Leading up to election day May 21, cdapress.com 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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Date of birth: April 25, 1949
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts degrees in psychology and sociology,
California State University; Master of Social Work, University of Washington
Public service: Idaho State Board of Social Work Examiners; Sex Offender Classification Board; and two state task forces by appointment of the Idaho attorney general. Founding member of the Idaho chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
Residency: 32 years in Coeur d’Alene
Community service: Friends of Head Start Board of Directors; Sunrise Coeur d’Alene Rotary Club; Children’s Village Board of Directors; Kootenai County Child Abuse Task Force member; chair, Kootenai County Child Sexual Abuse Network; president, local branch of National Association of Social Workers.
Family: Married, two children, four grandchildren
Hobbies: Spending time with family, listening to music, boating
COEUR d’ALENE — Tom Hearn says he is seeking election to the Coeur d’Alene School District Board of Trustees because he believes his expertise and passion for improving the lives of children will be beneficial to the community.
Hearn is seeking election to the Zone 5 seat now held by Jim Hightower, who was
appointed to the position last summer. Hightower is not seeking election. Hearn’s
challenger is Bjorn Handeen.
A clinical social worker, Hearn has owned a mental health clinic since 1986, and
since the 1970s, he’s made a career of helping children, families and individuals
work though difficult and sensitive issues.
“I have considerable experience dealing with difficult problems involving the abuse of children, both with victims and perpetrators of abuse,” Hearn said. “I think my professional skills in helping others handle communication problems, and in handling high conflict cases, could be beneficial on the board.”
Hearn said he feels his experience as a successful small business owner, in handling budgets, is another asset he will bring to the board if elected.
He is familiar with public board and state legislative processes, he said, having been appointed to state boards by three different governors — Cecil Andrus, Dirk
Kempthorne and Butch Otter. At times, Hearn served as chair of several boards. He also served on two state task forces, each time by appointment of an Idaho Attorney General.
“I know what it’s like to be a board member and make tough decisions. I’ve held
public hearings, testified to the legislature,” Hearn said.
Finding the best way to put the state-mandated Idaho Core standards in place in the school district is one of the greatest challenges Hearn expects to face, if elected.
“The teachers and the staff have spent hours trying to prepare for the implementation of the Common Core this fall, and now there are certain groups
in the community that think core standards are a bad idea. I’m not convinced of
that,” Hearn said. “I don’t have a sense that they are anything but a good upgrade
of the academic standards of the district. However, I’m willing to listen to the
parents and teachers about this issue. I’m not in favor of adopting any program
that hasn’t been thoroughly discussed with the parents, teachers and the
community at large.”
He said he sees the ongoing funding issues plaguing public education as another significant challenge.
"Since the state has failed to adequately fund the district, the district has been forced to make up the difference with the M&Os,” Hearn said. “That, in my opinion, has been set too low."
He says he knows that's likely an unpopular opinion.
As the owner of residential and commercial properties, he said he’s concerned about property taxes, but he’s also concerned that education isn’t being properly funded.
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.
It is the board’s job to support education professionals who develop the curriculum, Hearn said.
"The board's job is not to micromanage the district, but to hire the best
professionals possible, starting with the superintendent," Hearn said. "Our job is
to then support them so they can produce the highest education programs
Hearn has two children who are Coeur d'Alene School District graduates.
He said it's his understanding that there have been sitting school board members
whose children did not attend public schools.
"Should they be setting policy for the children who attend the public schools? To
me, it would be like wanting to be involved in medical decisions at the hospital,
but refusing to be a patient there," Hearn said.
Each of the candidates was asked, how important is partisanship in the role of a
"I think it has no place in the deliberation of trustees. You're not there to advance
the partisan politics of any party or group," Hearn said. "The trustees are only
Hearn said he's the best choice for voters because of his professional and board
experiences and his commitment to public education.
"I think this election is important because it will determine what direction the
school district will go. It will be a referendum on what kind of board we want," he
said. "Do we want narrow, partisan political agendas, or do we want a positive
voice that's deeply involved in the public schools? We need to be electing people
whose only goal is to improve the schools and not to promote other agendas."
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Birth date: Aug. 30, 1974
Public service (elected or appointed offices): Kootenai County Republican Party state committeeman
Community service (service clubs, nonprofit boards, etc.): "Yes, but I’m not running on my association in the service clubs so I would rather not answer."
Residency: Six years in Coeur d’Alene
Marital status: married
Family: Two children
Hobbies: chess, amateur sci-fi writer and reader
Education background: bachelor degree in business administration from Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis
COEUR d’ALENE — Bjorn Handeen says he's seeking election to the Coeur d'Alene School District Board of Trustees because he wants to "reverse the idea that it's a failure if a student doesn't want to go to college."
"I want to make it honorable for a student to become a plumber, or an electrician. I will advocate that we have a strong professional technical program at the high schools," Handeen said.
Handeen is seeking election to the Zone 5 seat on the board now held by Jim Hightower. Tom Hearn is challenging Handeen for the seat. Hightower, who was appointed to the position last summer, is not seeking election.
Handeen said he's also deeply concerned by the amount of debt college students are incurring "for degrees with no occupational relevance." He proposes "more robust guidance counseling" to counter the number of college-degreed students who are unable to pay back their loans because they lack marketable, practical skills.
High school students should have access to more programs that will help them earn college credit while in high school, beyond dual enrollment, he said. Handeen points to CLEP (College-Level Examination Program), offered by the College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT and AP tests. Test takers can earn college credits for what they already know by passing the exams.
"I think that even ninth- and- 10th-graders could be taking these CLEP tests," Handeen said.
One of the biggest issues Handeen feels he will face, if elected, is finding a way to "get back to teaching occupationally relevant skills for students who aren't necessarily college bound."
That can be addressed, he said, by improving the quality of vocational education at the high school level.
Teacher retention is another significant problem Handeen sees the need to address.
"I have been very surprised, while talking to many people, many teachers. I'm finding that while they are in many cases, very conservative, they are also feeling a little undervalued. So, that is a big challenge. How can we add a conservative perspective to the schools while considering teachers' perspectives?"
Handeen said more needs to be done so teachers feel that they are being heard, and feel that they're working in a safe and secure environment.
The budget is another major challenge, he said.
"My qualifications don't come from an extensive background of engagement with a progressive education system," Handeen said. "But when it comes to defining and preserving a conservative vision, I've got that. And, I'm a prodigy when it comes to that."
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 board of trustees sets policy, which includes curriculum, and the administration executes this policy," Handeen said.
"Every person in this community is a stakeholder. If we try to tell people that they need an excuse to care about education in this community, that's just an insult," Handeen said.
He said he doesn't think the quality of our teachers is the core problem with the nation’s public school system.
"This might not sound very conservative, but I wouldn't want to remove any protection for teachers' jobs. That's just something I don't think will do any good," Handeen said.
Test scores shouldn't be the only measure of a teacher's performance, he said.
"Their ability to keep low ability students engaged is really important. How do you evaluate that?"
Each of the candidates was asked, how important is partisanship in the role of a school trustee?
"I think that nonpartisan is a code word for nonconservative," Handeen said. "I think the only people who have been complaining about the exposure of that concept are the people who would prefer their own agendas remain hidden."
Handeen said he thinks he's the best candidate because he offers a new approach and perspective.
"For the last 10 to 20 years, we've been adhering to a progressive model of education and it hasn't been working," Handeen said. "Our schools aren't better off for it. I'm someone who would take a reasoned, conservative approach to our school system and I think I could make a real difference for the young people of our community."
Handeen said that even though this election has been considered partisan, he's proud of the way he and his opponent have campaigned.
"There has been no animosity, no personal attacks. It's been a very, very clean campaign,” he said.