School Board candidates for District 2 discuss pandemic response and need for local control

Composite image: Larry Meyers, left, a write-in candidate, challenges incumbent Craig Seegmiller to represent District 2 for the Washington County School Board of Education, Washington County, Utah, date unspecified | Photos courtesy of Larry Meyers and Craig Seegmiller respectively, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Incumbent Craig Seegmiller and write-in challenger Larry Meyers, both running to represent District 2 for the Washington County School Board of Education, recently spoke to St. George News on issues ranging from local control to Gov. Gary Herbert’s mask mandate.

St. George News asked the candidates to tell voters a little bit about themselves and why they’re running, presented as follows in alphabetical order based on last names.

Larry Meyers

Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job and what issues are most pressing to you?

Meyers, who has lived in District 2 for some 20 years, said he thinks he could be of good service to the county board because of his background and experience. All of his children completed school through the school district and graduated from Dixie High School.

As a graduate of both undergraduate and law school at Brigham Young University, Meyers said he has also been interested in education and enjoyed learning.

“I think I have a background that could offer something new and interesting to the school board.”

There are three issues underlying Meyers’ platform: local control, parental rights and improving curriculum.

Part of his motivation for running, he said, has to do with the first issue. He said the primary decision-maker for the district should be the local school board.

“It shouldn’t be Gov. Herbert, who has essentially taken over the schools this year and dictated what we should do and how we should hold school. I think that’s wrong.”

Meyers also added that while he thinks that the Utah State Board of Education should have some control, they should serve more as an advisory board to the local school boards. It’s the elected officials on the local school board who should be making the decisions.

“If our local school board members aren’t willing to take that responsibility, we ought to put in people who will, who are willing to stand up and make those tough decisions here locally. It might mean going a different route than the rest of the state and doing what we think is best for our area instead of just what the whole state is doing.”

When it comes to his second issue with parental rights, Meyers said his philosophy is that education should be controlled by parents, in which case parents should be provided with as many different options as possible for schooling, so parents can make the best choice for their children.

In order to help facilitate this if elected as a board member, Meyers said he plans to meet with parents and listen to their input.

“I will make decisions based on the input that I get from the parents more so than I would from forces within the school system itself, such as the bureaucrats or the administration.”

The final issue, curriculum, is something that needs to be improved. Meyers said he is against the Common Core curriculum and thinks that teachers should develop their own curriculum that’s based on the traditional topics that children should learn in school rather than “political agendas” that are being more often taught in the schools.

“I think whether it’s groups like Black Lives Matter or groups that are pushing different types of sex education or transgender education — things like that are not appropriate,” he said. “We should just focus on the core American curriculum, American history, our traditional American values, such as free enterprise, capitalism, the traditional family, not any of these other special interest groups that are trying to come in with different agendas.”

Does more money equate to better education? Why or why not?

While having good funding is important in order to pay competitive teacher salaries and provide competitive benefits, Meyers says more money does not necessarily equate to better education.

“As we’ve seen across the country, some of the school districts that spend the most money do not get the best results. I know that Utah has always done very well with less.”

What it comes down to for Meyers is finding a healthy balance, so that there isn’t a big burden on the taxpayers in an attempt to spend the same on education as other states.

“But on the other hand, we do want to focus as much money as we can on good teaching so that we can try to have the best.”

What is your plan for addressing the tech inequities among students largely revealed by the pandemic?

As far as schools go, Meyers said he thinks the pandemic has been overblown. To either force or put a lot of resources into off-site learning, such as with the electronic learning is “not the best option.”

“I think we should have the kids back in school. I think that it should be in-person, and I think that’s the best way to eliminate concerns about the off-premises learning. And I don’t think that we should be sending kids home or closing schools just because of the number of positive tests in any given school.”

Only the people who are sick should stay home from school, he added.

What are your thoughts on the state’s response to the pandemic concerning education? 

Meyers said he thinks the governor was wrong in forcing a statewide mask mandate for students. Additionally, he said he thinks the local school board should have taken a stronger stance against the mandate.

He said the board could have “either found ways to challenge it or go in a different direction or to interpret it in a way that allowed parents, teachers and students a maximum amount of freedom, particularly when it comes to forcing them to wear masks. I think masks should be a matter of personal choice.”

Those who do not want to wear a mask or can’t due to adverse effects should have the option to not wear one, he added.

“If I’m elected, I would find ways to stand up against statewide mandates and to try to, as I mentioned before, bring the control here locally and to respect what parents want and not what the governor wants.”

“I also think that you could take the governor’s order, which did have some exemptions in it, you can also apply those exemptions very liberally to grant people exemptions wherever they’re entitled to them,” he said.

To this, he added that he was disappointed with the School Board for setting up a three-person panel to review exemptions for masks and that they didn’t just grant exemptions as needed.

“Parents had to come in and be questioned by this panel, and even if this exemption was granted, they’re trying to force them to wear a face shield instead of a mask if they get an exemption for a masks,” he said. “I think that was all completely unnecessary. They could have granted exemptions freely with a doctor’s letter.”

Craig Seegmiller

Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job and what issues are most pressing to you?

With a master’s of business administration, Seegmiller referred to himself as a “money hawk” when it comes to how money is spent as he is mindful that it comes from the taxpayers. As a college instructor at Dixie State University, he is also the only member of the current board who works as a teacher. This year marks Seegmiller’s 20th year serving on the school board.

“I understand a lot about what’s going on in the district. I take a broader perspective than a single issue.”

For example, he said as a member of the board they have to look at financing, transportation, safety, health — and now in the time of the pandemic, there are even more factors. While not a huge mask fan, Seegmiller said he is a huge fan of keeping schools open.

“There’s some people who think the only important thing out there is to not wear a mask. Well for me, the No. 1 thing is: school has to be open, and we have to have kids physically present in school. That’s the No. 1 consideration right now.”

As the situation continues to unfold, Seegmiller said they are looking for more local control, so they can make decisions that are more pertinent to the local area, but as of right now, the main goal is to keep schools open.

That may not seem like that big of a deal, but having school open for five days a week right now is unusual when compared to the rest of the country, as well as the rest of the state.

A year ago, we would have talked about other issues. We’re still concerned that teachers are well-compensated. We literally pay teachers everything we can. We pay our employees every penny we can squeeze into the budget,” he said, adding that that still remains a high priority, but at the moment, keeping schools open is the top priority.

Does more money equate to better education? Why or why not?

Generally, there is a correlation, he said, but despite not having the money that other districts have, he said the education provided in the county is far superior to so many other places “that spend double what we spend.”

Seegmiller pointed out that in Utah, taxpayers pay more money on education than any state in the country.

“But we spend less money per student than any state in the country,” he said. “How can these both be true? Because we have lots of kids, so we do the best we can without overburdening taxpayers and trying to give them a great education.”

What is your plan for addressing the tech inequities among students largely revealed by the pandemic?

Referring back to the previous question, Seegmiller said here is an example of where more money would help. With unlimited funds, they could go out and solve most of the broadband issues, he said.

“We already do a really good job of making sure students have a device in their hands and in their home,” he said. “But sometimes those kids have a device and don’t have connection. Normally, that is not the purview of a school district, but then you start to wonder, maybe it is.”

On the one hand, he said it’s never been the job of a school district to make sure that there’s internet at the home. On the other hand, having an internet connection has never been so important to education.

“So to the extent that we financially can, we have to help these families,” he said. “If technology is a driving force in education, and it’s becoming more and more that way, then we will have the responsibility to make sure our students have access to that technology.”

What are your thoughts on the state’s response to the pandemic concerning education? 

While Seegmiller gave credit to state leaders for trying, he said he wishes they would have allowed for more local control.

“I know they meant well, and they probably did the best they could with the information they had. I wish they would have thought about more local,” he said. “I wish they would have realized early on that St. George is different than Provo or different than Salt Lake City or Cache County.”

He also pointed out a misconception that mandates aren’t laws, to which he said “that’s not true. They are law.”

Because of this, he said the board has done everything they can to comply with the law while also asking for more local control to match the specific needs of the district.

“And that process is still going on.”

Despite the high stress and pushback from those who disagreed with the board or felt they should have pushed back against the governor’s mandate, Seegmiller said that has not diminished his dedication to serving on the board. He wants to make a difference in someone’s life and believes education can make a positive impact on both students and teachers.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 election by clicking here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!