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Candidate Q&A: Jan McGinnis

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part four of a five-part question-and-answer series on the Marshalltown School Board candidates.

Part four is dedicated to candidate Jan McGinnis, 61, teacher at the Meskwaki High School near Tama.

Having grown up with her father in the Navy, McGinnis moved a lot but spent four years in Vienna, Va. She moved to Marshalltown in 1983.

She received a bachelor of science degree in education from Buena Vista College in Storm Lake and a master’s degree from Iowa State University.

She and her husband have two grown sons – Jason who lives in Iowa City with his wife Carolina and daughter Ariah; and Jesse who lives in Florida with his wife Angel and sons Preston and Grayson. Jesse also has a daughter, Denise, in Arizona.

The other candidates running for four seats on the school board are incumbent Nicholas “Niko” Aguirre, Sara Faltys, incumbent Sean Heitmann and Bob Untiedt.

The election will be held Nov. 5.

Q: The Marshalltown Community School District currently has more than 550 students that have chosen to open-enroll out of the district and attend area schools. What do you think are the main reasons for students leaving the district? What do you propose to change that trend?

McGinnis: Many parents approached me about this issue when I taught in Marshalltown. Parents of special education students chose to open enroll their students into surrounding districts because they felt their children would be better served there. It is important for the district to offer services to students with special needs. Parents approached me about discipline issues at some of the buildings recently. They want children to feel safe so that they can concentrate on learning. We need policies that ensure every building in the district provides for student welfare and learning. We can improve the learning climate, strengthen core programming, expand dual language and programs in music, physical education and the arts. Marshalltown serves many children whose parents work multiple jobs or irregular shifts. We should consider a community schools model that bases multiple community services and agencies at school buildings. This would strengthen ties between schools and the communities that are served.

Q: Besides open-enrollment, what do you consider to be the top three goals you would like to see the school district accomplish?

McGinnis: The school district needs to improve checks and balances, attract and retain quality teachers and make building repairs. Marshalltown paid more than $600,000 in fines for fiscal mismanagement. Fiscal irresponsibility erodes the public trust and makes it difficult for the school system to gain financial support. Marshalltown needs policies that will allow the community to attract and retain teachers. If the district is to compete with the smaller school systems that surround it, teachers must be given the autonomy found in those systems. School buildings are aging. The auditorium at Miller, leaky roofs and mold at multiple buildings and lack of air conditioning at the high school are only a few of the problems. The district cannot fix these problems without money. The district cannot bring in money without addressing the public’s lack of faith in its ability to use the money wisely and educate the children well.

Q: How will you exercise fiduciary responsibility and oversight?

McGinnis: I will read reports made available to me and ask questions. I will have to rely on the advice of experts to learn more about what needs to be done to ensure that the school district’s money is spent wisely.

Q: Since the school budget is millions of dollars, what is your background in financial concerns or how will you gain understanding of this major component?

McGinnis: I have written and evaluated projects for funding and I have read the 2019 Auditor’s Report on Compliance.

Q: Have you visited any school facilities? Explain.

McGinnis: I taught in Marshalltown for 17 years and raised my children here so I am familiar with the buildings.

Q: What course of action should the school district take to install air conditioning in to the high school? How soon should that process begin?

McGinnis: It is important to install air conditioning at the high school but there are more pressing issues in some of the other buildings. Air conditioning should be installed at the high school as soon as issues that affect health and safety are resolved in all buildings and funding is secured.