails again, then all of a sudden you have no money for schools...spreading out how you fund things that are so important, like schools, is really wise.”
Widdison said “Question 1 has very very good intentions and I think it’s needed. I’m not so sure it’s worded exactly right, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Candidates were asked how the district should respond to increasing student diversity in the district.
Burrell said that the first step is to recognize that diversity exists and then to realize that we are more alike than different. “We don’t want to tolerate diversity,” she said. “We want to embrace it.” She believes schools should continue working on equity initiatives, which provide varying levels of support based on student need.
Geilmann said that she is “known for not seeing color.” Instead, she said, “I see kids.” She also thinks that schools need to provide adequate resources for English language learners.
Palen finds it “really exciting to get a lot of different kinds of brains in a room ... especially people with different languages. They think differently because they have different words for things — they have words for things that we don’t have words for. And that ... makes creativity happen when you put a bunch of people with different backgrounds in a room together.”
She pointed out, however, than often diverse groups are not as familiar with navigating schools and colleges, and schools should provide additional resources to assist them, particularly parents.
Widdison said all children should be able to feel safe, secure and happy at school so that they are able to learn.
“With diversity comes new ideas ... it’s not a right or wrong thing,” Widdison said. “These people...have marvelous backgrounds and culture that they can bring in and edify everybody, and so with parents, with students, we need to be open and accepting of that, because they can bring a lot into our lives and make things better.”
Burrell says that testing can take away from the student-teacher relationship. While students should have academic skills when they graduate, they should also have relationship skills.
“I taught in the day when we didn’t teach to the test,” Geilmann said. “I taught in the day when we taught kids.” Geilmann has three nieces who are kindergarten teachers. They tell her that they could spend twice as much time as teaching students if they didn’t spend so much time testing. She sees this as her answer to the testing question.
Palen said tests are “not terribly good diagnostic tools, so they don’t actually tell you what you think that they tell you a lot of the time.” In addition, she thinks that tests create adversarial relationships between teachers and the community, the legislature and the school board.
Benchmarks in certain grades are appropriate in Palen’s view, but test results should be used to help kids, not punish schools and teachers.
Widdison thinks “testing puts teachers in a bind ... because things are forced upon them.” Sometimes, he said, this is because government money is tied to certain programs or tests. He also agreed with the previous comments from the other candidates.
When asked about the rise of charter schools, Burrell said she thinks they have grown because “we’ve become very choice-oriented in our society.” She thinks this is a parent’s right to choose, but she also pointed to several opportunities for school choice within Weber School District such as Weber Innovation High School.
Geilmann sees charter schools as an outgrowth of the desire of legislators to move public money to private schools. When that failed, charters were an alternative. While there are positive aspects to competition, she said, she is concerned that traditional public schools are losing some of their most supportive families to charters.
Palen thinks the rise of charter schools is complicated. She expressed concern over an increasing divide between parents who have time to find charter schools and transport their children to them, and parents who don’t have time because they are working multiple jobs, like her parents did. The support of other parents in her community was crucial to her success.
Widdison thinks parents saw that their children wanted to go in a specific direction, such as the arts or software, and that specialized charters would give them that opportunity.
Burrell, Palen, and Widdison all agreed that charter schools are often focused on certain specialities and subject areas, and parent and students have been increasingly interested in this specialization.