October 10, 2008

Candidates Outline Positions


Easing overcrowding at the high school and following state mandates on teaching non-English speaking students are two issues facing Sahuarita Unified School District voters who will elect three school board members in November.

The district is considering a solution to overcrowded Sahuarita High School, which has an enrollment of more than 1,400 students, though it is designed for only 1,200.

One idea is to spend $4 million in voter-approved bonds to build a wing of classrooms on property leased by Farmer's Investment Co. Another is to reconfigure the school calender.

In another issue, the school board recently challenged a state Department of Education mandate to place non-English speaking students in four-hour daily English-language classes. The board said federal law prohibits that. But the board subsequently said it would work with the state.

All six candidates running for the seats believe they can bring consensus and solutions to the district with nearly 4,600 students in six schools. Two of the candidates are incumbents.

Incumbent Elaine Hall, seeking her third term, favors building a new high school.

It's a gamble if the state does not reimburse the district, she admitted. But the fast-growing district cannot wait, she added.

Creating a year-round school would cost money for additional bus service and use of facilities, said Hall, a retired school district employee.

Regarding the district's position on teaching English language learners, known as ELL, Hall supported the district's challenge of the state mandate. She said federal law trumped state law. But she said that a district-state compromise was prudent.

Kathryn Zanin, a Tucson Unified School District educator, favors a year-round high school calender. Parents would be given a choice on what track their children would attend, she said.

Additionally, tutoring or other support services could be provided to year-round students between school sessions.

On the question of ELL, Zanin said the district should implement the state's mandate in good faith. If test results and other measurements show ELL students are not learning adequately , then the district can be proactive and challenge the state.

Nathaniel Irvin, a Raytheon engineer, said the district should start building a new high school while continuing to push the state school facilities board for emergency construction money.

This would demonstrate to the state that "we're willing to work them," said Irvin.

He believes residents would reject a year-round calender.

In the matter of ELL, Irvin said the board acted honestly when it challenged the state's mandate because it believed federal regulations superceded state law.

Kris Ham, a parent volunteer, also supports construction of new classrooms because voters approved bond money for a new high school. "We can't wait for the state and its budget issues," said Ham.

In the disagreement with the state over the ELL mandate, Ham said conflicting federal and state laws squeezed the district. While she is concerned ELL students are not learning core subjects because they are required to spend up to four hours in English language classes, Ham said she supports English-immersion classes for non- English-speaking students.

Diana S. Kellermeyer who is seeking her second term, wrote in an e-mail she supports building a new high school.

"I support the option that best meets the desires and needs of our stakeholders - students, teachers and staff, and the community," she wrote.

She said while the district will continue seeking the public's opinions and concerns on the new high school, "there seems to be support for working toward building the next campus with funding the district has available, and partnerships with community corporations."

On the issue of teaching ELL students, Kellermeyer, a clinical director for the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, wrote the district is working with the state to ensure the district's plans are within state guidelines.

The school board "fully understands their obligations to the state, as well as the obligation to our ELL students," she wrote.

"The district's ability to maintain a close working relationship with the Arizona Department of Education is the key to mutual agreement and success for our students," Kellermeyer wrote.

The sixth candidate, Michael M. Kennedy Jr., a Raytheon engineer, said a new high school "needs to happen a lot sooner than later." He said the district should use caution if it uses eminent domain to obtain a site for a new high school.

On the issue of ELL, Kennedy said every student should fluently read and write English. But he also supports teaching a second language to students beginning in their early years.

* Contact reporter Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 807-8414 or [email protected]


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