School board members face challenge by newcomer

Henri Robbins | Online Editor

Ian Orr is campaigning for one of the school board positions that will be on the ballot in the 20198 election. He is campaigning against the two incumbents up for reelection, Kevin Wise and Courtney Allen.

A new name is popping up in front yards across Mason. 

In the upcoming school board election, two long-time members are running for re-election, but Ian Orr, a newcomer to the political scene, is also running for one of the two available seats. 

The School Board is a group of five elected officials who represent the community as a whole, and work with students, staff members, teachers, and community members to help create change in the school. Orr, a father of four, initially thought about running while managing discussions for the school. While he later decided to run due to his involvement in the community, he said this event is what sparked his interest. 

“I first became interested when I was involved in some multi-level discussions and negotiations, with the school district, the community, and a third party,” Orr said. “Through those conversations, I realized that I had ideas that I would like to see implemented, so I thought maybe I could run for school board.” 

The two returning members have both served on the board for many years, with Courtney Allen finishing her eighth year on the board, and Kevin Wise his seventeenth. Both of them became involved with the board after taking an interest in the school their children would be attending. 

“I was concerned about the fast growth that was happening in Mason,” Wise said. “I went to a couple of school board meetings to learn about that. One of the school board members happened to resign for personal reasons at that time, and I ended up becoming appointed in 2002, then I ran for the first time in 2003 and I’ve been on the board ever since.”

Allen initially became involved through her children, but said she continued being a part of the board due to her interest in the community and love of the work she does. 

“I definitely wouldn’t do this in any district,” Allen said. “But we’ve been sixteen year residents of Mason and I’ve always believed that our district provides a lot of strengths to our community, so I like being involved and being able to form the direction and set the vision for the district.” 

One of the points that the School Board has focused on is Superintendent Jonathan Cooper’s three ‘Big Rocks’ of education: A focus on culture, personalized learning, and ‘inclusive excellence’ — meant to ‘celebrate diversity, embrace equity and justice, and live out authentic inclusion’, according to Mason City Schools. 

“Right now, we have a lot of energy and a lot of intentional effort going into the three big rocks,” Allen said. “I really believe in those and the role that they’ll play in the future of my district as the look and feel of education changes, as well as the needs of what students are learning. It’s not just about academic content anymore, and the concentration on mental wellness is a huge piece of it, a piece that our nation is missing.”

With those ‘Big Rocks’, Orr said that technology is allowing education to become more freeform. He anticipates technological and organizational advancements leading to change in the future. 

“I think we’re on the cusp of having students given given broad parameters with which they can drive their interests, or things they believe to be their interests,” Orr said. “I think the Socratic Method is something that we may get back to: Where we have someone who is a learned professional at the head of the classroom, but is really having students grapple with their own understanding of the things that they’re learning and asking them what they’re making out of it.”

To make sure the entire community is being taken into account, Orr said he is reaching out to people who are not usually able to participate in school conversations. He said there is typically a certain kind of person who is involved, and he wants to change that. 

“There’s all types of reasons why some people can’t participate, socioeconomic being probably one of the biggest,” Orr said. “If you work more than one job or work in shift work then you can’t really get involved because it’s after school. My goal has been to talk to those people and say ‘hey, if you can’t be involved, you still have a voice. Your perspective still matters. How can I carry your voice, how can I give you a platform to address the things that you would want to see done?’”

Because of his own involvement in finances, one of Orr’s biggest concerns is the finances of the school. He worries the school will not be able to keep up their current spending, and said he would like to see an increase in funding in the future to counteract this. 

“We’ve reached a tipping point where our expenses exceed our revenues on a fairly consistent basis,” Orr said, “And what we have to do is take out some of our cash in our bank account to make up the difference at the end of the year, because you can’t end the year, for a school, in the red. You can’t have a deficit. And that works as long as you have cash in the bank, but as we deplete our funds, our ability to make up the difference becomes less and less.”

Wise also had concerns about the school’s future funding, noting the failed levy in 2010 and that, even as property values and taxes increase, the amount of taxpayer money going to the schools has to remain flat. 

“We haven’t had to raise taxes since 2005, so certainly in the future we’ll have to raise our own tax rates,” Wise said. “The way that we’re going to have to address that is both from increased revenue that will come from local property taxes from residential and business, and continued cost structure work to help make sure we’re always running the operation as efficiently as we can.” 

While Orr also has his concerns about funding and finances, he said he is trying to stay focused on the future that is best for the school and the students. As technology grows and changes, he said he wants to be sure incoming students are taking advantage of it as much as possible. 

“We’ve got the class of 2032 in kindergarten right now. It’s crazy to think about, but what’s the next decade of educational opportunity look like, from a technological standpoint, from how they learn, where they learn, when they learn?” Orr said. “I’m looking forward to looking out over the horizon, connecting with some of the folks in Columbus, the legislature, the state board of education, and really collaborating with them on how we continue to deliver and innovate in our delivery of education to the students.”D

Editor’s Note: Desiree Batsche is a fourth candidate running for the School Board position. The Chronicle requested that Batsche submit a comment, but received a response too late to add to the story.

Photo by Henri Robbins.