ST. GEORGE – Two candidates running for Utah State School Board of education in Southern Utah will represent District 15.
Michelle Boulter and Wesley Christiansen are both running independently; Boulter received 35.85 percent of votes in the June primary election while Christiansen received 24.56 percent. Both spoke at a Dixie Republican Forum in St. George.
Boulter is a mother of three and has worked at the George Washington Academy, a charter school located in St. George. She decided to run for office after contacting the state school board for documents and receiving only “talking points,” she said.
Wesley Christiansen taught school for 31 years and spent 13 years working at Dixie State University, where he is currently employed. He served for 12 years as a member of the Washington County School District Board of Education and 28 years in the military, retiring from the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base.
Boulter and Christiansen both responded by email to questions posed by St. George News.
Question: Are you in favor of rejecting federal funds for education in Utah, and if so, how would the funding be made up? What specific measures would you use to give more control back to the local schools and parents?
Boulter believes Utah should forgo accepting federal funds for education in favor of more local control.
“The state of Utah currently receives less than 10 percent in funding for education from the federal government and we are giving up our autonomy,” she said.
“We hear from our politicians about the importance of state and local control, yet Utah continues to take every federal initiative. I would like to see a budget drawn up without the federal monies so that we can have this discussion,” she said.
“To my knowledge, this has not been done. If we really want our autonomy back, then I believe it’s worth taking a good hard look at it.”
Boulter believes that under current educational reforms, parents come in last.
“There is a trend of lumping parents into a list of ‘stakeholders’ in their children’s education. This is wrong. We have a duty to work closely with parents who see the effects of state and local board decisions in the lives of their children,” she said, adding that while the support of other stakeholders is appreciated, they should never be placed on equal footing as a parent.
“Remove all the mandates out of the classrooms that are currently happening with these new education reforms,” she said. “Stop micromanaging our teachers.”
Christiansen is against federal control of the educational system but would not reject federal funding.
“We already have a shortage of 900 teachers in Utah this would lead to 500 more layoffs in classrooms that are already the largest in the nation. Special education and school lunch would also be cut with Title I schools losing their funding,” he said. “We need to convince the feds to loosen their control.”
The function of the State School Board is to provide a minimal framework to the local school boards, Christiansen said.
The local boards should then have the authority to add to that framework to suit local needs including curriculum, minimum day and year, graduation requirements, and activity and art programs, he said.
“Parents now have programs such as ‘Power School,’ that enables them to keep up-to-the-minute track of their student’s progress. Parents have community councils that they can participate in,” he said.
Parents should contact their local school board members to express ideas and concerns and keep in touch with their student’s teachers, Christiansen said.
Question: How will you hold the Washington County School District responsible for financial irregularities uncovered in two recent audits?
A Utah State Board of Education audit of Enterprise High School released in early 2016 addressed concerns about financial and compliance practices; another audit by the Utah State Auditor’s Office released in April concerned internal control and compliance of credit card use.
Boulter said mismanagement of money is not limited to local school boards. The Utah State Office of Education acknowledged in a Feb. 2 appropriations committee hearing that it does not have adequate grant management systems in place, he said, and warned of the potential mismanagement of billions of dollars, she said.
In addition, the Legislature recently voted to remove the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation out from under the education office’s control and place it in the Department of Workforce Services, Boulter said. The transfer was accomplished with House Bill 325 during the 2016 general session and a final transition plan was submitted June 1, 2016.
“As for Washington County School District, I feel this would be best handled at the local level making sure that the district answers to the taxpayers. I would hope that a thorough investigation was done into how this happened,” she said.
Christiansen said a recent State School Board audit was more damaging than audits of the local school district.
“Audits are essential in keeping the public trust. I served on the Washington County School Board for twelve years and worked closely with the superintendent and business manager, they are men of extreme honesty,” he said.
“I support them 100 percent and expect that they will remedy the problems and follow through with any punishments that are required. It is required of audits that they will be remedied and complied with, which also includes changes in accounting practices. This is one of the more important duties of the State School Board.”
Question: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your time in office?
“I firmly stand for the fundamental right of parents to guide the educational decisions of their children,” Boulter said. “Unfortunately, with the new reforms, this fundamental right of parents to guide their child’s education has been flipped on its head.”
“Under the current educational reforms, the state’s role is seen as primary, special interest groups secondary, and then parents. There is such a great momentum to push these reforms through that parents have lost control as to what is being taught to their children, so much so, that we are no longer consulted. I would like to see parents brought to the table in discussions regarding their children.
Christiansen, if elected, would like to fix the “cumbersome testing program.”
“I plan to remedy the ‘Common Core’ by starting with the math program that Utah jumped into, too fast, without proper support for the teachers and input from stakeholders and shareholders.”
Christiansen would also enact policies and programs to improve teacher morale.
“I hope to make teaching attractive by increasing pay, fixing their retirement program, and facilitating collaboration by not having them compete against each other,” he said.
Christiansen said he is also committed to representing all students, public, private, charter and home-schooled, and doesn’t have an agenda to push one way or the other. He is committed to making all of his decisions on the basis of what is best for the students, he said.
Ed. note: Updated District 15 map.
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