Teton County School District

There are five candidates vying for four seats on Teton County School District No. 1's Board of Trustees. Read their responses to the News&Guide's candidate survey below.

There are five candidates running for four seats on Teton County School District No. 1's Board of Trustees. Read more about them and their positions here. You can vote for four candidates. Early voting is open now. — Billy Arnold

Betsy Carlin

Betsy Carlin

BETSY CARLIN

The incumbent chair of the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees, Carlin is seeking her second term. After a career in child care and early education, Carlin is the coordinator of Systems of Education, a group of early childhood education organizations.

She wants to bring the experience she has gained as chair to a second term.

“I want to continue to serve my community by using my strengths as a collaborative leader, my ability to understand multiple perspectives, and my passionate dedication to all the children and families of Teton County as well as the TCSD staff,” she said.

That collaboration and deliberation she refers to has been part of Carlin’s style as chair. She sees those attributes as essential to being a successful school board member.

“I have worked effectively with the other members of the board and the superintendent as we addressed reconfiguring schools, budget cuts and now safe and effective operations during COVID,” she said. “I see the big picture and I am a team player.”

What is your No. 1 priority?

The primary and obvious answer at this time is to help the district navigate through this year of COVID.

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, please rank the factors you consider most important in the district’s decision making process.

1) The physical and mental health and safety of the TCSD students and staff

2) The ability of the staff to execute effective teaching and learning

3) Effective use of resources.

How can the district plan for and react to a funding reduction because of the recent sharp drop in state revenue?

First we must look at all areas of the district to find opportunities to reduce our current spending, focusing on areas of duplicated service, excess and attrition. We can continue by forming stakeholders groups to discuss possible cuts and to understand the priority programs and practices of both the staff and the community. Finally we can work with state legislators to find ways to limit cuts.

What is one issue you feel strongly about and would never compromise on?

One thing I will not compromise on is my duty under Wyoming statute to provide free and accessible education to all children residing in Teton County. In regards to all other issues, over the last four years as a TCSD board member I have come to realize I do not know all sides nor can I make a decision on an issue until I have heard and considered all perspectives as part of my board work.

Until the pandemic ends, how can the district support teachers who have family members at higher risk from COVID-19 or have other concerns about teaching in person?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on teachers and staff as essential workers. Without our highly qualified staff we cannot provide high-quality education. It is imperative we protect staff who are at high risk by finding ways for them to use their skills while working remotely. We must also provide concerned staff physical and emotional supports so they can effectively educate our students.

Kate Mead

Kate Mead

KATE MEAD

Kate Mead is a school board mainstay, and she is seeking her fourth term. A lawyer, rancher and longtime valley resident, if reelected, she plans to lean on those three terms of knowledge during uncertain times in which the district faces problems that range from COVID-19 to budget cuts.

“My long experience is especially needed during this unprecedented time of challenge to our ability to continue to educate our students because of COVID 19,” she said.

Mead has recently spoken in meetings about the need to balance the desire for in-person learning with the precautions needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. She has said the virus is the biggest difficulty the district faces at the moment.

Above all else, Mead said, she is running, like many of the other candidates, because of her family.

“Our children were the fourth generation of our family to attend TCSD K-12 so I have a real interest in TCSD continuing to have excellent schools,” she said.

What is your No. 1 priority?

Keeping our students and staff safe while maintaining a level of face-to-face learning.

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, please rank the factors you consider most important in the district’s decision making process.

The overall safety of our students and staff is the most important factor. Secondly, but no less important, is the importance of face-to-face school to the extent possible for the physical and mental well-being of our students. Surveillance testing and contact tracing are critical to our ability to remain open. We need data to make good decisions.

How can the district plan for and react to a funding reduction because of the recent sharp drop in state revenue?

Governor Gordon has asked schools to reduce budgets by 10% for starters. We have had to adjust funding based on changes in the funding model nearly every year. First, we look at non-essential open positions since 88% of our funding is personnel and benefits. Are there programs that can be grant funded? Is a program outside of our mission? Those are a few considerations that we must consider.

What is one issue you feel strongly about and would never compromise on?

Part of being on a board is being open-minded and willing to see another side of any given issue. Also, each member has only one vote. That being said, I feel strongly that to maintain face-to-face learning, we must have surveillance testing and contact tracing of students on a voluntary basis. Otherwise, we are just rolling the dice every day because of non-symptomatic spread.

Until the pandemic ends, how can the district support teachers who have family members at higher risk from COVID-19 or have other concerns about teaching in person?

TCSD continues to be sensitive to those teachers at higher risk and those that have family at higher risk. Some teachers have been assigned to virtual learning from home. Teachers were surveyed and have had an opportunity to weigh in on their assignments. As things change nearly daily, we are trying to be flexible with teacher concerns even though we are short-handed at present.

Thomas Smits

Thomas Smits

THOMAS SMITS

Thomas Smits is a newcomer in the race, though he does currently sit on the Teton County Recreation District board, which disburses money to community organizations for recreation projects. It includes members of the school board.

Smits is an active member of other community boards, including sitting on the Teton County Planning Commission and having previously served on the Teton County Fair Board. His mix of service experience and his job as a banker at Rocky Mountain Bank, he said, have prepared him for the role, and he also brings the perspective of a parent.

“Three of my children attend district schools, which makes me intertwined in the district,” he said.

If elected, he said, educational equity across the district would be one of his biggest priorities.

“To advocate for world-class education,” he said when asked why he was running. “I want the best for every student at any of our 10 public schools, which can be attained via accountability and collaboration.”

What is your No. 1 priority?

My No. 1 priority would be to have an affirmative answer to the following question when posed to students, teachers, coaches, administrators, and all other employees: Do I have the support, materials and equipment I need to succeed in my position at Teton County School District No. 1? Although a lofty priority, it’s imperative to be asking this question and then delivering once feedback is received.

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, please rank the factors you consider most important in the district’s decision making process.

  1. Health, safety and well-being of our students and staff — can we find balance in everyone’s best interest?
  2. Pace of school community spread of COVID-19 — can we manage the spread with the resources available?
  3. Health care provider ability to treat those infected — can St. John’s and other providers deliver adequate care or are they overburdened by critical numbers of hospitalizations?

How can the district plan for and react to a funding reduction because of the recent sharp drop in state revenue?

As a banker I have the financial acumen to manage what I would refer to as imminent funding cuts. I would adamantly advocate for prioritizing cuts that would have the least impact on students and teachers alike. Many times, teachers, district employees and students have many answers to these challenges. I would also encourage the board to appoint a citizen’s task force to assist with these cuts.

What is 1 issue you feel strongly about and would never compromise on?

The district has 10 schools from one end of the county to the other. I would never compromise on ensuring equity among these 10 schools. Every student, teacher, coach and administrator across the board is equally important and deserving of equal treatment, fiscal appropriations, and support. Such equity should apply also to the arts, vocational programs, and extracurricular activities.

Until the pandemic ends, how can the district support teachers who have family members at higher risk from COVID-19 or have other concerns about teaching in person?

Teachers are any school district’s most valued asset and should be revered as such. Teachers are also deemed essential workers. Therefore, compromise is imperative between teachers and administrators. If or when a teacher, or any other employee for that matter, requests an accommodation and can support their case, every possible solution should be vetted by administration to accommodate them.

Bill Scarlett

Bill Scarlett

BILL SCARLETT

Bill Scarlett is often the trustee his peers turn to for financial advice during board meetings. After all, he is the treasurer, but he also brings a career in the finance and business worlds to his role on the board.

“I have served for four years as treasurer and believe that experience combined with my career in business and finance is extremely beneficial as public school funding faces major reductions in the coming years,” he said.

Beyond simply being economically focused, Scarlett is a parent, with two kids in the district. In recent discussions about COVID-19 precautions he has often cited his own children’s experience when discussing the effects of virtual education on students.

That helps him “understand the importance public education has on the future of Jackson Hole and Wyoming,” he said.

What is your No. 1 priority?

I have two top priorities. First, I believe that our students must be in the classroom with as much face-to-face education as possible. As a parent, I am part of the 95% of Teton County families that believe students should have in-classroom education. Second, and longer term, I will work with the legislative and executive branches to preserve the regional cost-adjusted salaries for all of our educational professionals. This is paramount to providing our constitutional duty of delivering an “adequate and equitable” education to all of Teton County’s students.

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, please rank the factors you consider most important in the district’s decision making process.

The response to COVID has been a challenge for all of us. Protocols recommended by the Department of Health have been put in place. Air purifiers have been installed. It is noted by the Department of Health that metrics to assist in decision making are not available. The social and emotional well-being of our children is being impacted. It is time to secure the necessary resources to return to school full time.

How can the district plan for and react to a funding reduction because of the recent sharp drop in state revenue?

I believe that Teton County property taxpayers are doing more than their fair share for statewide public education funding. Last year, Teton County School District No. 1 sent approximately 20% of the local property tax generated for schools back to the state to assist those districts that fail to fund their own model guaranty. If we are required to make reductions next year, the district has maximized its legal cash reserves. These could be used to slow the impact of reductions over several years.

What is one issue you feel strongly about and would never compromise on?

School safety and security.

Until the pandemic ends, how can the district support teachers who have family members at higher risk from COVID-19 or have other concerns about teaching in person?

The board continually reviews and modifies policies, salaries and benefits to adapt to the situation. I will work with all the stakeholders to provide the most competitive employment package we can.

Jennifer Zung

Jennifer Zung

JENNIFER ZUNG 

A newcomer to the school world, Jennifer Zung has a background in civil engineering and development. An Alta resident, she also has a child in the schools.

“I believe that a high-quality public education system is key to creating a society that is productive, engaged and compassionate,” she said. “My son is a student in the district, so I am personally invested in our schools.”

Though she has not been on a school board, Zung has sat on a number of boards in Teton Valley, Idaho, including being the chair of the Downtown Driggs Association. She felt drawn to the school board because she is passionate about maintaining a high level of education in Teton County.

Her roles as community planner and business owner, she said, have prepared her.

“Experiences in my professional and personal life have taught me the value and importance of hearing and considering all voices, a strength I will take to the school board to help make hard decisions that are best for our kids, teachers and community,” she said.

What is your No. 1 priority?

My top priority is to represent all students, including the ones who attend the outlying schools like Alta, Kelly and Moran; the ones who can’t afford private tutors; the ones who don’t have internet access; and the ones who struggle to learn English. At the same time, I will represent the ones who are like me and have a stable, supportive home and thrive when challenged academically.

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, please rank the factors you consider most important in the district’s decision making process.

There are three factors I will consider. The first is the amount of community spread that is present as reported by the Health Department. The second is the ability of the schools to implement key mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of COVID. The third, but no less important, is the impact on students and teachers with respect to academics, social health and emotional well-being.

How can the district plan for and react to a funding reduction because of the recent sharp drop in state revenue?

First, I would investigate if there was a way to prevent reductions to education funding in the first place. If this is unlikely, I would only support funding cuts that minimized, to the greatest extent possible, impacts to the learning environment. This includes both in the classroom, on the playing fields and in other enrichment activities.

What is 1 issue you feel strongly about and would never compromise on?

I want to protect the learning environment. This means fighting to maintain funding and supporting teachers and “filling their cups” so they can encourage, challenge and support students to grow and become life-long learners.

Until the pandemic ends, how can the district support teachers who have family members at higher risk from COVID-19 or have other concerns about teaching in person?

I think it is important to listen to what the teachers need during this pandemic. Ideally, if teachers have concerns about teaching in-person they should be assigned to teach only virtually. If this is not possible due to staffing levels, the key mitigation strategies that the schools are implementing to avoid COVID transmission become that much more important and should be strictly adhered to.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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