School board candidates meet in online forum
Candidates for three seats on the Park City Board of Education met in a virtual forum hosted by the Park City Rotary Club Tuesday, touching on issues ranging from communication with the public to the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The forum was moderated by KPCW’s Carolyn Murray and was mostly subdued, no surprise given that two of the incumbent candidates — Anne Peters in District 1 and Wendy Crossland in District 3 — are unchallenged. The only contested race, in District 2, sees board President Andrew Caplan facing off against a write-in candidate, Thomas Cooke.
Caplan was running unopposed for reelection until late September, when Cooke, a member of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, announced he would launch a write-in campaign for the position.
Cooke started his campaign on the promise of greater transparency and making more information available to the public. He said the board can do a better job of explaining its thought processes to the community, and that starts with encouraging all of its members to speak to the media.
“My personal feeling is to build trust and transparency we should spread that around a bit,” Cooke said. “It shouldn’t always be one voice. I know that it’s common for the board president to speak on behalf of the board but I think our community would benefit from hearing more voices.”
On the subject of transparency and communication with the public, Caplan said there is “always something that can be improved upon.”
“We recognize that in a world where so much information is so readily available it can be hard to get through the noise,” he said.
Speaking to the district’s master planning process, Caplan said the board will continue to defer to the will of the public.
“If we look back at the last failed bond referendum in 2015, what we learned is that the community needs their voices to be heard,” he said.
Caplan said the board has no intention of moving forward with any major capital improvement projects without support of the public at the ballot box through a bond measure.
Cooke said he doesn’t think the community knows enough about the master planning process and that the board should do more to educate residents.
“As far as how the community feels about bonds, this might be an example of where the board thinks they’re doing a great job of communicating with the public but they are not,” he said.
Cooke also said he thinks the current master plan is “very facility-centric” and not enough about a vision for the future of education, as is the stated goal.
With respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, Caplan said the community should be proud of how it’s handled the adjustments that have been required to keep students and faculty safe.
“The amount of cases we’ve had at our schools has been minimal, and the vast majority of them have been kids getting sick at outside activities, not at school,” he said. “It speaks to the work our staff and teachers have done to keep our schools safe.”
Cooke said he wants to be sure the district is doing everything it can to prepare for any spikes in the community or outbreaks on campuses.
“I think when it comes to our low case count (in Summit County), I think we’ve been good but we’ve also been pretty lucky,” he said. “Park City is a tourist economy, and so there are things beyond our control when it comes to exposure to the virus. I wonder what happens when our luck runs out.”
Anne Peters has served on the board for nearly four years and called it “the greatest thing (she’s) ever done.” She said she’s running for reelection because the board “has started some incredible work” and she’s looking forward to continuing it.
On the subject of communication with the public, Peters was asked about the district’s lack of a communications director and whether that might be problematic. Peters said she doesn’t believe it is.
“I think we do a phenomenal job of communicating,” she said. “I have heard people say we’re not transparent enough, which I kind of scratch my head about. I can’t imagine what more we could possibly say, but I welcome feedback from the community if there are areas we could (do better).”
Wendy Crossland was appointed to her position on the board representing District 3 about a year and a half ago. This is her first election campaign, and she is running unopposed. Crossland, a former attorney and now a social studies teacher at Park City Day School, said she sees her service on the board as an “incredible opportunity” to give back to the community.
“I feel really passionate about having a chance to commit to some of these important initiatives that will impact all the students in our district,” she said.
Crossland said she is not so concerned with the board’s strategy of having a unified voice.
“Andrew speaks for the board, but I speak for myself as an individual,” she said. “Any constituent can reach out to me and I will talk to them. I don’t ask Andrew to talk to them for me.”
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Park City School District is partnering with the Utah Department of Health to provide free rapid testing for COVID-19 to the entire Park City community.