Two long-time Haines School Board members are running to retain their seats in the October election. Lisa Schwartz and Sarah Swinton are both optimistic about how the district is doing now. But they say there will be some hard decisions in the future.
“There’s nothing that I can say bad about our district,” said Sarah Swinton. “We have great teachers, great kids, great administration. And we’re moving forward in the right directions.”
Swinton has helped steer the district in its current direction. She’s been on the school board for 14 years. She and fellow candidate Lisa Schwartz were on the board when one of the more controversial proposals in recent years was approved: expanding school technology.
Schwartz thinks the district needs to continue with that effort.
“I had a community member say to me recently, ‘well I don’t want them teaching my kids computers,'” Schwartz said. “And I thought well, any child who comes into Kindergarten probably knows how to work with the computer more than I do at this point. So I think it would be great if we could offer more courses through technology. We currently do have a strong program but I would like to see that expanded.”
Swinton voted differently than Schwartz in the board’s 2015 decision to increase laptops and iPads in classrooms. Schwartz voted yes, Swinton voted no.
“We do need to address the fact that the world is technology-based, I think we’re doing fine with that,” Swinton said. “I still want to see more paper and pencil things done in school. Our kids don’t do cursive anymore, cause you have your computer or iPad there. So I want to see more of the motor skills back where it is more paper and pencil.”
Schwartz says the technology decision was one instance where the school board could’ve improved communication and public involvement.
“As it proceeded, to involve the community more, so that they understood what we were trying to accomplish, right on through to our first community meeting,” Schwartz said. “And I think we can improve upon that.”
On the other hand, both candidates agree that people don’t seem to get involved until something controversial comes up.
“I think there’s a lot of people that just drop off their kids and everything’s great at school,” Swinton said. “But there’s a lot of things that go on there and I don’t think the community’s really informed about everything that happens, they just want to be present when there’s a big hiccup in the system.”
Expanded technology isn’t the only big change the school board has dealt with in the past few years. Former superintendent Ginger Jewell unexpectedly resigned in 2015. Interim superintendent Rich Carlson filled in last year. This year, the board hired Michigan educator Tony Habra as superintendent. Schwartz says this will be a year of learning for him.
“I think as a community, the school community, we’re in transition and I think it’s important for people to take a deep breath, take a step back and let’s give this a chance to work,” Schwartz said.
Last year, one of Haines’ three special education teachers retired. Interim Superintendent Carlson saw an opportunity to cut costs by not replacing her. He said Director of Student Support Services Kim Cunningham would share the burden with the two remaining SPED teachers by helping with paperwork and other administrative duties. Schwartz and Swinton support that decision.
“SPED is covered,” Swinton said. “Kim [Cunningham] has stepped up and is covering the places it was before and we would not hurt that program by not covering it in the proper manner. And the admin team felt like everything is covered. So there’s not really a hiccup in the system.”
The candidates say there are hard decisions coming up. Last year, the board leaned on district reserves to cover a $300,000 budget deficit. A gradually declining enrollment is one contributing factor to the shortfall.
“You know, it is a national trend, these rural places are losing students,” Schwartz said. “And we have to be as creative as we can with the budget.”
Schwartz and Swinton say they wish more people wanted to help make those decisions by running for school board. But this election, it’s just the two candidates for two open seats. Voters will cast their ballots Oct. 4.
Listen to the full forum here: