BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Dianne Hope is looking to build on her four years as a board member. Hope said she dealt with a huge learning curve in the first four years, specifically finances.
“School finance is totally different than any other finance out there. Debits and credits are still the same, but with the majority of funds coming in from the state with mandates on the use of those funds, it’s been a huge curve,” she said.
“Now that I have a handle on that, another four years will be tremendous for me to try to do what’s best for our students and our community.”
Hope was a vocal advocate for the new elementary building and had a referendum voted down, despite having a majority of the vote, on two occasions during her first term on the board.
But she said a resolution to the problem has to become clear in the near future because the elementary schools are not a draw to the community.
“The interiors do not do what they need to do, but what it’s going to take I don’t know. The vast majority of people, whether they voted or not, know those facilities are outdated,” she said.
“Our educators are doing the best they can, but we can and must do better. We owe it to those students to do what we can to give them the best education.”
She said the recent release of news about a facilities assessment in the district could give the district the answers the community may be looking for.
Hope said the district always has to be mindful of finances and make sure each dollar is allocated for the best return.
“We’ve been fortunate of late that the valuation of the district has gone up but we must always be mindful of the community we live in.”
Hope had three children go through the school district and said she’s proud of that, but the district needs to try and stem the tide of open enrollment out of the district. She believes family dynamics and facilities are part of the reason for families taking their children out of the district.
“Families are smaller and that’s a changed dynamic, but I think some of our students are leaving the district because of the facilities. I can’t substantiate that with data, it’s just a feeling,” she said. “I’m glad our parents have choices, whether it’s a home schooling or another district, but Fort Madison is a great district and I’ve very proud all three of my students went through the school system.”
She said she’d like to see additional emphasis at the middle school with coding, robotics, STEM programs, and career fairs to open students’ eyes to the opportunities they have in front of them.
Candice Smrt said she’s had a passion for serving on the board for some time, but it wasn’t until someone walked in with a petition for her to sign that it hit home.
“It just happened to be someone walked with a petition and I was like “oh, that’s how you do that,” Smrt said.
“Schools have been important to me my whole life. After coming here and seeing things that I think could be better.”
Smrt came to Fort Madison from the Chicago metro area and compares how things were done there to what is being done here.
“I know that there are great strides to be made, but I believe things are slowly coming around. With the referendums, I understand both sides of people’s beliefs and I’ve been on both sides of the fence on that.”
But now Smrt said she believes the district needs to address the deteriorating Richardson and Lincoln elementaries.
“I’m saying for the kids… if a new school is what the kids need, then that’s what they need,” she said.
“I don’t care for the mentality that ‘I don’t have kids’, or my kids went to that school and it’s just fine. Our kids are our future so why are we holding back our future.”
Smrt admits the learning curve is big, but she said it’s no bigger than most other people who come onto the board for the first time.
“The first board meeting that I went to was pretty deep. A lot of information was shared and they went into a breakdown of how things went financially. I’m on the library board and I understand that certain funds are allocated, but there’s a lot to learn there,” Smrt said.
“Before I get in there, do I have all the knowledge? I do not. But I want to be a part of that and put my two cents in.”
She also has a passion for individualized education programs for students with learning disabilities.
“That’s an area that is near and dear to my heart. I think there are many ways to improve those programs and sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes and a fresh brain to bring out those ideas,” she said.
“Trying to get an IEP is difficult because there are a million loops to jump through and some communication issues. I think that is an area that we can and should do better. I feel very strongly about that.”
Smrt said open enrollment is also an issue that is hurting the district but said she hasn’t done a lot of research into that.
“That was said at one of the meetings and they had talked about that. To me, that tells me that the community feels we should be better. I really hope we can get there and the community feels like it can send our students to our schools.”
Repeated attempts to reach school board candidate Lois DiPrima for this article were unsuccessful.