In the Park City and South Summit School Districts, Board of Education elections are heated. The South Summit Board of Education has three seats open this year, with three incumbents and three challengers for each seat, making canvasing a common sight. In Park City, three positions are open, with two seats that will be filled by new candidates as two current members step down. One of those seats, the District Three position, has two candidates running.
The Park City Board of Education race started with several candidates for the District Two and Three seats but with two candidates eliminated in the June primary and another two who withdrew, only one seat, District Three, is contested. The two running, Tania Knauer and Kristen Brown, would both be new additions to the board, filling current board member Anne Bransford's seat.
The school district has several big issues on the docket in the coming years, including hiring to replace former Superintendent Ray Timothy, said current Board President Moe Hickey, who is running unopposed for his position.
"The school board really only controls budget and policy," Hickey said. "Even though a lot of people like to think we hire and fire principals and teachers, we are only responsible for two positions: the superintendent and the business administrator. The most important will be the superintendent postion which the new board will hire. Of course there will be plenty of community input, but the board will make the final decision."
"Regardless of the election results, I think we will have a good board in place," he added, "because qualified people are running, which is good for the district."
Both Tania Knauer and Kristen Brown have a history of working with the school district, serving as room moms, on parent-teacher organizations and both have financial work experience. Knauer, who has also served as a parent on board-elected committees and in School Community Council, said her priority is to support science and math programs.
"My priority is STEM: science, technology, engineering and math," Knauer said. "The top 15 college degrees for students, where there are jobs available and they can earn a living wage, are STEM jobs."
"I think it's amazing that if you are a kid and when you are in college and considering engineering, how will you know that is what you want to do? Most kids have never done anything with engineering by the time they enter college."
Knauer also hit on budget discussions from the past year, an issue she said she has tracked since the beginning, and said there are simple steps the district could take, like creating a three-year budgetary overview.
Kristen Brown, mother of three children in Park City schools, said she decided to run based on the current school district finances. Brown said she wanted to focus on morale issues between the district and its teachers as well as support a pilot program for teacher evaluations.
"There is a lot of uncertainty," she said. "Change is always difficult, but I think it will be positive."
Brown said she also is concerned with reading programs, hoping to have a greater impact on English Language Learners.
"Science and math are important, but so is literacy," Brown said, "especially with so many students who are second language learners."
District Two has one candidate running unopposed, Nancy Garrison. Lisa Kirchenheiter will step down from the board, bringing in a new member for constituents.
"I have been an advocate for public school, a product of public school and public college and my children had fantastic experiences in this school district," Garrison said. "When I completed my Master's Degree in education, I was trying to figure out what do, how to make a difference."
As district budget issues came to light last year, Garrison said she decided to run.
"There is an overarching concern, and that is financial sustainability," she added. " We need to make sure programs are making difference the way we think they are. The budget is, far and away, what I'm hearing about most as an important issue."
In South Summit, current board members Matthew Leavitt, Craig Hicken and Jim Snyder are all defending their seats. And one issue for current board members and opponents alike keeps coming to the forefront: budget. As opponents campaign in Francis, Oakley and Kamas speaking with constituents, that point has become a platform in the race.
"The biggest issue facing the district, like everywhere else, is funding," said Kamas resident and mother Suni Woolstenhulme, who is running for District One against Leavitt. "We have to balance the needs of students with resources, and resources seem to be diminishing and the biggest challenge facing students is coming ready (to school) to learn. A lot of students become very distracted, whether its media or working job and going to school or their home environment, there is a lot of pressure on kids now."
Leavitt, who has served for one, four-year-long term, agreed that budget issues are a continuing concern, and that balancing district growth with the budget has been an ongoing topic in meetings.
"I believe the biggest issue for the district is funding," Leavitt, who has children in the three district schools, said. "A big source of income for us comes from property taxes, but the state redistributes that funding. I don't think that is fair. If our constituents vote for a certain rate for property taxes, that rate should go to their students. With funding, in my opinion, it is unfair and hurts other public schools."
Leavitt said he was also concerned with Common Core, a state-mandated grade level standards that are dramatically changing the teaching format in classrooms across Utah. The Common core program will allow the state to better compare test scores of students against other states and was supported by the Utah State Office of Education two years ago when it was first adopted. Through the program, teachers are asked to meet the standard but are not given the equipment or textbooks to do so, he said.
"I am a fan of the common core, but I'm not a fan of how it was implemented," Leavitt said.
Craig Hicken, fellow incumbent who also served one term as the District Two seat, said he decided to run again to continue work he began four years ago in the school district, including the budget and continuing growth.
"I decided I would like one more term to see through what we've been doing," Hicken said. " I think the big thing I bring as a candidate is experience. I have sat on board for past four years and feel like I am in tune with the issues of the school district. I have lived in the community most of my adult life, and grew up in Summit County. I understand the challenges of a smaller school district."
In his time serving as a board member, Hicken said one of his biggest initiatives was transparency to the community, to build up district communication which has been an annual goal of the South Summit Board of Education for the past few years.
But opponent Tony Gortat, a Kamas resident and employee of the Granite School District, said he felt communication was still lacking.
"I have been canvasing a lot," Gortat said. "Communication really is important and that happens everywhere. Even in the Granite School District, it can be hard to get everyone in the same loop. As a board member, I am hoping I would be approachable, that people know they can talk to me."
Kim Simpson, who is running against Jim Snyder for District 3, was unavailable to comment.
Elections will be held on Nov. 6. For more information on where and how to vote, visit vote.utah.gov.
South Summit School District Board Precincts
District #1: Oakley City
District #2: Kamas City
District #3: Francis
District #4: South Summit East/Peoa/Weber Canyon
District #5: South Summit South/South Summit West
Park City School District Board Precincts
District #1: Deer Valley North/Deer Valley South/Old Town North/Old Town South/Prospector/Sidewinder/Thaynes Canyons
District #2: Highland Estates East/Highland Estates West/ Park Meadows North/Ranch Place/Snyders Mill
District #3: Park West/Park Meadows South/Quarry Mountain/Ranch Road South/Silver Springs
District #4: Bittner/Jeremy East/Jeremy West/Kimball Canyon/Lower Silver Creek/Moose Hollow/Red Hawk/ Silver Creek/Upper Silver Creek
District #5: Lower Pinebrook/Pinebrook North/Summit Park East/Summit Park West/ Upper Pinebrook/ Wagon Wheel