Living in Society

2021 School Board Candidate Forum

Audience at the Oct. 20 Solon School Board candidate forum.

The Solon Economist hosted a school board candidate forum at the Solon Center for the Arts on Oct. 20. About 80 people were present at the beginning and more than 100 by its end. A majority of seats in the large auditorium were empty.

The winning candidates of the 2019 school board election, Adam Haluska and Jami Wolf, received 447 and 444 votes respectively. Based on last night’s attendance, the 2021 election will be decided by voters who were not at the forum. People appeared to arrange themselves in clusters according to for whom they planned to vote. I doubt many minds were changed by the forum.

Solon Economist editor Margaret Stevens opened the event with remarks. Dean Martin, a former school board member, moderated the event and asked the questions. I counted eight questions in addition to opening and closing remarks by all the candidates. No candidate made any major mistakes and each one demonstrated something positive. Stevens said the forum was being recorded and would be posted on YouTube. Here is the link. I do not plan to get into question by question analysis since voters can look at the hour and a half video for themselves.

This post is biased, as has been all my coverage. My main discussion of the forum was at home with my spouse and will remain between us. My goals in writing in public about the election were stated in my first post:

  1. Make sure there is adequate, timely coverage of relevant events in the election process.
  2. Include all the candidates.
  3. Elect another woman to the board to work toward gender equity.
  4. Make sure no political extremists are elected to the board.
  1. There has been adequate coverage of the candidates by the Solon Economist and Iowa City Press Citizen, including candidate questionnaires. While candidates were asked to respond to a questionnaire from the League of Women Voters, if responses were posted, they are not accessible to me or to other voters in the district. The technical glitch was raised with the League, however there is no resolution as I write. I’ll let readers judge whether my writing contributed something to the coverage.
  2. I did include all the candidates in what I wrote, giving each equal opportunity to choose whether or not to participate in what I did.
  3. Two of the three women are strong candidates, Stacey Munson and Erika Billerbeck. Both have credentials and experience that would add something positive to the school board. They presented themselves with confidence and answered questions directly and thoughtfully. The third woman, Cassie Rochholz, seemed ill-prepared for the forum. When asked how many school board meetings she had attended, her answer was none. It is difficult to understand why a school board candidate would not familiarize themselves with a few meetings given the availability of on-line and recorded options. In addition, Billerbeck and Rochholz were interviewed on air by KCRG-TV after an outbreak of COVID-19 at the schools. Rochholz appeared to be parroting language from others about mask-wearing in schools. In my judgment there are better female candidates than Rochholz to improve gender equity.
  4. Based on what I discovered while writing my posts, I don’t believe any of the seven candidates is a political extremist.

Overall, the forum did little to change my view that this election will pivot on whether or not voters want change on the school board. A mailer from a group called Solon Parents and Teachers to Keep SCSD Safe arrived at home yesterday. Erika Billerbeck, Kelly Edmonds and Michael Neuerburg were advertised as change candidates. Without the mailer or inside information, a voter wouldn’t know they are on a slate. Tim Brown and Dan Coons are incumbents and their re-election would indicate voters are happy with the way things are going. Who is the third no change candidate? There may not be one as the incumbents are strong enough to stand on their own. It is possible voters will pick who they believe is the strongest from the remaining five candidates. A prominent Republican in the district, who was active in the previous elections of Brown and Coons, is displaying a Rochholz sign in their yard. That may be a sign (pun intended).

The county auditor is providing satellite voting at the High School from 2:30 until 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22. I intend to vote then because if we don’t turn out, it may be less likely the auditor will hold satellite voting here in the future. Whatever you do, if you live in the Solon Community School District, get yourself to the polls on Oct. 22 or Nov. 2 and vote.

Click here to read all of my coverage of the 2021 Solon School Board Election.