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Living in Society

School Board Election Coverage – 2021

My coverage of the Solon School Board election can be found at this link.

I’ve written what I intended before the election with the exception that I will attend the Oct. 20 candidate forum. If there is anything to report, I will write a post. I learned what I need to know to pick three. After doing so, it’s hard to be unbiased in my coverage, so I’ll stop. I will wrap up the election once the results are known.

Thank you so much for following along. I hope readers in the Solon Community School District vote and encourage their friends and neighbors to do likewise.

Click here for all 2021 Solon School Board Election Coverage

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Living in Society

School Board Conflicts of Interest

In the many and complicated discussions between voters, social media users, bloggers and candidates the 2021 Solon School Board election has generated some concerns about conflicts of interest. They can be addressed.

The Iowa Association of School Boards has specific guidelines about conflict of interest for school board members. I clipped the following image from their website.

Concerns about conflicts of interest were raised about Dan Coons, Stacey Munson and Cassie Rochholz. I’d point out the district has counsel that could guide the board through potential conflicts of interest and how to handle them. I’m not an attorney and am just reading information that is commonly available to voters. Here’s where we are:

In his response to my questionnaire, Kelly Edmonds asserted the following:

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.

Kelly Edmonds via email Oct. 8, 2021.

The Iowa Association of School Boards addresses this directly. “Iowa law does not prohibit a school employee’s spouse from serving on the school board.” While it may make some voters uncomfortable to have a school board member with a spouse that works for the schools, in my reading of the IASB site, it is permissible. If this matters to a voter, there are plenty of good candidates from which to choose.

What about upcoming contract negotiations in 2023? Wouldn’t spousal relationships affect them? We can look back to the communications disaster that was the 2019 negotiations and learn.

In 2017 the Iowa Legislature removed much of what could be collectively bargained with public employee unions. The way the board presented contract options in 2019 in light of the new law was more the problem. Every school employee had an opportunity to know the legislature gutted the collective bargaining law. The school board chose to bludgeon employees in the represented bargaining unit with the fact the law changed. As we saw in the 2019 school board elections, despite whatever anti-incumbent movement was created by contract negotiations, voters chose incumbent Adam Haluska for reelection. The school board’s handling of contract negotiations alienated teachers and community members.

Conflict of interest, in my view, is low on the priority list of issues as it relates to collective bargaining. Communications between parties is a more important issue. If I had advice for that school board it would be to avoid use of legal counsel to state the obvious.

The question of whether Cassie Rochholz’ employment with Edmentum represents a conflict of interest is more relevant.

At Edmentum, a single mission guides and inspires us as it defines our core purpose and the contribution we make to society: Founded in innovation, we are committed to being educators’ most trusted partner in creating successful student outcomes everywhere learning occurs. To help us work toward that mission while operating business, our key values guide our priorities and are evident in everything we do.

Edmentum mission and values statement from their website.

Edmentum sells learning solutions to schools, including those in the district. Cassie Rochholz has worked there as a director since December 2019, according to her LinkedIn profile. According to the IASB website, the restriction regarding conflict of interest is specific: “prohibiting being an agent of a textbook or school supply company selling to the district.” Rochholz was asked about this on her public Facebook page and I clipped the following discussion:

Cassie Rochholz campaign Facebook page.

I confirmed Edmentum products were used in the Solon School District. The basic framework of this concern is accurate: there is a potential conflict of interest in that Rochholz’s employer, where she is a director, sells to the district. Rochholz has addressed it. It is now up to voters to decide if her explanation is sufficient.

Conflict of interest is “in the weeds” of what voters look for in a school board candidate. Voters do appear to be interested in learning more about the candidates in 2021. Not many vote, though. 1,225 voters went to the polls in the 2019 school board election. The candidates got votes as follows:

Johnson County Auditor website.

If the 2021 school board election is like 2019, every issue will matter to voters. In my view, concerns about conflict of interest are reasonable. Candidates for office have a responsibility to address voter concerns on this or any topic. Any board member may have to recuse themselves for a number of reasons. Administrative staff has the resources to determine an appropriate course in specific situations or on specific votes. Concerns about these specific conflicts of interest, in my opinion, don’t rise to the level of being actionable. They certainly don’t disqualify anyone. In any case, voters should look at the whole person when selecting three on Nov. 2. There are seven candidates, each of which has much to offer and could be considered for the board.

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

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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.

Categories
Living in Society

SSB Candidates Respond to Press Citizen

On Thursday, Oct. 7, the Iowa City Press Citizen published responses to a questionnaire sent to the seven Solon School board candidates. Because of technical challenges with Twitter and Facebook, I am posting a printed version from the online newspaper to which I subscribe here.

If readers subscribe to the newspaper, here’s a link to the article online.

I will have comments on the candidates once the responses to Journey Home and the Solon Economist are in. For now the Press Citizen responses can stand on their own. I will point out that the circulation of the Solon Economist is less than 1,000, and there are 3,541 registered, active voters in the school district. Those who didn’t respond to the Press Citizen may have missed an opportunity on their way to 500 votes on Nov. 2.

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

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Living in Society

School Board Campaign Conventions

Conventional wisdom in the Solon Community School District board election is there is a certain way of doing things. Call it a “Solon way” if you need a name for it.

From the filing deadline on Sept. 16 until election day on Nov. 2 there is not a lot of time. Candidates have to contact voters in a way that convinces about 500 of them they are the best person for the school board.

For the most part, conventional campaigns go something like this:

  • Planning, including finance and yard signs.
  • Strategy, including web presence, alliances with other candidates.
  • Filing.
  • Voter outreach via personal networking, U.S. Postal Service, in-person, and internet.
  • Submit information to organizations via questionnaire: League of Women Voters, Solon Economist, and others.
  • One large candidate forum, this year on Oct. 20.
  • Get out the vote.

There is an economy to conventional wisdom in that energy can be focused on a limited number of tasks. If one performs them all well, they have their best foot forward. If they don’t win, they can say they did their best and garner some satisfaction for having run.

Being on the school board doesn’t come with financial consideration, i.e. no pay. Most candidates have lives filled with work that needs doing to support themselves. There is not a lot of time for nuance in a campaign. Conventional wisdom supports busy people in that campaigns run by it have a well-worn path to conclusion, if not to winning.

Because of conventional wisdom, it is difficult for a candidate to break out from the herd. This year there are seven candidates, Billerbeck, Brown, Coons, Edmonds, Neuerburg, Munson and Rochholz. Brown and Coons are incumbents, each of whom was elected multiple times. The opening for a non-incumbent was created when Rick Jedlicka decided not to run for another term. In a calcified school board election environment, the competition would be for that one seat, assuming Brown and Coons would dominate because of their incumbency. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As I do the work to understand the seven 2021 candidates, I reflect on the campaign of Jami Wolf, who I view as a breakout candidate among six who ran for two seats in 2019. More than others, she devoted time and resources to networking throughout the community. She had a natural connection with school board election voters in that she volunteered at the school. She is outgoing and friendly. Her career in real estate reinforces qualities needed in a campaign: realism, public speaking, and poise. She was open to meeting with almost anyone. While she had a Facebook page, it appeared to me her focus was on person-to-person contact. She won the open seat on the board.

Who will be the breakout candidate in 2021? I don’t know. What worked for Wolf may not work for candidates with a different personality style. Effective voter outreach will make the difference on Nov. 2.

A lot has been made of the district’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic. Little in conventional wisdom about campaigns covers a public health crisis during a pandemic. Some like what the school administration has done. Others do not. It seems unlikely that the single issue of number of instances of COVID-19, managing outbreaks, and communication about COVID-19 cases in the schools will be the deciding factor in this election. Cassie Rochholz and Erika Billerbeck were quoted by KCRG on Sept. 29 in reaction to the district experiencing 67 positive COVID-19 cases in a single week. Their comments typify the division around the pandemic:

Some parents in the school district think the rapid increase in cases is a direct result of not requiring masks for students or staff.

“That’s in a population of about 1,500 students. And when you compare it to a system like Iowa City where they are requiring masks, right now I believe they have 36 active cases in a school system that’s 9 times the size of Solon,” Erika Billerbeck, a school district parent, said.

Billerbeck said, at the very least, she wants better communication from the school.

“I won’t find out until Monday evening what the statistics were for the previous week,” Billerbeck said. “So as a parent trying to make a decision day-to-day, we’re not receiving that information to make a good choice for our kids.”

Other parents, like Cassie Rochholz, say families and students should have a choice when it comes to mask-wearing.

“Parents need the option to choose what is best for their child, and no child fits squarely into a box, no child is the same as one another,” Rochholz said.

KCRG website Sept. 29, 2021.

It is not hard to line up the candidates for and against administration policy and its practice regarding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

If conventional wisdom makes it easier to manage a campaign, it does not assure winning. Innovative strategies and effective outreach to voters beyond one’s personal circle will be what decides the election. If the electorate is of a mood to replace the current board, three newcomers could win. We’ll see the mood of the electorate in the coming four weeks.

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

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Living in Society

Solon School Board Election Update

Typical of off grid communications that go on during a school board election, I found out by happenstance the Solon Economist will host a candidate forum for the Solon School Board election on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Solon Center for the Arts. If you can, please attend. Thankfully the forum was moved to a larger venue than in 2019. This is the only announced forum to date and it’s typically the big one.

This blog is planning to cover the forum, and I expect will get to press before the larger, more clunky news organizations with printing presses, cutoff times, and such.

The significance of the date is this: Oct. 18 is the last day to request an absentee ballot from the Johnson County Auditor’s office. When candidates and their canvassers are talking to voters, they shouldn’t wait until the forum to get an absentee ballot. Request one now. The completed, mailed ballot is due into the auditor’s office by 8 p.m. on election day.

The auditor’s office indicated a petition was received for satellite voting at Solon High School. Details to come once it is announced. Monday, Oct. 4, is the deadline for petitions for satellite voting.

This is a good time to mention other election deadlines. These are copied and pasted from the auditor’s website:

Dates and deadlines
  • Tuesday, August 24: First day auditor’s office can accept requests for mailed absentee ballots, 70 days before election day.
  • Tuesday, October 5: There will be no City Primary Election in Iowa City or University Heights. (Other cities do not have a primary requirement.)
  • Monday, October 11: Johnson County does not observe the federal Columbus Day holiday and our office will be open.
  • Wednesday, October 13: First day absentee ballots can be mailed and first day in person early voting is allowed by state law. Note that ballots are not required to be ready by this date. More information on when voting will start will be available closer to Election Day.
  • Monday, October 18: Voter pre-registration deadline and deadline to request mailed ballot, 5 PM. In person early voting and election day registration are still available after this deadline.
  • Monday, November 1: Last day for in person early voting at auditor’s office.
  • Tuesday, November 2: Election Day. Polls open 7 AM to 8 PM. Vote at regular polling places. All domestic mailed absentee ballots must arrive at auditor’s office before the polls close at 8 PM in order to be counted.

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

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Living in Society

Solon School Board Candidates on Facebook

While working on my election coverage, I found six of seven candidates for three positions on the Solon School Board are campaigning or have pages devoted to school board on Facebook.

Incumbent Dan Coons does not have a public Facebook page, so readers can watch for coverage of his campaign in the Solon Economist or at the upcoming public forum.

Here is an alphabetical list of candidates and their Facebook pages:

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

Tim Brown: https://www.facebook.com/TimBrownSCSD

Dan Coons: No public Facebook page.

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

Stacey Munson: https://www.facebook.com/Stacey-Munson-for-Solon-School-Board-108708788241054/

Michael Neuerburg: https://www.facebook.com/MikeforSolonSchoolBoard/

Cassie Rochholz: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100055956696963

Give the links a click and learn more about the candidates.

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

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Living in Society

Participate in the School Board Election

Editor’s Note: The plan for Solon School Board election coverage is to post at least one weekly article on Saturdays until the election. I am looking at data provided by the county and will have an analysis soon. I’ve been told there will be a candidate forum and like in 2019 I plan to attend and cover it. Both the Solon Economist and Iowa City Press Citizen indicated they will provide some coverage of the campaigns. All of my posts about the 2021 school board election can be found here.

I encourage readers to participate in the Nov. 2 Solon School Board Election. In 2019 we had record voter turnout. It would be great if voter turnout improved this year.

The seven candidates are Erika Billerbeck, Tim Brown, Dan Coons, Kelly Edmonds, Stacey Munson, Michael Neuerburg, and Cassie Rochholz. Their addresses, emails and telephone numbers were posted on the Johnson County Auditor’s website. We increasingly live in a do-it-yourself news environment so I recommend if you have questions about policy, go directly to the candidates.

The main controversy in the district has been handling of the coronavirus pandemic by school administration. The board hired Davis Eidahl as superintendent in 2015 and renewed his contract at least once. Eidahl and his predecessor Sam Miller spent time together as principals in the Davis County school district near Ottumwa. Based on their common background it is clear continuity has been important to the school board. COVID-19 threw administration a curve ball and the fallout has not finished. Will this be a change election? That depends upon participation.

What the school board does is important whether or not we have children of school age. One thing is certain: Solon cares about school board elections.

~ Published by the Solon Economist on Oct. 7, 2021.

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Writing

A Nonpartisan School Board

To run for school board a candidate submits a nominating petition with at least 50 district voters’ signatures on it to the school district office. There is no party affiliation and everyone so nominated is placed on the ballot. I heard on Thursday ballots have been finalized and sent to the printer.

I will analyze the nominating petition signatures when I receive them from the county. They are a public record available by paying a small fee. I won’t be sharing any secrets because nominating petitions aren’t secret.

For now, I have the voter profile for each of the seven candidates for Solon Community School District board of directors. They are Erika Billerbeck, Tim Brown, Dan Coons, Kelly Edmonds, Stacey Munson, Michael Neuerburg, and Cassie Rochholz.

There is a lot of information in these documents, which are also public records. For now, I’m most interested in party registration, the effective date when the candidate registered to vote, and in what recent school board elections they voted. I make no judgment about the candidates by posting this chart. It is data sent by the county, selected and formatted by me.

Data provided by the Johnson County Auditor

Electing someone to the school board is definitely not partisan. More than in other elections a voter seeks the best person for the job. While that seems like an antique idea in a society where everything is politicized, the best board members are not defined by party. Likewise, formal political parties have little influence over school boards.

During the 2019 Solon School Board election there were six candidates for two positions on the board. Three were Republicans, two no party, and one Democratic. Two Republicans won the election, Adam Haluska and Jami Wolf. The dynamic of the race was anti-incumbent because of recently completed collective bargaining between the district and the union. The negotiations drove some to run for school board. I spent as much time as anyone figuring out which candidates would meet my goals for board members. I ended up liking each of the six candidates for different reasons, none of which was party. Party membership played no role in my choice. My sense is it doesn’t for most people voting in a school board election.

Thus far I have spoken with one of the seven 2021 candidates. Like everyone, I’m learning. The dynamic of the election is complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. If the election is a referendum on the school district’s policies regarding COVID-19 and how those policies are implemented, I believe the election favors the two incumbents and another candidate who offers something compelling to voters, the way Jami Wolf did in 2019. It is possible the incumbents could lose the election yet they have broad name recognition within the district and have each been elected multiple times. A challenger will face a steep, difficult summit of the mountain that is incumbency.

Looking at school board candidates through a partisan lens is one factor among many. I don’t recommend making too much of the chart. Do look at it, though, and draw your own conclusions.

Here is a link to the county auditor site where readers can find contact information for the candidates. Do phone or send them an email with your questions. I hope you’ll follow my posts as we learn more about the community and the seven candidates for school board.

All of my posts about the 2021 election can be found here.

Categories
Living in Society

Solon School Board Election

When the Solon community is unsettled about how K-12 schools are being managed, a lot of candidates run for school board. Thursday, Sept. 16, was the filing deadline for the Nov. 2 election and seven candidates filed for three non-partisan positions. They are:

  • Erika Billerbeck
  • Timothy Brown (incumbent)
  • Dan Coons (incumbent)
  • Kelly Edmonds
  • Stacey Munson
  • Michael Neuerberg
  • Cassie Rochholz

I have biases in this race based on who and what I know about the candidates and issues. That is part and parcel of living in a community and other voters may feel the same way. I plan to research all seven and lay out their agenda as much as it is spoken in public and knowable. There will be a series of posts to make up for the lack of coverage by major television, radio and print media. I intend to stay neutral although I already know who will get two of my three votes.

My agenda is straight forward. 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.

The right wing Heritage Foundation and their political action group Heritage Action have a presence in Eastern Iowa. They targeted school boards nationwide in the upcoming elections. Centered primarily on opposition to what they call “critical race theory,” the cadre of their activists includes many anti-vaxxers. In our district I don’t expect there to be a problem, yet I want to evaluate each candidate using this litmus test. As a former chair of the county board of health, I know vaccinations will mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in our community. I have little tolerance for political candidates who are anti-vaxxers. Here’s hoping there aren’t any.

There is dissent about the school district decision to not mandate face coverings on school property after a federal judge put a stay on the recent law prohibiting mask mandates. Signatures were collected on a petition for a mask mandate and submitted at the Sept. 16 school board meeting. The way the coronavirus pandemic was handled by the district will be an election issue.

In 2019 the board’s handling of contract negotiations with the union was not well received. Discontent resulted in six candidates for two board positions. In the end, voters supported the incumbent instead of throwing him out over collective bargaining. If it wasn’t important enough to convince voters to remove the incumbent when it was a hot issue, it becomes part of the background noise. If incumbents Brown and Coons lose this election, it won’t be solely about the collective bargaining agreement.

Post filing deadline, candidates are busy deciding about their campaigns. The main decisions are about budgets, yard signs, a campaign website, and how to win votes. Those that carefully deliberate on these four things and work hard to execute their plan will come out on top.

This is an election about whether dissatisfaction about the way the district is being run will be enough to remove two incumbents, who themselves are strong candidates with a record.

Here is a link to the county auditor site where readers can find contact information for the candidates. Do phone or send them an email with your questions. I hope you’ll follow my posts as we learn more about the community and the seven candidates who seek a position on the Solon Community School District board of directors.

My posts about the 2019 school board election are here.

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