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School board contenders square off

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | October 7, 2021 1:09 AM

Coeur d'Alene School Board candidates were put to the test Wednesday night in a digital forum that quizzed them on critical race theory, angry citizens, teacher pay and more. 

Participating candidates were:

• Zone 1 — Allie Anderton and Lisa May

• Zone 4 — Lesli Bjerke and Lindsey Swingrover 

• Zone 5 — Glen Campbell and Rebecca Smith 

Swingrover, a school psychologist in the district, attended the Sept. 24 board meeting that was abruptly postponed due to safety and capacity concerns. She said she was one of the few individuals who wore a mask in the crowd, which led to hostility from other attendees. 

"I had somebody screaming at me that my children should be taken away because I am abusing them by having them wear masks," Swingrover said. "I've lived in Coeur d'Alene almost my whole life, and I've never seen anything like this."

Though Zone 4 candidate Lesli Bjerke was not in town on Sept. 24, she spoke to individuals who were. The cancellation clearly upset attendees, Bjerke said, but everything "for the most part seemed very peaceful." 

"There is a sense that (meeting attendees) are not feeling heard, disenfranchised and frustrated," she said. "If we can listen to both sides, I think we're going to be able to accomplish a lot more."

Employees in all industries are struggling to meet the cost of living in Kootenai County, and Zone 5 incumbent Rebecca Smith said Coeur d'Alene School District teachers are no different. Smith said the pay is "right for today," but tomorrow is a concern.

"With rising housing prices and the cost of living here, it's definitely something in the future we're going to continually wrestle as to how we pay and retain teachers in this area," Smith said.

Echoing his opponent, Zone 5 candidate Glen Campbell said he too has seen how the cost of living affects the community. If elected, Campbell said he would try to remedy those challenges for teachers. 

"Over the past five years since I have seen house prices just go sky-high, we will have to address what teachers' salaries are, budget a little bit differently, and maybe rework some numbers," he said.

Critical race theory has become a hot topic in public education, particularly in the Coeur d'Alene School District. Zone 1 challenger Allie Anderton said that while CRT is not taught at school, it is still prevalent.

Specifically, Anderton believes the district's Portrait of a Graduate, Equity Framework and social-emotional learning policies are tied to CRT thinking. 

"What we're doing with that is not OK," Anderton said. "The equity framework and Portrait of a Graduate are written by Marxist and CRT authors."

The district and state have taken several measures to remove CRT from Idaho schools, Zone 1 incumbent Lisa May said. Those actions include the passage of House Bill 377, Idaho School Board Association policies, and a review of the district's equity framework. 

"I ask our community members if they see this happening in the classroom, please let us know," May said. "But, we should not be using the boogeyman underneath the bed to scare community members. There is no intent to teach critical race theory anywhere in the Coeur d'Alene School District." 

The district puts a levy before the voters every two years to provide a quarter of the entity's operating budget. This year, the levy passed, but surrounding school districts struggled to receive voter approval. 

Bjerke, a former elementary school teacher for 25 years, said she voted against the recent levy. She said she would consider approving one as a trustee if the district made significant changes.

"If we are able to remove critical race theory and its tenets out of our school and we see some improvement in test scores, I would be more enthusiastic about voting for the levy," Bjerke said. "But at this time, I wasn't enthusiastic about this levy." 

Swingrover said she has voted in favor of past levies because it supports the education of her children and others. She pointed out that funding for education in Idaho is unfortunately pushed from the state onto taxpayers in that district, but "it's worth it." 

"It's worth it to me to have well-educated kids, both in my house and the person who is giving me change at the grocery store," Swingrover said. "It's really about the value you get."

If Campbell had the option to put his children in Coeur d'Alene public schools or seek an alternative, he said he would want to keep them in the district. But, due to parents "feeling disenfranchised" by the institutions and curriculum, Campbell said he might be swayed elsewhere. 

"A lot of people are upset with the fact, and they're starting to pull their kids out," Campbell said. "The first choice would be public schools, but there are other options, and people are taking those other options because they're frustrated."

All three of Zone 5 incumbent Smith's children are in Coeur d'Alene public schools, she said. Is there room for improvement? "Absolutely," she said, but added that she believes the district is making progress with its long-range goals. 

"We use public school as a jumping-off point," Smith said. "I'm thankful that my kids get to experience the quality teachers that we have incredibly in Coeur d'Alene schools."

If Anderton had to grade the quality of Coeur d'Alene School District education, she would give it a "C." To improve it, the Zone 1 candidate would like to see the district go "back to the basics." 

"Since Common Core came on the scene, we have continued to drop in our scores," Anderton said. "I think we need to get back to classical academics, and we need to focus on teaching true civics and true history. Then hopefully, we can get back on track."

To May, the district deserves a "B" as it is "not doing as well as (it) could be." Still, the Zone 1 incumbent believes the district is "making strides in the right direction." 

"We recognize there's work to do," she said. "If we can provide similar experiences in the classroom, so every student is assured of receiving quality, rigorous education, we will be more assured that our students graduate well prepared."

A recording of all four digital forums and supplemental candidate information can be found on cdapress.com under the "Meet the Candidates" tab located at https://cda-meet-the-candidates-2021.webflow.io/. 

The forum series was produced in partnership with The Press and The Coeur d'Alene Regional Chamber.

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Lesli Bjerke

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Rebecca Smith

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Lisa May

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Allie Anderton

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Campbell

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