Second of a series
To help voters decide who to vote for to fill four slots on the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees, the News&Guide is asking the nine candidates questions in the weeks leading up to the election.
A new elementary school called Munger Mountain is being built. There has been debate in the community about how the school board selected the Hog Island land parcel.
But almost everyone agrees on one thing: The district is overcrowded, and that’s bad for academic achievement. This year almost a quarter of kids in kindergarten through fifth grade are in trailers known as modulars, a short-term solution to crowding.
The candidates were asked: If elected, or re-elected, will you support the continuing construction progress for the Munger Mountain Elementary School on the existing land parcel south of town?
Answers are in alphabetical order. Incumbent Kate Mead couldn’t be reached for comment before press time.
Annie Band: “Although the community is currently divided, the reality is that a school will go forward at the Munger site. A school board that is comfortable leading will recognize when controversy exists. Why not use the conflict as an opportunity to revise processes for the future and re-engage in discussion? Discussing options, such as downsizing to a smaller school at Munger, could build consensus in our community. Consensus is a powerful argument to the state Legislature to provide funding for the project, which we need but do not yet have. Overcrowded classrooms in Teton County School District must be addressed now. Modular units are temporary but functional and could wait if a compromise on school size were reached that better serves our long-term community vision.”
Curt Behle: “I would support the Munger Mountain Elementary School effort trusting that due process was followed. If elected I would be sensitive to the over 2 million tax dollars already spent and the tremendous effort made by many before changing direction. Changes cost money, and commitments must be well thought through.”
Betsy Carlin: “I will support the continuing construction of Munger Mountain Elementary for multiple reasons, and here are two. (1) As a candidate I am not running to change what the current board has determined, but to thoughtfully contribute to the process going forward. (2) Research indicates student achievement rises as class size drops. Munger will lower teacher/student ratios across all our community elementary schools.”
Emily Flanagan: “Whether it was funding inspired, location driven or availability, the general public does not have all the information. The location is not ideal, but for me, it is not as much about the location or building but the teachers inside that make the difference in the education of our children. Also, we are about to spend millions on a new elementary building, but there are real needs now at existing facilities.”
Nick Grenoble: “Yes. Unfortunately the process that occurred has left us with no viable alternatives. It would be irresponsible to jeopardize funding and delay construction while a quarter of our students are learning in modular classrooms. I would like to encourage a collaborative process moving forward to ensure Munger Mountain Elementary aligns with community values and explore options for a full-sized gym in the new school.”
Carlyn Hunter: “I am not in a position to give a straight answer to this question, as I am not in possession of all the relevant facts. The current board maintains that the horse has left the barn and it is not financially feasible to reverse course at this point. If this is correct I see no positive outcome from discussing this further, but I would reiterate that much of the frustration in parts of the community over the decision on where to locate the elementary school could have been avoided by a more transparent process.”
Patricia Russell: “The school in its current location benefits all of our elementary students. Four hundred students will move out of substandard classrooms in trailers, and all elementary classrooms will have less students per class. If we do not utilize the last of the state funding to build schools, that could delay the process and kids will suffer. Building the school now in the location we have is what is best for kids.”
Bill Scarlett: “Yes, build the school. It would be irresponsible to step away from the approvals and state funding being used to build this school at this location. As a trustee, I will work hard to provide permanent and safe environments for learning.”