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School board hopefuls sound off during forum

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Weld RE-8 Board of Education candidates discuss teacher pay, student achievement

By Ben Wiebesiek

FORT LUPTON — The public met the community members running for school board during a candidate forum Oct. 3 at the Fort Lupton Recreation Center
    District voters will choose board directors during this year’s general election Nov. 5.
    Running for a four-year-term in District C is Gary Montoya, who works for the city manager’s office for Brighton.
    “Much like some of the other people running, I also have two kids right now: One at the middle school, one at Butler Elementary. It’s safe to say I have skin the game. I have heard stories, I have seen results of how our schools have been working over the last few years and to see how students are going to have a challenge getting into college because the schools just aren’t hitting the mark. That’s a major, major problem.”

    Before running for the school board, Montoya said he had several conversations with his wife, who sits on the district’s parent-teacher-student association.
    “We felt like this was the right move,” Montoya said. “I grew up here, graduated in 1991 At that time, we had a lot of continuity within not just the community, but the school system as well.”
    Montoya’s opponent in the race, Janice Wilkin, was not present at the candidate forum. The two candidates are running to replace outgoing incumbent Daline Long.
    In District D, incumbent SuzAnn McCrumb is running unopposed. She disagreed with several candidates in the forum about the assessment of the current school board.
    “I am very proud of our school district. I think we have wonderful teachers. I think we have wonderful administration. And I think the staff, as a whole including the school board, I think we work really hard to educate the children,” McCrumb said. “We’re not Cherry Creek; we’re not St. Vrain. We’re Fort Lupton, and we have to deal with the issues that are Fort Lupton.”
    McCrumb is running for a four-year term.
    The term for a board member running for District E is two years, but neither candidate for this district lacked any polish as they spoke about their goals for the Weld Re-8 schools.
    “I was on the board 11 years ago. I served for two terms,” said Vicki Montoya. “At that time, I was on the calendar committee, the budget committee, and negotiations more than once. I want to run because there’s always room for improvement. I want to be part of the process. I want to ask the right questions. And represent students, families, teachers, classified to the best of my ability.”
    Montoya and her opponent, Mike Simone, focused on the effects of teachers’ pay and district outcomes.
    “We do need better quality education for our children in this district, and we get that by the teachers,” Montoya said. “In the last few years, we have lost so many good, qualified teachers. This last year, we lost 41 teachers. That’s a problem.”
    Montoya recommended that the district inquire with the teachers who have left about the reasons they didn’t continue their careers with Re-8.
    “And put that information to good use to keep teachers,” Montoya said. “Then raise salaries. Your kids get used to the same teachers, they’re happy. Your parents get used to the same teachers, they’re happy. So it’s a win-win situation.”
    Simone, former mayor of Firestone, said the real discrepancy in teachers’ pay was more obvious at the five-year mark, after which many Fort Lupton teachers are lured away by salaries that can be $5,000 more a year in other districts.
    “I see a school district with a lot of potential, with a lot of caring teachers and a lot of citizens who are concerned,” Simone said. “This school district has been stagnant for too many years. Now, I’ll give you some of my experience: I dealt with the St. Vrain school district when I was mayor. When I moved to the Tri-Towns, those schools were in a very similar situation to what you have here. They had at least five schools out of the forty schools in the St. Vrain school district on academic probation. Three of them were in the Tri-Towns and we only had four schools. And as the mayor, I thought it was my duty to get involved.”
    Simone is a chiropractic physician, and he has an 11-year-old son at Quest Academy.
    “I taught anatomy and physiology, along with general biology and some other college classes at Front Range (Community College) and a couple of other community colleges. I did that for about 17 years. I was mayor of Firestone from 2002 to 2008. I volunteer at St. Vrain and Fort Lupton School districts for over 10 years,” Simone said. “I currently teach anatomy and physiology to the second-through-eighth graders at Quest — and, this year, a couple of the kindergartners. In Fort Lupton, I’m a member of the housing authority board and the chairman of the planning commission.”
    In District F, three candidates are running: Frank Alvarado, Jr., Gilbert Cardenas and Shannon Rhoda.
    In his introduction to the audience, Alvarado highlighted his business experience, and his desire for more respectful students.
    “The reason I’m running for the board of education is I’m very much concerned about discipline and lack of respect,” Alvarado said. “I’ve been involved with Fort Lupton schools for about 20-some years in one form or another.”
    Cardenas was able to point to his own children as success stories: His daughter graduated sixth in her class in 2006, and in 2010 his son was valedictorian.
    “We need to get involved and advocate for the children, and they need to be prepared,” Cardenas said. “I want to help advocate for all the students in our community, and for me, that’s supporting our teachers and administrators to allow them to provide a competitive, quality education to all students. I believe I’m qualified for this position because I’m invested in the community and our schools as well as having been a parent of two former students.”
    Rhoda agreed with Montoya that the district web pages were in need of updates.
    “The website has to be fixed,” Rhoda said. “A lot of times, parents can’t go to the schools and meet with the teachers and find out what’s going on and get that information that they need to get. It’s got to be put on the website. That way the parent the parent can just pull it up and find the information with links for wherever they need to go for homework help, etc. Short and sweet.”
    In District G, incumbent Janelle Perez is facing off against Fort Lupton councilman Kevin Schwickrath.
    “The reason I want to run for school board is because I am a current member and I want to ensure the board continues its work,” Perez said. “I was born and raised in Fort Lupton. I graduated from Fort Lupton High School. and I’m also an educator myself; I’ve worked for Brighton’s school district as a special education coordinator. And I think that helps me bring knowledge about education and school systems as a board member. And I just want to contribute to the district.”
    Schwickrath admitted that serving on school board could be a thankless job, but one he felt was worthwhile.
    “Everyone, they’re going to have different opinions, and it’s going to be tough no matter which way you go or which way your personal beliefs send you,” Schwickrath said. “I think that our school district needs help. I think that I can potentially bring that here, if I was given the opportunity. You know, it’s all going to be really up to how much everybody here wants to help us. We’ve got a good number of people here, but it’s not just the school board that’s going to fix these problems. We’re going to need the parents; we’re going to need the teachers. We’re all going to have to get involved. All we can do up here is policy. We can’t dictate down to the classroom level. We’re not really given the microphone even if we wanted to.”
    No candidates submitted qualified applications for District A by the Aug. 7 deadline for this year’s election.    The forum was sponsored by the Fort Lupton Education Association.