Two candidates competing for one Durango School District 9-R board seat took on tough questions Monday at the League of Women Voters forum about arming school guards, improving literacy, school finances and what they would do to benefit students.
Longtime educator Stephanie Moran is facing Kristin Smith, a parent and home health professional, in a race to represent District B, the western portion of the school district. The candidates will be elected at-large by voters across the 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.
Moran has served on the board since 2012 and said she wanted to continue serving to work on school safety, upgrades to school infrastructure, affordable housing for teachers and policies that protect students from the dangers of social media, while using it to expose them to a diverse range of ideas.
“I will listen intently with the goal of doing the greatest good for the greatest number,” she said.
Moran said she would also like to work to with families to ensure children are growing up in environments that foster literacy and numeracy.
Smith said she wants to bring a parent’s perspective to the board, ensure schools are working together for student success and that teachers feel heard.
“If teachers feel valued and heard, it makes them better teachers,” she said.
When asked whether they would support arming school security guards with firearms, both candidates deferred to the advice recently offered to the 9-R board by law enforcement. The La Plata County sheriff, Durango police chief and a Colorado State Patrol captain told the board it would be best to have armed school resource officers to protect the schools.
Moran also emphasized the board has yet to make a decision about arming school security.
On how to improve literacy, the candidates offered differing views.
Moran said she would like to see work on increasing literacy among parents and ensuring students can fully comprehend the material they are reading, she said.
“The literacy level of a child is most dependent on the literacy of his or her mother,” she said.
The state’s Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act could help the district improve literacy by providing funds and proven curriculum, Smith said. The school district has received funding through the READ act in the past.
When asked to describe funding for 9-R, both candidates agreed the district does not have enough funding.
Smith suggested the district seek partnerships in the community to help meet student needs. For example, Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen, provides backpacks full of food to students in need and the district could help establish similar additional programming.
Moran said, for six of the last seven years, district spending has been either on or under budget, but the state should provide additional funding. The state spends $2,700 less per pupil than the average across the country, she said.
“That’s a disgrace,” she said.