The Sopris Sun is publishing responses to questions posed to candidates running for the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) Board of Education. Last week, we covered District D, and next week we’ll conclude with District C candidates.
Betsy After and Alan Kokish are candidates in District B, which consists of the areas west of Highways 133 and 82 from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs, including Ironbridge/West Bank and Four Mile.
Background and Motivation:
My children attend Crystal River Elementary School and will be in RFSD schools for the next decade. I will bring my dedication to public education and expertise in policy, financial management, and stakeholder engagement to the school board. My additional experiences include being on the board at Mt. Sopris Montessori School and the Basalt Regional Library District, and a masters degree in library science from UNC-Chapel Hill. I was inspired to run because nonpartisan school boards are increasingly targeted for political influence. I will represent the interests of our diverse community and protect our schools from political efforts that are taking place in neighboring districts and undermining our institutions.
Educational Vision and Priorities:
My top priorities are: 1) Set an expectation of excellence and accountability for the executive staff and ensure the annual budget aligns with communities’ priorities; 2) increase teacher retention through creative measures that go beyond the 2021 Mill Levy Override; 3) tackle the persistent achievement gap between Latino and white students; 4) strengthen the Board’s relationship with the community through open communication.
Budget and Fiscal Responsibility:
RFSD’s general fund receives 66% of its revenue from local sources and 32% from the state. The State of Colorado ranks 28th in the nation for per-pupil spending and 49th on starting teacher pay. Until the state properly invests in K-12 education, we will not have adequate funding. The Board can be a voice in Denver for increased funding. An example of when this approach has been effective is the work the current board did to advocate for the “Healthy Meals for All” program at the state level. Now, all of our students are eligible for free meals at school.
The entire district can benefit from deeper engagement with local philanthropists. The Basalt Education Foundation is an example of creatively generating revenue outside the district’s budgeting process to provide enhanced services. Other schools should have similar opportunities. But, increasing philanthropic investment in RFSD is a Band-Aid, not a long-term cure for Colorado’s anemic investment in education. The real cure will happen through the budgeting process in Denver. We need to strongly advocate for increased investment in schools at the state level.
Community Engagement and Communication:
The Board and the District Office need open lines of communication with the entire community, including teachers, staff, students, and families, in English and Spanish. I have seen good faith efforts recently from the district on this matter. In strategic planning sessions, the district offered childcare and compensation to encourage participation. Efforts like these recognize it is hard for working families to participate in the district’s processes, and the burden is on the district to make the processes accessible. While this is important progress, I understand that the current administration has not been effective at communicating policy decisions to schools. We cannot expect leaders in schools to implement policies if they are not engaged effectively.
Equity and Inclusion:
The student population in the district is 55-60% Latino, yet the makeup of teachers in the district does not reflect the background of the students. To attract and retain multicultural staff, the district needs a comprehensive, scalable solution to the workforce housing crisis. While the Mill Levy Override in 2021 was a major investment in teachers, it has not been sufficient to keep up with the cost of inflation and housing in the district. We do not want to be a district where the best teachers who represent our students’ demographics simply cannot afford to work here; we have to do better.
Superintendent Accountability, Evaluation and Housing:
Dr. Rodriguez’s tenure has been characterized by instability. Polarizing issues have risen to the top of the community’s consciousness and taken away focus from the most critical issues, like student achievement and teacher retention.
The housing task force’s work was excellent, and it is inspiring that so many community members worked together to identify options. Yet buying or building a home with today’s real estate values could easily cost the district over $1 million. I’m not comfortable committing to that magnitude of a purchase for any single employee, even though it would be an investment in leadership over the long term. I have a background in fundraising and philanthropy, so I am interested in exploring other options that could unlock the generosity of philanthropists. A departing homeowner who is passionate about education in the valley could potentially receive lucrative benefits in exchange for making a contribution in the form of a house. Nonprofit organizations in our valley have perfected this model, and it’s worth exploring if the district could do the same.