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Living in Society

SSB Candidates Respond

On Oct. 1, 2021 I mail merged a letter to each of the seven announced candidates for school board. Below is the text of the email. Following it is the verbatim response I received from each candidate in alphabetical order by last name. It is all good information.

Dear (Insert name),

I am a retiree who lives in the Solon School District. I’m reaching out to you for information so I can make an informed decision in the Nov. 2, 2021 school board election. I’d appreciate your direct answers to the following questions by return email.

I am asking all seven candidates the same questions. I plan to post the responses, without editing, on my website pauldeaton.com on Saturday, Oct. 9. If I don’t hear back from you, I will say so in my post.

Thanks in advance for your cooperation.

Regards, Paul

Paul Deaton, Solon

1. Why are you running for school board?

2. What experiences qualify you for this office?

3. What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected/re-elected?

4. Why should voters pick you over other candidates?

5. Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not?

6. Do you have a website, Facebook page or other place where voters can get information? Please provide a link.

A couple of notes about me:

I am taking a non-partisan approach to my reporting and am interested in providing information to district voters. I will not formally endorse any candidates and don’t plan to say who I am supporting on my website or in other public places before the election.

During the 2019 school board election, some of my posts about the election campaigns got more than 700 views. The highest vote-getter, Adam Haluska, got 446 votes.

I got your email address from the Johnson County Auditor website.

Email sent to Solon Community School District board candidates Oct. 1, 2021

Erika Billerbeck

  1. Why are you running for the school board?

I grew up in a family of public school educators. My mom was an art teacher and my dad was a high school principal. My desire to run for the board is partially influenced by my upbringing which always placed an emphasis on education. I was raised to be a critical thinker and to serve my community.

As a parent of two kids, who are both different in terms of their academic and social/emotional needs, I want to see my own children thrive in school. And, of course, I want to do what I can to ensure that all of our kids succeed in the classroom, regardless of their own backgrounds, interests, and individual challenges.

Learning about the many issues facing a significant number of Solon teachers also compelled me to run. In order for our students to be successful, we need to have teachers who feel empowered and supported. I’m interested in ensuring that the faculty has input on, and access to, quality curricula so that all state standards are being taught in literacy, math, social studies, science, and 21st-century skills.

As a school board member, I would strive to establish an environment of trust with the faculty, staff, and administration. Honest transparency is essential and one step toward achieving that goal is to revise the current school board policy, specifically that which dictates the “chain of command.” Rather than promoting an ethos of cooperation and mutual respect among all, as the policy is currently stated, school board members are dissuaded from engaging in open discourse with faculty, staff, and the public, and critical thinking is discouraged. This needs to change.

  1. What experiences qualify you for this office?

As a state peace officer, I have 21 years’ worth of experience serving in the public sector and resolving conflict. I understand the importance of problem-solving, listening, de-escalating stressful situations, enforcing and abiding by laws I may not always agree with, and having the ability to approach issues from more than one perspective. And the end, I must accept my share of accountability for the outcome.

During my career working for a complex state government system in a law enforcement capacity, I have had the opportunity to interact with a wide array of people in a variety of settings and circumstances. Almost every week, my job requires me to work, collaborate, cooperate, and compromise with people who often have very different values, beliefs, ideas, and priorities than my own.

As a sergeant, I’ve successfully helped lead and provide oversight for the officers in my district. I’ve learned how to push agency goals forward while maintaining respectful discourse with coworkers and the public. I believe my ability to listen and be an open-minded critical thinker will be an asset for serving on the SCSD board.

  1. What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected?

*Improve teacher morale and retention: A number of talented, experienced teachers have left our district as a direct result of a toxic work environment and the disrespectful treatment they’ve been subjected to. These problems have been exacerbated by an apparent lack of response by the school board. Numerous current and past teachers reached out to me to express their frustrations with the current board and superintendent, prompting me to make this one of my priorities.

*Improve communication: The prevalence of inadequate, untrustworthy and sometimes completely lacking communication from leadership to teachers, staff, parents, and students is a source of frustration to me as a parent and community member. I am quite aware that others share my frustration.

*Improve accountability: Currently, SCSD leadership avoids being held accountable when problems arise. This may be due to the present policy that discourages board members from performing their due diligence in terms of oversight.

  1. Why should voters pick you over other candidates?

I believe that everyone running for the school board is doing so with the same desire to lend a positive influence on the present and future SCSD and I have no doubt that one could find some common ground between my “platform” and those of other candidates. However, unlike some other candidates, I do not have any “conflicts of interest” such as a personal relationship with a school employee, nor am I employed by a company under contract with the district.

  1. Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not?

Currently, I cannot commit to seeking to negotiate another employment contract with Davis Eidahl any more than I can commit to seeking to terminate the employment contract. However, I do have concerns about the role he has played or failed to play in terms of addressing low teacher morale and the retention of our talented staff.

I think it is fair to say that the SCSD has a number of “hot button” issues that need to be addressed. From my perspective, experience, and in my discussions with Solon teachers and staff it is also fair to say that Mr. Eidahl has played a key role in turning up the temperature on those issues while failing to take any steps to defuse or resolve the problems.

  1. Do you have a website, Facebook page, or other places where voters can get information?

https://www.facebook.com/Billerbeck-for-Solon-School-Board-100985075683571

Tim Brown

Paul,

It is good to hear from you again. I am catching up on email after being gone for the weekend and wanted to get back to you on your request. This year, there have been more request for questionnaire responses than in the past and I will not have time to meet the timelines for the ones that came in more recently. I have already submitted responses to the League of Women Voter’s questionnaire which I believe are posted online already and I am finalizing the responses in the questionnaire from the Economist before I have to leave town later this week. I will also be participating in the forum that the Economist is hosting on October 20th.

With existing work, personal and volunteer commitments, my bandwidth is very limited over the next month. I hope you can understand, and perhaps we can talk at the forum.

Kind regards,
Tim

Dan Coons

Paul,

Thank you for reaching out and informing me about your need for more information to make an informed decision. Many of the questions you are posing will be answered in the Solon Economist by all of the candidates. We will also be having a live forum in October.

Please feel free to post the above response on your web page.

Best regards,
Dan Coons

Kelly Edmonds

Why are you running for school board?

Since moving to Solon and raising my family in this community, I have become passionate about improving the school experience for my sons and other children in our community.  My wife and I moved to Solon because we heard such great things about the school district. We were excited to be in a smaller community and in a district known for education and activities. What I have noticed now that we have lived here for several years is that Solon does have some outstanding educators and staff, a great athletics program, and there are lots of other activities that similar sized schools do not have. However, in speaking with parents in the school district, there is a lot of concern about current leadership, policy, and how decisions are made. I believe my experience as a business leader coupled with my passion to create a better future for our children and community makes me an ideal person to take an active role on the school board and can help the district make improvements to benefit students, staff, teachers and the community. 

What experiences qualify you for this office?

As a husband, father, business leader, volunteer, and board member of a nonprofit, I am always planning for a better future. The roles that I have assumed at this point in my life have taught me that an effective leader is a good listener and that nobody knows the strengths and weaknesses of an organization better than those on the front lines. To think that one can make the best decisions from afar or without consultation is foolish. I constantly strategize how to make the organizations or members I serve poised for growth, higher achievement, higher efficiency, safer, and more effective.  These are all the things that our district needs now, as it always has. Coupled with my passion for my own children’s education and wellbeing, as well as all of the kids in our community, I will work tirelessly to achieve the goals of the district as I do towards all endeavors that I pursue.

What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected/re-elected?

I would like to see a greater level of transparency in our district.  From my perspective, decisions have and are being made by the administration or the board without seeking input from parents, educators or using guidance from experts. I have been made aware of numerous examples of educators and staff speaking up about current policy or practices in the district only to have their voices go unheard and, even more concerning, those who have brought forth these issues have been punished and/or humiliated for questioning the district’s leaders. I’ve spoken to many parents who have contacted the current board and superintendent and have gotten no response to their written concerns.  Additionally, I would like to review fiscal policy and make sure that our tax dollars are being used to the maximum benefit to students, teachers and staff.  Solon historically spends less than 80% of its annual allocated budget which highlights a “tax and save” policy, yet funding for programs have been cut, our teachers are paid less than neighboring districts, all while parents are being asked for donations for simple items such as playground equipment.  Investment in our district should be a priority.

Why should voters pick you over other candidates?

I believe voters deserve to have a public school in a community which listens and responds to them. The two incumbents do not have a good track record of responding to questions from parents. Additionally, this past week, the Iowa City Press Citizen published responses from all seven of the Solon School Board candidates. The two incumbents, Tim Brown and Dan Coons, plus a new challenger, Cassie Rochholz, declined to respond to their questions. The school district does not need more members who decline to respond to concerns from the community.

Additionally, because Dan Coons and Stacey Munson have spouses who work for the district, they would have to recuse themselves from voting or even being part of the upcoming 2023 contract negotiations. If they are both on the school board, this would potentially leave only three board members to decide on such an important issue. When deciding who to vote for, please think about the implications of what it will mean for your child’s educational experience if contract negotiations go the way they did in 2019 and more teachers leave the district.

Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not?

My current understanding is that Davis Eidahl has not been interested in listening to public health experts when it comes to COVID-19 mitigation in the school building. I have also heard accounts from many staff and parents that he rarely consults educators on educational decisions and since his tenure, Solon schools have been a “hostile work environment” and that he engages in “bullying tactics.”  I have heard similar stories from his tenure at the Ottumwa school district. In fact, there was an Ottumwa opinion piece that alluded to this issue (https://www.ottumwacourier.com/opinion/a-new-better-path-for-ottumwa-schools/article_8367e8ca-b059-11e7-b397-9bd9db783f26.html).

However, I am willing to assess his performance as superintendent in more detail and work with him before making a final decision about his future as Solon’s superintendent.

Do you have a website, Facebook page or other place where voters can get information? Please provide a link.

https://www.facebook.com/Edmonds4Solon/

Stacey Munson

Why are you running for school board? 

I have given thought to running for school board for several years and decided that now is the right time. My background in healthcare management helps me to be uniquely positioned to understand complex finances, challenges with recruitment and retention of staff, and data driven analytics; all while maintaining an intentional focus on the people we are here to serve – our students and families.    

What experiences qualify you for this office? 

I am a 2001 graduate of Solon High School and am extremely grateful for my experience at Solon as well as my post-secondary education experiences. I am the daughter of a retired educator, and my husband is an educator at Solon High School; thus I have lived my entire life listening to educators talk about what they do and why they do it. My three children attend school in the district. These experiences as well as my professional experience working in healthcare management have helped me to be uniquely poised to understand our school district from a variety of viewpoints as well as to have the necessary financial and analytical skills to successfully function as a school board member.   

What issue or issues seem most important to address if you are elected/re-elected? 

If I would be elected to the Solon School Board, I would want to focus on the following: 

  1. Increasing transparency and communication between the school board and community. This includes holding school board meetings in a larger space that is more welcoming for parents, students, and community members to attend. 
  2. Working to ensure that all students and families in our district are represented and heard by our school board. It is diverse experiences and opinions that build strong communities, and we must build confidence that not only majority opinions are heard and listened to by our board and administrators. We need to foster open dialogue about the issues that are controversial or concerning for our families.   
  3. A deeper evaluation of vacant positions that have not been filled is in order. Over the past several years there have been several positions that have been vacated and left unfilled. I would like to explore why this has occurred, what classes or services are no longer offered because of these vacancies, and the fiscal impact of these vacancies. In addition, discussing and understanding the potential barriers to reinstating these positions would be an essential component of this evaluation.  
  4. Understanding past and current spending practices, why these practices have continued, and discussion among administration and board members about if these practices should continue; namely discussion around any percentage of the authorized budget that is left unspent. 

Why should voters pick you over other candidates? 

My personal and career experiences as well as my commitment to Solon make me an excellent candidate for school board. I am moderate in much of my thinking and believe that in most issues, common ground can be achieved between divided groups.  I strive to understand situations and issues prior to making judgements, and seek this position only to serve my community.  

Would you seek to negotiate another employment contract with Superintendent Davis Eidahl when his current one expires? Why or why not? 

I cannot offer a fair and educated opinion on this matter at this time.  Prior to weighing in on the employment contract for any administrator, I would need to have the opportunity to work directly with that individual for a period of time.  

Do you have a website, Facebook page or other place where voters can get information? Please provide a link. 

https://m.facebook.com/Stacey-Munson-for-Solon-School

Michael Neuerburg

(Editor’s Note: Neuerburg said he was planning a response yet it didn’t arrive by the deadline. If he does return responses, they will be posted here.)

Cassie Rochholz

Hello Paul,

Thanks for reaching out.  I am going to refrain from answering questions via social media, however I encourage you to attend the public forum on Oct 20th and review the candidates information being published in the Solon Economist.

Have a great week,

Cassie

Click here for all of my coverage of the Solon School Board Election.

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