CDA school board: Regan vs. Hazel

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Leading up to election day May 21, will periodically post stories featuring contested local races. All of the candidate profiles were published in the May 7 Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls Press.

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Birth date: July 4, 1958

Profession: Engineer, inventor

Educational background: Associate degree, electronics; San Mateo College, Calif.

Public service (elected or appointed offices): School board trustee

Community service (service clubs, nonprofit boards, etc.): Idaho Freedom Foundation board member; volunteer chief technical judge for 2010 FIRST Robotics Competition

How many years as a resident of your city: Kootenai County resident 14 years

Marital status: Married 27 years

Family: Three children

Hobbies: Instrument rated private pilot

COEUR d’ALENE — Brent Regan says he's seeking election to the Coeur d'Alene school board because he sees "a need to give back to the community."

"I have, my whole life, until now, been living the American dream. I've benefited from everything that's been available, and I've been successful. The key to that is education. So, when the opportunity arose, I took it," Regan said.

Regan was appointed to the Zone 1 trustee position last December, following the resignation of Jim Purtee. His election opponent, Christa Hazel, also sought the appointment.

The greatest challenges the district faces are strategic ones, Regan said.

"How do we transition into being an Information Age educational system? Right now we're stuck in the Industrial Age of education, and we need to make that transition?" he said.

That's a particularly challenging issue, he said, because at this time, it's unclear how to resolve it.

"I don't know that anybody really has that answer right now, but the most important part of solving a problem is recognizing that you have a problem."

The need for a "cultural change" in education is another significant challenge, Regan said.

"So that everyone is trying to achieve excellence; so we're not just managing...We want to challenge kids to reach for the stars, to dream big," Regan said.

That kind of change must come from the top, he said. It has to start at the board level, he said, "by having a board that's willing to grapple with the problems, and own them, and commit to fixing them."

"Then the administration gets on board, and pretty soon the teachers are on board, and the kids are on board," Regan said. "If you can start that, it's infectious. They say success breeds success, and it's true."

The way the Common Core standards are rolled out is another critical issue the board will continue to face, according to Regan. He said they are still gathering data, working to get past "a lot of opinions, speculation and assumptions" surrounding Common Core.

"I completely agree that we need to reach higher, aim higher. We just need to be sure that the Common Core is a floor and not a ceiling, that we can still go higher than the Common Core. These are questions that I'm still working on," Regan said.

Because issues surrounding curriculum have been prominent in local education issues, each candidate was asked what, in his or her opinion, is the trustee's role in the development of curriculum.

The trustees set policy, Regan said.

"The day-to-day curriculum is not the responsibility of the trustees. Curricula is something that, certainly having a lot of teachers working on it, is a lot better than having a few people working on it," he said. "That's something that as a trustee, I think it's my role to help facilitate that, but not work in the nuts and bolts in that. We need to make sure the experts get to do their jobs."

Regan has three children, now in their 20s. He said they attended public school briefly. Then he and his wife decided to home school them.

"If you have children in the school district, it gives a particular perspective, and two of our trustees do," Regan said. "If all the trustees had kids in the district, you'd have just that perspective. There are other perspectives, and I think those are important as well."

"If I had kids in a particular school, would I be biased to the advantage of those kids?"

Regan said that through his years in business in hiring people, creating jobs and reviewing resumes, he knows what marketable skills are, what a highly employable individual looks like. He said he would like to see all children in the school district have the same opportunities his own children had.

"When they go out into the world, they'll be seen as the people you want to hire and immediately recognizable as such," Regan said.

The five seats on the school board are now filled by self-proclaimed conservative Republicans. Three of those seats, including Regan's, were filled by appointment. Regan's political affiliation is printed on his campaign signs.

Each of the candidates was asked, how important is partisanship in the role of a school trustee?

Regan said the question of partisanship that's come up repeatedly during the trustee election campaign should really be: "Do you have a political agenda?"

"I'm still scratching my head over this one because I'm not sure how you bring a political agenda into education," he said.

He said he thinks those who claim the board has a political agenda "think in those terms," and he said he doesn't.

"When you're in the job, you're not representing Rs or Ds, you're representing taxpayers, and the children and the whole community," Regan said.

Regan said his experience in business, particularly dealing with large organizations with many employees, will be an asset to the board. He said he has large-scale budget and finance experience as well.

Right now, he said he works as a "problem solver" for businesses, and his skill in that area is already helping the school district.

Regan said he's the best choice for the trustee position because of his experience.

He said that dealing with the Common Core and the strategic challenges the district faces is going to "require some higher-level thinking."

"The thinking that's needed to solve the problem must necessarily be different than the thinking that created the problem," he said. "If we're going to turn that around, it's going to require some new thinking, and that's what I do. That is my experience."

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Birth date: Jan. 26, 1974

Public service (elected or appointed office): school board trustee; appointed to Coeur d’Alene School District Long Range Planning Committee.

Community service (service clubs, nonprofit boards, etc.): EXCEL Foundation board; active PTA member

Profession: Former vice president of a security company

Residency: 30 years in Coeur d’Alene

Marital status: married 13 years

Family: two children

Hobbies: cycling, photography

Educational background: law degree, University of Idaho

COEUR d’ALENE — Christa Hazel says she’s running for election to the Coeur d’Alene school board because “We need a better representation of our community on our school board.”

Hazel is challenging Brent Regan for the Zone 1 seat. Regan was appointed to the position in December and is seeking election also.

“The Common Core curriculum, right now, is the top issue, and I think our $3 million shortfall is our other greatest pressing issue,” Hazel said.

Another challenge, she said, is the current board’s lack of “responsiveness” to the public it serves.

“We live in one of the reddest states in the country, in one of the most conservative counties in the state. We have a very conservative school board, yet we have one of the most controversial school boards, we’ve ever seen,” Hazel said. “I think, what’s the problem? If we’re a conservative community and we have a conservative school board, what is really the issue? I believe the issue is a lack of transparency and a lack of response to citizens when they reach out to our school board to let them know there’s a concern.”

Many citizens who have spoken to the board feel, Hazel said, “like only a certain segment of our community is being adequately represented on our school board.”

Regarding the Common Core, Hazel said the current board is “asking the wrong question.”

“The do we or don’t we phase is long gone. The state is moving forward,” she said.

The trustees should be looking at whether the district is prepared to implement the new standards in the fall, Hazel said, adding that she’s troubled that the board’s discussions about the Common Core standards are taking place now, several years after the state adopted them.

Regarding the district’s financial troubles, Hazel points to a $3 million budget shortfall the district is grappling with right now due to the loss of one-time funds the district received several years ago under the federal stimulus plan.

She said they need to look at what those temporary funds covered, and those items should be the first to be cut.

“I realize that statement is probably impacting jobs, but the truth is, the money we used to have to fund positions and programs, we no longer have, and I haven’t had a clear picture from the school board meetings, as to what exactly ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funded, and is that what should be cut?” Hazel said. “Then you look at other areas. You look at every single line item. You don’t just pick and choose your line items.”

She said the board’s lack of responsiveness to the public could be resolved by instilling trust.

“When you make promises to the public or parents, you need to follow through. You need to keep your word with taxpayers and parents, and I’ve seen our district not do that, whether it’s promising a survey to parents, and not following through, or it’s making statements that we’ll be breaking ground in March, and not following through,” she said.

Hazel said that if elected, she would “go above and beyond” the requirements of the state’s open meeting laws, when it comes to providing notices and agendas of meetings.

“So if you’re having a sale of public property because it’s a non-performing asset, you go above and beyond the legal code, and you actually describe those pieces of property you’re thinking of selling, whether it’s the dog park or Person Field,” she said. “If just that notice had been provided we wouldn’t have had the confusion and the back-tracking we saw with Person Field.”

Hazel sees her status as the parent of two children attending Coeur d’Alene schools to be one of the greatest assets she brings to the board. She pointed to her experience on the district’s Long Range Planning Committee and working on levy and bond campaigns as other important qualifications.

Hazel said she spends time in the schools weekly, because she’s interested. She said she’s seen board decisions in action, in the classroom, giving her a unique perspective.

“It makes me wonder if our school board trustees have actually gone and observed, or talked to teachers about math flash cards, and how they’re working,” Hazel said.

Hazel said she also brings business experience to the board, as the former vice president of a national security firm where she oversaw contracts, budgets, insurance issues and dealt with legal issues.

Hazel said her legal background will also be an asset because she’s knowledgable about potential liabilities, and because being a trustee is policy-driven, she said she’ll be “able to keep up pace.”

Because issues surrounding curriculum have been prominent in local education issues, each candidate was asked what, in his or her opinion, is the trustee’s role in the development of curriculum.

“The trustees need to approve the curriculum. The trustees need to make sure that we’re doing the best we can do with what we have,” she said.

Hazel said she believes having kids in the public school system provides a candidate with, in addition to the parent’s perspective, that of the taxpayer and teacher.

“To at least have knowledge of that experience can help shape and form a viewpoint that quite frankly, I sometimes wonder if we have on our current zone seat,” Hazel said. “I hear the talk about teachers, but in my mind, our teachers are our neighbors, and our teachers are the people I entrust my children to nearly all day, almost every day.”

Each of the candidates was asked, how important is partisanship in the role of a school trustee?

“It’s important that there’s not partisanship in the role of a trustee,” Hazel said. “I believe education should not be politicized the way it has been locally, and this is coming from someone with a conservative and somewhat politically active background.”

She said she’s the best candidate for the job because her “sole focus is on education.”

“I have the concern as a taxpayer that we provide a topnotch education to our students, at the best cost-efficiency we can,” Hazel said. “And as a parent, I want to know that we are providing the best education for our kids so they’re college and workforce ready.”

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