School board candidates field questions before elections

Marshalltown School Board elections are less than a week away.

Four opening seats are to be filled during elections, Sept. 8.

To get to know the eight Marshalltown candidates, more than 150 area residents attended a forum, Tuesday, to listen to each – Kay Beach, Janelle Carter, Ross Harris, Sean Heitmann, John Johnson, Patrick Kouang, Anne Paullus and Ben Stansberry – explain why he or she wishes to sit on the board.

The event was hosted by the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce, Times-Republican and Regional Partnership at the Fisher Community Center, in Marshalltown.

Incumbent Kay Beach has sat on the board for eight years, three of which she served as board president. She has lived in Marshalltown for over 40 years.

Former engineer Janelle Carter said she was active in the district for about 20 years as a parent of Marshalltown students. She has experience working with international high schoolers.

First-time candidate Ross Harris serves as the operations manager at Fisher Controls, in Marshalltown, and has two children enrolled in the district. He is eager to share his “business mindset” with the school board, if elected.

Attorney Sean Heitmann, of Moore, McKibben, Goodman & Lorenz, in Marshalltown, has a child enrolled in the school district. The Victor native has lived in Marshalltown for 12 years.

Incumbent John Johnson seeks a second term on the board. He has three children who have attended Marshalltown schools. Johnson reads aloud in elementary school classrooms, staffs a Lenihan Intermediate School store and leads a local youth group.

Patrick Kouang has three children enrolled in the Marshalltown School District. He has lived in Marshalltown for six years. Kouang is a machinist and operates an at-home daycare.

Board vice president Anne Paullus is running for a third term. She has been involved with the district as an administrator, teacher and parent, teaching in Marshalltown schools for 22 years and acting as a principal for 12.

Marshalltown native Ben Stansberry works as a Marshall County prosecutor and has two children enrolled in the school district. He works with the Marshall County Drug Endangered Children’s Task Force and serves on the boards of the Marshall County Historical Society and Child Abuse Prevention Services.

What follows are a selection of candidate responses to questions posed to each, individually.

Questions were submitted by Times Republican readers and audience members. Candidate responses have been edited for brevity.

Kay Beach

– More than 80 percent of school budgets go to payroll, not students and programs. … What should be done to control the spiraling expense [of education], and should teachers also be paid … with an accountability piece of some kind?

“I don’t think that teachers are overpaid. Their job is tremendously important, and I’m strongly in favor of paying teachers more, if possible. In order to control costs, we just have to look at every penny that we’re spending. There are ways that we can economize, we can conserve. Unfortunately, our teachers are not given the opportunity to pick and choose the students that they have. They deal with whoever walks through the door. Grading a teacher and compensating her based on her students’ achievement, it is just not right. I think they need to be paid for the job that they do.”

Janelle Carter

– Is the district top-heavy in administration, and if budget cuts need to be made, should those positions be targeted first before teachers and programs?

“I don’t have any problem with well-paid administrators. I think that their job is tough. At the same time, I feel that every top administrator job should be held accountable. As long as we have the results, and everyone is happy with those results, I think that’s fine. If we were going to do budget cuts, I would start line-by-line and look at all of our non-essential, not-student-related items first. For example, car, printer, building, insurance contracts, travel by administrators. Eighty percent of our budget is salaries. I would cut administrative salaries first, or at least look hard at administrative salaries.”

Ross Harris

– There is discussion that a Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) academy could be established in Marshalltown. What ideas would you give in getting this initiative moving forward?

“I can say, without question, I’m 100 percent supportive. It will help our students learn, so they can compete in a global environment. We can leverage, because of our geographic location, the state universities. We can pull those professors and recent alumni, so the students can see the opportunities for people that have been in their shoes. We can pull the great students from around the state to Marshalltown, so that our students can see exactly what they are working with and what they’re competing against.”

Sean Heitmann

– Concerns were raised during the recent Marshalltown High School principal search about transparency and being more open to the process. Give us your perspective how a search for an administrator should be conducted.

“I think we need to conduct searches in the most open way we can. We need to seek out input from the community, from educators, from the school board, from all the parties that are interested. I think if we give everyone an opportunity to have their voice heard and make them understand their opinions are valued and respected, I think the ultimate decisions will be better received because everyone has been able to play a part in the decision-making process.”

John Johnson

– A buzzword that rears its head in discussions of the Marshalltown school district is parental frustration with a supposed lack of transparency. What specifically would you like more information about?

“I have been on the board for four years. I have yet to receive a full summary of all of our expenditures, a budget which should be about 4 inches thick. I receive the budget for the month right before the meeting. That’s what we’re expected approve. That’s not being transparent. You see salaries printed in the newspaper, but you never see the budget. If you know that, then maybe you would look at other things differently.”

Patrick Kouang

– There has been some criticism as to whether or not district administrators and teachers who are part of the school district should be required to reside in the district as well as have their own children enrolled in this district. Share with us your thoughts.

“I think it’s important if you do have kids that go to the school district to reside here.

Because you’ll know by going to restaurants or participating in community events that you know what the community is all about. I think just having our diverse community, if the kids stay in the school district, they can learn more from different cultures. And those students can pass along what they’ve learned to their parents.”

Anne Paullus

– The perception and pride of the Marshalltown school district has room for improvement. How have you projected a sense of pride and enhanced the perception of our school district outside of your board participation?

“A lot of it is constant communication with people, bragging up our schools because they deserve it. There are a lot of good things going on. Sometimes you have someone come up to you and say, ‘What is going on in the Marshalltown school district? I don’t like what I’m hearing.’ It’s very frustrating. Many times it’s wrong. Sometimes it’s probably right, and then you say, ‘Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I guess we really do need to pay attention to that.’ But sometimes it’s misinformation, and I think it’s very important as board members that we help everybody have the right information.”

Ben Stansberry

– Given that, from recently published payroll figures, our schools cost us well over $7,000 per student in personnel costs alone, do you think we are getting our money’s worth compared to comparable districts?

“Yes. Community development starts in the school. The companies that work here or want to work here. The people that they hire. All revolve around the quality of our school. I understand that everyone wants their property taxes to be low. And I understand that everyone wants the school district to be accountable for how those property taxes are being spent, but we need to understand that our schools directly reflect the investment we’re willing to make in the community.”