Ross challenges Buhr for school board seat

Valley City Public Schools School Board member Sharon Buhr faces re-election this year, and her opponent is Valley City State University assistant professor Richard Ross. Both candidates have strong backgrounds in education and both sat down for interviews with Times-Record reporter David Luessen on Tuesday.

Sharon Buhr

Buhr has lived in Valley City since 1980 and has two sons who graduated from Valley City High School. One is currently working on his residency in psychiatry at the University of North Dakota, while the other is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the University of Minnesota.

Buhr has a degree in bachelor’s degree in home economics from Concordia and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Minnesota.
Buhr joined the Valley City School Board in 1991.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity and experience to work with so many excellent teachers and administrators in our school system, and helping the district to become even better,” she said.

Buhr, a District 24 Democrat, is the director of the Young Peoples Healthy Heart Program at Mercy Hospital. She teaches the ON THE MOVE program to fifth graders for seven weeks every year. She has also written and received numerous grants for the Valley City School District, and is a founder and board member of the Education Foundation for Valley City Public Schools.

Buhr is also the chair of the Valley City-Barnes County Board of Health.
What work do you see on the horizon for the school board?

“Our challenge is always to help every student reach their full potential, and as science gives us more information on the learning methods of children, we’re able to adapt and change how we teach in our school system. I think that’s one of the greatest challenges.

“Another challenge continues to be the fact that a number of students are bullied by other students and when that happens, it destroys their self esteem, it puts them at personal health risk – as we know that suicide can result – and it doesn’t allow them to become the best that they can be. So our district needs to continue to work to allow every child self respect and to eliminate bullying. That can really destroy a kid.”

How about making AYP? (Adequate Yearly Progress is a series of reading and math tests that are used as the measuring stick for the No Child Left Behind act. Schools across the country, including some in Valley City, have struggled to reach AYP goals in the past.)

“No matter how I personally feel about it, this is a national issue and will be resolved or changed nationally. What we as a school district have been doing is to change some of the way we do business. For example, we have initiated Professional Learning Communities (PLC) which allow teachers to gather together on a subject area or topic, look at the state standards and discuss how they best can be taught. But likewise, it allows the teachers to discuss test results for each student so that if an individual child is having a certain kind of problem, they can give input not just on their own but from other teachers. Or, maybe they’re seeing groups that are having problems; they can make changes in their teaching methods and help those students.

“Likewise, we initiated a second type of testing besides the AYP testing so that students would be tested in the fall and then tested in the spring again. So there is a way to see the progress they’ve made because AYP doesn’t allow for that, it only has the one test at a certain time in the year. When we see that children are having problems via this second testing method, then that’s the time that the teacher would hone in on those students and look for special ways to help them. That can allow that student to improve and do that much better on the test, but for themselves, they’re going to do much better and that’s the really important part two: Not just the test, but how is that student feeling about their own learning?

“Another thing that we’ve done at Valley City Public Schools that I certainly would push to continue, is that we’ve initiated ‘Read 180’ and ‘Math 180’ and the reason we call it ‘180’ is because kids take 180-degree turn and do that much better by having taken these classes. This is for students who have had certain learning problems and it looks like they’re not passing AYP, then they have this opportunity to improve and we’ve shown remarkable results with our students so that they can become proficient and pass AYP.”

What are your thoughts on Measure 2? (Measure 2 would abolish property taxes in the state, which currently fund a major portion of education.)
“The school board was asked to host the proponents of Measure 2 and that gave us as a board, and the people of the community, an opportunity to hear more information so they could better make up their own minds.

“I feel that if Measure 2 passes it will be very, very difficult for the school to provide the same quality of education. We will have to stand in line with all the other entities – county, township, health boards, other school boards, water resource boards – because how could the legislature know all of our needs?

“I would say this about education and taxes: Before 2008, one thing that our school board voted to do was to work with nine other school districts in the state to initiate a lawsuit against the state of North Dakota to have equity and equality in the funds for our district.
Because we’re a property-poor district, we would not be receiving as other school districts across the state. Before that lawsuit was brought to the state, the state realized that there was an issue with property taxes, in our area and across the state, related to schools and they convened a committee that met for over a year and they reworked the formula as to how much money the state pays school districts and how much comes from property taxes. As everyone looks at their property tax from 2008 and on they will see that it decreased markedly. Our local share had been more like 60-some percent, and it’s dropped around 40-some percent.

“I favor a similar legislative committee to look at property tax in the state of North Dakota. Valley City School District feels, and I personally feel, that what they came up with on reworking the school funding was very fair. That formula is very fair and we feel that we’re getting an appropriate amount of money and that took some of the burden off of our tax payers, which was extremely important.”

If you get elected to the State House of Representatives will that affect your performance on the school board? (Buhr is a District 24 Democratic candidate for State House.)

“I have given that a lot of thought. In visiting with people I feel that what I’m doing here will enhance what I would be doing at the state level to better represent our district, because I will know the problems first hand and be able to address those first hand.”

Richard Ross

Ross has lived in Valley City since 1995 and has two sons who have graduated from Valley City High School and a daughter who is a freshman at the school. His oldest son works with Hampton Inn in Fargo and his other son will be a freshman at Valley City State University this fall.
Ross himself has a master’s degree in education administration from North Dakota state University, a bachelor of science and business education and a bachelor of arts, business administration from Minot State University.

Ross is the Career Technology Education Degree Coordinator and an assistant professor in the Division of Business and Information Technology at Valley City State University.

“My first job here in Valley City was with the Center for Innovation and Instruction and I was responsible for doing the training for the laptop initiative, so I trained all the faculty and students for the first few years,” he said.

Ross, a District 24 Republican, is a member of several boards, committees and organizations: the Oracle Academic Alliance, including but not limited to the N.D. Career and Technical Education Administrator’s Committee; the N.D. Association of Career and Technical Education Board; the Microsoft Developers Network; the Oracle Academic Alliance and the Valley City State University V-500 Board.

Ross was also the chair of the Division of Business and Information Technology at VCSU from 2002 to 2007.

Why are you running for the school board?

“First of all, I’m a parent and we haven’t had a school board member that has had a child in the school district since 2010. So all of our school board members do not have children in the school district.

“The other reason I’m running is our performance in the last couple years has been slipping in the school district and I believe I could bring a fresh perspective to that.

What do you think our graduation rate is? Out of 128 school districts that reported it, we sit 21st from the bottom in graduation rate at 82.88 percent, and this is from the DPI (Department of Public Instruction) website.

“Another one that was a concern to me too was that we did not meet our Adequate Yearly Progress in 2010-2011. (Note: Adequate Yearly Progress is a series of reading and math tests that are used as the measuring stick for the No Child Left Behind act. Schools across the country, including some in Valley City, have struggled to reach AYP goals in the past.) Our graduation rate was low and our reading was way low in the district. We were meeting it for years, but the goals were so low that finally when they make their goals realistic, we don’t meet them.

“No Child Left Behind has some good points and some negative points. As a parent I want highly qualified teachers and that is a great thing to make sure our teachers are highly qualified out there. As a school board member, we’d need to stride for very highly qualified teachers. We want the best teachers that we can get in our school district.

“I am not a big fan of using one-test performance standards. I think our school district knows what quality is and we need to utilize that at the local level. We need to make our quality standards locally and I would hope the school board would do that with various input from other organizations or other groups such as Valley City State University, maybe have an advisory committee of businesses to tell them what they need out of high school graduates.”

How do you get the best teachers?

“When you look at the university (VCSU) where it sits with the North Central Accreditation, we’re tops. So if I’m a school board member I’m going to want to hire the best teachers from the best universities around. I don’t know if a lot of them (VCHS teachers) are hired from Valley City State University ... but if they are hiring a lot from Valley City State University, look around at the other school districts from the area and so are they. I get calls all the time, I’ve got one on my desk right now from the Minot School District, ‘You got a marketing teacher?’ So when you’re looking for the best teachers you tend to go to the best universities to look for them.

It starts off with identifying what the highest quality is and the school district needs to identify what sets off a high quality teacher.
From there we need to develop a plan of, first of all, retaining our high-quality teachers and making sure that we can keep the best teachers and they’re not moving off to other districts.

“Second, a rigorous interview process: I wouldn’t be opposed to having them sample teach to us. As a teacher and a person in teacher preparation, I understand what it takes to stand in front of a classroom and teach and that should be a piece of it too.

“The third piece of that, if we do have teachers in the evaluation process that do not meet what we consider quality then we need to put together a plan of professional development to get our teachers to that high quality.”

What are your thoughts on Measure 2? (Measure 2 would abolish property taxes in the state, which currently fund a major portion of education.)
“Measure 2, whatever way that vote comes out, our school board is going to have to work with it and it’s not going to kill our schools. I do have some concerns, one is if it does pass, I worry that the school boards will start putting in for 20 (percent) to 30 percent increases; that’s really going to tie up the hands of our legislature.

“I can tell you right now the Valley City School District has increased their budget 7 percent a year, which is double the rate of inflation. If Measure 2 passes there’s nothing that’s going to stop the school boards from saying, ‘Well, we’re not responsible to our district anymore for property taxes, we don’t have to worry about angering them, so let’s put in for a 20 percent increase and see what we get.’ That is a real concern of mine, because I know what the legislature will do then; they’ll come back and say ‘95 percent budget.’”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“Measure 2, If it does pass, I have to work with it. If it doesn’t pass, we need to hold the line on our mill levy in our school district. The Valley City School District has the 24th highest mill levy in the State of North Dakota. That’s out of 148 school districts.

“I could talk forever on this stuff. It’s truly a passion of mine, education. I’ve been in it for over 20 years.