Aspen School District board: Four candidates for three seats
October 9, 2009
It’s been a quiet campaign season thus far in the election for the Aspen School District Board of Education, but the four candidates face plenty of issues.
The top three vote-getters will earn four-year terms on the board, and they’ll likely have to find a superintendent to replace Diana Sirko, who’s indicated she plans to retire within the next few years. They also will have to deal with state budget cuts, negotiating with the Aspen Education Foundation, attracting and retaining quality teachers, and addressing issues with the curriculum.
Comprising the field are two incumbents – Snowmass Village resident Charla Belinski and Elizabeth Parker of Aspen – along with newcomers Kathryn “Katy” Frisch and Robert Glah, both of Aspen.
In a public forum last week at Aspen High School, the four candidates addressed a medley of topics, with budget cuts emerging as a key issue.
“We really need to put everything on the table and examine it,” said Frisch, who has a background in technology, business and finance. “Nothing is sacred … Planning year to year is very difficult but it’s more difficult if you don’t look at the long term, and the overriding philosophy should be what’s best for the kids.”
Belinski, the current board president, said it’s important that the board seek input from the community, as well as staff and the district administration, when it comes to budget cuts.
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“We would have to look at the community – those who live here and have a vested interest,” she said. “Not only look at the whole community but look at the administration and the staff during the first round of discussions – and Katie makes a good point: Put everything on the table.”
Parker felt the same way.
“I would turn first to the experts who are the teachers and the administrators,” she said. “We have to cut and maintain the same level [of education]. How can we do the same or more, with less?”
Glah, a financial advisor, offered that it could take a “creative” approach, and encouraged a dialogue among community members.
“I’m not sure we fully utilize all of the resources in the community,” he said, adding that “I’m not sure children appreciate the severity of this downturn.”
The treasurer of the board of the Aspen Education Foundation, Glah said his top priority as a school board member would be to put more teeth in the curriculum. He suggested that some students might not be challenged enough with the existing curriculum, and the new board should see “how it can be improved.”
“Instilling in the curriculum more vigor – a higher emphasis on academics,” he said, adding later that “I worry sometimes they’re going through the motions without tackling their work with a greater passion.”
Frisch said she would not have a single issue topping her to-do list as a board member.
“There’s no one issue I could talk about,” she said. “My over-riding philosophy is what’s good for the kids is good for the district.”
Belinski, meanwhile, said the board’s relationship with the Aspen Education Foundation, a nonprofit that provides funding to the school district, is “critical” in the current economic climate.
“No one wants to address this, but we will have to,” said Belinski, whose background is in communications and public relations.
Keeping quality teachers is Parker’s top priority. The district, which had struggled to retain staff because of the cost of living, is starting to see more stability, noted Parker, who has sat on numerous preschool boards as well as the district’s financial advisory board.
“The expectation from our community is that we operate like a private school,” she said.
With Sirko expected to leave within the next four years, the board will also have to search for a replacement.
“This raises the stakes even higher about the importance of this election,” Sirko said.
The two incumbents and two challengers all have children -ranging from toddlers to college aged.