Outgoing president of school board reflects on service
Tania Knauer says school district is poised for success in the future
Ever since her first child enrolled in the Park City School District in 2001, Tania Knauer has been involved in education in Park City.
For years, she volunteered for parent-teacher organizations and served on community councils. Then, in 2013, she was elected to the Park City Board of Education, where she spent the last two years as the body’s president. With her term on the board expiring at the end of the month, Knauer is now looking forward to being involved in a different way.
Knauer said she is not stepping away completely from education in Park City but will funnel most of her efforts into her new role on the board of directors of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
In the early part of her time on Board of Education, she said, parents were starting to become aware of issues like rape on college campuses, but the district was doing little to arm high school students with the knowledge they needed about consent and sexual health. In response, Knauer helped Park City High School form a Planned Parenthood Teen Council, which has flourished in recent years.
Knauer is hopeful she can help further those efforts — and bring them to more schools in Utah — from her position with Planned Parenthood.
“It’s obvious that there’s a need, and if you talk to teenagers, they want to talk about this stuff,” she said. “They want resources. I had been very supportive of bringing Teen Council in and it’s really grown. Everyone knows who these kids are now, and everyone is going to them.”
Knauer is leaving the Board of Education after having presided over a period of change in the Park City School District. She said that, in many ways, the district is on much more solid footing than when she came into office.
Four years ago, she said, the district budget typically ran in the red, and many programs were operating without clear implantation plans. Now, the budget is balanced and those same programs are thriving. Knauer credited the other board members and leadership from Superintendent Ember Conley with the change and said she was proud to have been a part of it.
“There was just a lot of clean-up to be done, and in the last two years I really feel like we’ve accomplished a lot of that clean-up,” she said. “The first thing we did (when I joined the board) was hire a superintendent, and I think she’s rolled up her sleeves and cleaned stuff up.”
The district has also built a rapport with teachers during Knauer’s tenure, she said. Four years ago, the district was embroiled in protracted, 18-month salary negotiations with teachers, straining relationships and trust. After a much smoother negotiations process in 2015, many bonds have been rebuilt.
Knauer said those renewed relationships are already bearing fruit.
“Slowly, we’ve been building morale back,” she said. “We meet with the leadership of all the groups once a month or every other month, and I think we have a very open relationship. We have minutes to those meetings and make them available, so I think there’s a lot more transparency, as well, and people feel like the board is willing to listen and make changes that are necessary.”
Despite the progress the district has made, Knauer acknowledged that there is plenty of work remaining. Notably, the district still has pressing facility needs that are set to deepen as enrollment grows. After a $56 million bond measure that would have addressed many of those needs failed last fall, a new process is underway to build an expansion of the high school. The district will also explore building a new elementary school or school for fifth- and sixth-graders in coming years.
Knauer is optimistic the board she served on laid the groundwork to make those efforts successful and to ensure the long-term health of the district.
“Through a painful bond process, we were able to at least get the acknowledgement that we need a capital plan in place,” she said. “… I think we’re headed in the right direction so we can continue to offer a great education, nice classrooms and enough classrooms so we can keep the classrooms small.”
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