Ogden School Board candidates talk teacher retention, avoid school closure topic

Saturday , June 02, 2018 - 5:00 AM2 comments

OGDEN — School board candidates met with parents and community members Thursday night but largely managed to avoid most of the controversial issues of the election, including school closures and a potential bond to rebuild schools.

Community group Ogden Education partnered with the Weber County League of Women Voters, ACTION and IMAGE de Northern Utah to host the meet-and-greet with Ogden School District candidates running in this year’s primary and general elections. 

Candidates presented their platforms and answered questions provided in advance by the organizers at the Weber County Main Library.

District 2 candidate and incumbent Doug Barker and District 4 candidate Sheldon Cheshire did not attend the event. Oscar Mata, a candidate for District 2, sent a representative on his behalf.

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Sunni Wilkinson, a first-time candidate and professor at Weber State University, said the teacher exodus in the district is one of the reasons why she decided to run for the school board.

“Several years ago I was getting my son ready for school and he looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I’m so excited to go to school and with my teacher and all of my friends,’” Wilkinson said. “The teacher he had at the time kind of became almost family to us … and she left the district at the end of the school year and I thought, ‘Something’s wrong.’”

Iain Hueton is running against Wilkinson and Cheshire for the District 4 seat. The position is currently occupied by Ogden School Board President Jeff Heiner, who is not running for re-election.

Hueton said he wants to use his passion and engineering background to take an analytical and scientific approach when making decisions as a board member.

“I think as a district we need to be balanced to make sure that our kids are balanced,” Hueton said. “The district, I think, is in a great place right now to bring in some new ideas and I want to be one of those people.”

School board elections are nonpartisan. When there are more than two candidates running for a seat, they first need to face each other in the primaries. That’s the case with District 4 and District 2, and candidates will face each other June 26.

The two candidates with the most votes in each race will appear on the November 2018 election ballot.

David Smith, one of three candidates running for District 2, taught in Ogden School District for 30 years. He retired last week.

He said he understands that the school board sometimes has “to make decisions that are not popular with two of the three (students, parents and taxpayers), but you have to weigh what’s best for all and make those kinds of decisions.”

Few candidates talked about a bond that could help improve some of the community schools, class sizes and teacher retention. None of the candidates directly mentioned school closures, a topic that has caused debate from different members of the community.

The school board considered earlier this year closing some elementary schools and rebuilding others. After weeks of hosting daily community town halls, the board voted March 15 to hold on closing schools and to focus on trying again to pass a general obligations bond to address the district’s needs.

District 7 incumbent Joyce Wilson said she is running for re-election, in part, because she wants to see the bond pass this November.

“I’ve heard in the past that I should move on and let somebody else have the opportunity, but I have a strong desire to see something happen with the bond this fall,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who has been on the school board for 14 years, said the school district has been successful in bringing dual immersion programs into elementary schools, an International Baccalaureate program into Ogden High School and growing the STEM presence in the district.

She said she would like to eventually see the district invest in an arts school. Wilson is being challenged in November by Saren Eyre Loosli. 

Loosli said her experience working with the Boston and San Jose public schools gives her an idea of how to work with the Ogden School Board.

She said although she doesn’t have the answers on how to fix the district’s problems, she knows how to ask “the right questions.”

“There’s a lot of possibilities. There’s a bond election, there are schools that are really losing a lot of their population, there are schools that are overflowing,” Loosli said. “There’s a lot of directions we could go right now and I feel that asking the right question is the most important thing we can do in the school board right now.”

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at smartinezbeltran@standard.net or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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