Taking back local control: Nielson challenges incumbent Hutchinson for School Board District 3

Composite image: Incumbent Terry Hutchinson, left, and challenger Daniel Nielson are candidates for the Washington County Board of Education's District 3. | Photos courtesy of Terry Hutchinson and Daniel Nielson respectively, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Incumbent Terry Hutchinson and challenger Daniel Nielson, both candidates for the Washington County Board of Education’s District 3, recently spoke with St. George News about issues ranging from the state’s response to the pandemic to education funding.

See the candidates answers to St. George News’ questions below. Candidates are presented in alphabetical order based on last names.

Terry Hutchinson

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

Similar to his reason for running four years ago, Hutchinson said the board needs people who are willing to be more assertive in dealings with the administrators in order to establish better accountability.

“We needed someone that would ask harder questions and get better answers and get more information before decisions and policies were being made,” he said. “In that time, I think we really made some great strides as a board in doing that.”

As an attorney and litigator, Hutchinson said he thinks his experience over the past 30 years has helped him to understand how to get things done, and since he’s been on the board, he said all of the things he thought needed to happen have been happening.

“It’s a slower process than I hoped, but gradually it takes time to change a culture where the bureaucracy or the administrators and all the teachers and everybody gets on the same page,” he said, adding that they are doing a better job at this.

Put simply, Hutchinson said the reason he’s the best candidate is that there has been an abundance of positive change over the last four years and he wants to continue that momentum.

“One of the things I have accomplished is getting a lot of the principals at the secondary and high school levels to rotate. I think we need to have a more firm policy about that. Lots of large groups — whether it’s the military or big corporations or the LDS church — they will rotate their people after a few years so they get new ideas, so they don’t get stale. I’ve been pushing that for a couple of years, and this year we finally made that happen.”

Even more critical is the fact that many of the senior administrators will be retiring over the next four years, which will mean decisions of replacements, and that is something he wants to be involved in.

Another thing Hutchinson hopes to accomplish if reelected is to switch from using construction bonds. For a long time, the growth was too rapid that they couldn’t do that, they just needed the schools too quick, he said. By eliminating use of the construction bonds, they could save the taxpayer money by working within their general budget and not having to pay interest.

“Right now interest rates are low; it’s not quite as big of an impact, but if interest rates ever go up, our new construction is going to be a lot more costly, and we would have to raise taxes.”

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

While more money can help, it doesn’t necessarily mean better education, he said.

“You have to figure out what your budget is and then you have to spend it wisely,” he said, adding also that even in the case of an increased budget, “if you don’t spend it wisely and make sure your priorities are correct, then it doesn’t help the education.”

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

Hutchinson said they haven’t had as big of a problem as other places. The bigger issue, primarily during the time schools were shut down, had to do with students’ access to internet connection and having a safe environment for learning.

“There’s a lot we can do to increase our teacher training, but to a certain degree, we are pretty limited in what we can do in the communities themselves or the neighborhoods.”

If necessary, he said they could potentially figure out a way to provide hot spots for students in need. During the pandemic, he said they tried to find ways to provide students with internet access.

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

While Hutchinson said he understands the coronavirus to be a real concern, the science continues to show the impact on students and rates of spread are low.

Hutchinson has been extremely vocal in various media outlets about the need for local control and plans to continue, adding also that he continues to believe that many of the restrictions put on schools statewide have been overreactions.

On the bright side, however, Hutchinson said this experience has helped the district to solidify a plan for alternative learning should something happen in the future and another shut down were to occur.

Daniel Nielson

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

Nielson considers himself a full-time, local representative for the district and has been involved with the youth in multiple venues in the past. Making the district a top district in the state while not increasing taxes and sticking to a budget are two areas of importance for him.

Issues most pressing to Nielson have to do with having no new taxes, gaining more local control and making teachers essential workers.

“Teachers and the teaching profession – the education of our kids – is essential,” he said.

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

More money always helps in any situation, he said; like any professional, teachers would like to be appreciated and rewarded for their efforts. At the same time, he said sticking to and regularly reviewing a budget are key.

“Extra money should go to rewarding good teachers.”

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

One of the ways to identify needs in the district would be through collecting data for each school, he said, as well as figuring a way to provide internet access and/or computers to students who need it now.

“Each school and area would definitely have a different need, so we would need to find out that data and address that on an individual basis.”

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

They need to give some more control to the local health department and government. Each area of the state cannot be held to the same standard as Salt Lake City, he said, which is why the state is broken up into regions.

As a healthcare professional himself, Nielson said the local health department is “the best prepared in the state and possibly the entire western United States.”

“They prepared our community for things like this, and we definitely need to take advantage of that and use more local control,” he said. “Each area of the state has a different need and a different aspect that’s going on, so our local health department … we need to use them to lead and guide us and help us and get their input.”

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

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

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