Two candidates are vying for one open seat this fall on the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education; a second open seat on the five-member board will be filled by appointment.
Incumbent Stephanie Moran will face Kristin Smith in the District B election, which includes the western portion of the school district.
An open seat in District D, which encompasses much of eastern Durango, will be filled by appointment after the election.
Marianna Valdez was appointed to the seat in December 2018 and is vacating the position.
The board has faced a tumultuous year after an anonymous group questioned the accuracy of Superintendent Dan Snowberger’s resume, a parent questioned the district’s handling of a sexual assault investigation and the school board reprimanded Snowberger for using his school email to air his personal agenda. Despite the controversy, the school board extended Snowberger’s contract and issued a statement backing him.
In the current school year, the board will face big questions about whether to allow school security guards to carry firearms and determining whether to ask voters for a property tax to fund building improvements.
Moran has served on the board since 2012 and is running again to lend institutional knowledge to the board, she said.
“My experience is my greatest strength,” she said.
Moran worked in education for nearly 40 years and taught in elementary, middle, high school and college settings.
During her time on the board, she has worked on pay increases for teachers and staff members to help ensure they can afford to live in the community. She is pleased with the district’s emphasis on teaching students based on their skill level rather than their age or grade level.
Smith said she has been an involved parent for seven years and believes it is important to bring a parent’s perspective to the board. The only board member with children in the district is Valdez, who is vacating her seat.
“I think that parent voice of someone who is in the schools and in the classrooms is really an important perspective to represent our community and our community interests,” Smith said.
Smith provides home health care and has a degree in communications from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.
She became passionate about helping children learn by working with her son, Asher, a Durango High School student, who has a rare genetic syndrome that caused physical and intellectual disabilities.
Asher loves to learn, but he sometimes struggles in the classroom. Smith worked with his teachers on individual learning plans to make sure he could succeed.
Just as Asher has succeeded, Smith said all other students in the district can succeed, as well.
“(Students) all come from different backgrounds, they all have different strengths and challenges, and so we need to meet them where they are at,” she said.
Both candidates said they plan to listen to the community as they weigh big decisions, such as arming security guards and the upcoming property tax question.
Smith said she would be interested in how arming security guards might affect students psychologically and their school performance.
She also said she can see the need for upgrades to 9-R buildings, but if the district is going to ask for property taxes to fund improvements, the district will need to be transparent about how the funds are going to be used.
“As a community member, I wouldn’t want you to ask me for more money and then wonder what you are going to do with it,” she said.
Moran said one of the challenges with deciding whether to arm school security guards is the lack of research; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is prohibited from doing research on gun violence.
To help guide a decision on arming school guards, the board plans to survey the community and hold forums, she said.