Two Durango School District 9-R candidates are competing for a chance to tackle sticky issues, such as arming school security guards, after a tumultuous year for the district.
Incumbent Stephanie Moran is facing Kristin Smith to represent District B in the election, the western portion of the school district. The candidates will be elected at-large by voters across the district.
The Durango Herald editorial board interviewed both candidates Thursday and asked them to address questions about school security, arming school guards and the performance of Superintendent Dan Snowberger.
Snowberger’s conduct came under scrutiny in the last year after an anonymous group questioned his 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 controversies, the school board extended Snowberger’s contract and issued a statement backing him. The school board’s responsibility is to oversee, hire and fire superintendents.
The editorial board asked both candidates to give the superintendent a letter grade and explain it.
Smith gave Snowberger a B-minus because he has a huge job and works hard, but she has noticed dissatisfaction among school staff.
“I think school staff feel intimidated at times, not all school staff, but some,” Smith said.
She is also concerned Miller Middle School has had three principals in four years.
“I don’t know that it’s always communicated clearly why there are changes in leadership,” she said.
Moran gave Snowberger a B, specifically an 85%, because sometimes he moves too quickly with big changes.
“Sometimes, he forges ahead and doesn’t have a plan B,” she said.
However, she said she doesn’t believe any teacher should feel intimidated by Snowberger.
“People aren’t fired because they speak out,” she said.
Moran and Smith’s positions aligned on big issues that raised concern in the community in recent months, such as arming security guards and the district’s policy on serving partial lunches to students who owe money to the district.
Both candidates said they opposed arming school security guards, in part, because last week the La Plata County sheriff, Durango police chief and a captain with the Colorado State Patrol cautioned against it.
However, both the Sheriff’s Office and police department have trouble filling positions because they can’t offer competitive pay, so it might be difficult for them to provide more school resource officers. Both candidates acknowledged paying officers is a problem.
“We are in a sticky situation,” Smith said.
The candidates were also united against the district’s policy of serving partial lunches consisting of a cheese stick and fruit or a granola bar and fruit to students who owe the district for three or more meals.
Moran said she was unaware the district still says on its website it will serve partial lunches. The district’s policy of serving partial lunches gained some public attention in the spring after a para-educator started a fundraiser to pay off student lunch debt at Miller Middle School.
Smith said she did not want students to be publicly shamed because they can’t pay for lunch.
“There is no way for them to protect themselves from what could be an embarrassment,” she said.
Candidates also highlighted some of the district’s strengths and areas where it could improve student achievement.
Moran said she was pleased the district has embraced competency-based learning, which focuses on whether students have mastered skills. She would like the district to continue to work on emphasizing mastery of skills and eventually place students in classes based on skills rather than age.
Smith said the district has done well integrating students with disabilities into the classroom. She has observed the integration because her son, Asher, a Durango High School student, has a rare genetic syndrome that caused physical and intellectual disabilities.
Smith would also like to see greater collaboration between schools. For example, Mountain Middle School, a charter school, has far higher test scores than the two public middle schools. She said she believes charter, private and public schools could benefit from collaboration.
“As leaders in education in this community, we are not just about this one school. We are about educating all students in Durango,” she said.