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Ignacio school board candidates asked about hot-button issues, how to improve academics

Three candidates are competing for two open seats; a fourth person is uncontested
Candidates for Ignacio School District’s Board of Education participated in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Ignacio School District)

Four candidates for Ignacio school board elections in November discussed policy issues Tuesday night in an online forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County.

Jay Dee Brunson is unopposed in running for a two-year seat on the board. He’s lived in Ignacio for 20 years and has two children attending school. He’s the manager of the Sky Ute Fairgrounds.

There are three candidates running for two four-year seats this fall:

  • Jim Bulwan is a 27-year resident and rancher who serves as a sports official in games throughout the region. He also works for Bechtolt Engineering and runs a lavender business with his wife. His son graduated from Ignacio schools.
  • Leila Baker is a business owner who taught in the school district for 10 years, in subjects ranging from fourth grade special education to high school science. She also taught classes for the College of Santa Fe for a year.
  • Lee Petty was appointed to the board six months ago. A landscape architect, he has three children who are home-schooled and attend extracurricular activities in the district.

The forum was conducted on Zoom and broadcast on local radio stations, with questions submitted to the league’s website.

How should the district continue handling masking and COVID-19 prevention?

Both Petty and Bulwan said they support the current district policy that doesn’t require masks in school, although students can wear them if they want to.

Brunson noted the district did “a wonderful job” during the past school year, “and kept our kids in school.” Masks and vaccinations should be left to families, he said.

Baker said the district should be mindful of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s policies toward COVID-19 as well, noting that the tribe recommended members follow the “Safer at Home” restrictions on Oct. 2.

She said masking is up to parents, but hopes that children who want to wear one continue to have the opportunity.

Should social equity, justice and race relations be discussed in school?

Petty said yes, because a historical sense of inequity exists in our culture, but he is opposed to teaching critical race theory in the classroom.

“We should not cripple students with the burden, the things of the past,” he said. “Let’s look to what unites us instead of what divides us.”

Bulwan said such issues are important not only for students to discuss, but for the board as well, and the community as a whole.

“We are a tri-ethnic community,” he said, referring to Ignacio’s populations of Hispanic, Native American and Anglo cultures. “In that way, we have a real advantage.”

Baker said while these are important topics, “I don’t believe that it belongs in the school at this time.”

She said adding these topics to the curriculum “would burden our teachers more.” She said race and other topics are better suited for post-secondary education, when students have started forming their own opinions and making decisions.

Having the opportunity for all students to learn about other cultures and heritage should remain in Ignacio schools, she said.

“We’re a multi-cultural community,” she said.

Brunson said these topics should not be “discussed in our schools at the moment,” so teachers can focus on core subjects.

“Our students are going through a lot right now,” he said, noting that such discussions are more appropriate for secondary-level students.

How will you interact with other local schools, including the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy and Hope Community Christian Academy?

Baker said working with other schools is important. In her experience, the transition for students who attended the tribe’s Montessori school, then moved into Ignacio public schools, wasn’t always easy.

Brunson said he would want to build relationships between the three schools.

Hope Academy, a private Christian school that offers a hybrid of home schooling and classroom teaching, is an important option for some local families, Petty said.

Bulwan said if elected, he would help the three schools work together.

Should the school district maintain close relationships with area colleges?

“Absolutely,” Brunson said, noting that schools that are close to Ignacio provide local students with the chance to continue their education.

Petty called such relationships “very important” in helping students better prepare to go to work, get ready for college, or start vocational education.

“These are very good careers,” Petty said of workforce and vocational training. “If we can help equip our students ... I am all for it.”

Bulwan said education opens people’s minds to further their careers.

“We need to keep kids aware of those opportunities,” he said, noting that many of them will return home to contribute to their community.

Baker said having different learning options for students is critical.

“We should not try to make everyone fit into a box,” she said. “Learners are diverse – some are hands-on and very visual learners,” where trade schools might be a good fit. “Students need to explore. Not everybody is a book learner.”

What should the school board do to improve teacher retention in Ignacio schools?

Petty said educators need to be asked why they might consider leaving.

“We don’t pay the most in the region,” he said. “If it’s money, what can we do to attract teachers? Is it not enough support?”

Bulwan said the issue is of vital importance, noting that there is a statewide teaching shortage. He also said board members need to listen to issues that teachers bring to them.

Baker said in her experience, employees in Ignacio “teach out of passion. We need to give our educators support and encouragement.”

Brunson said board members should think of creative ways to make Ignacio an attractive place to teach.

“We should let teachers know that we as board members are here to help,” he said.

Laurie Meininger, president of the League of Women Voters, said a recording of the candidate forum will be available on the league website, www.lwvlp.org, along with a Spanish language translation.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2, and mail-in ballots should have arrived or should be arriving at voters’ addresses this week, according to the La Plata County Clerk’s Office.

Ballots should be returned by mail no later than Oct. 25, or dropped off at 24-hour ballot boxes at Farmer’s Fresh Market in Ignacio, Bayfield Town Hall or the county clerk’s office in Bodo Industrial Park in Durango.

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