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School board elections: Kalispell Public Schools

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | April 16, 2021 12:00 AM

School elections are May 4 with contested trustee races in several school districts.

Information on candidates will be published throughout the week. Candidates were invited to respond to questions emailed by the Daily Inter Lake to provide voters with more information such as a candidate’s background, experience and reason for running.

The following information is for contested races in Kalispell Public Schools’ elementary district and high school district.

For the elementary district, Dennis Gomez and incumbent Kim Wilson are vying for a one-year term. Six candidates are running for three three-year terms. These candidates include: Sue Corrigan, Lance Isaak and Rebecca Linden, all incumbents, Trish Pandina, Shaun Pandina and Tina Tobiason.

In the high school district, two candidates are running for a three-year term representing Cayuse Prairie, Creston, Deer Park and Fair-Mont-Egan school districts. They are: Heather Asher and incumbent Amy Waller.

A mail-ballot election will be held. Ballots go out Monday to registered voters. Ballots may be returned by mail or in-person to the district office, 233 First Ave. E. The district must receive ballots by 8 p.m. May 4.

Name: Dennis Gomez

Occupation: Retired

Background/experience: I graduated from Edsel Ford High school in 1969. Immediately after high school I enlisted into the Navy. By February 1970 I was active duty in the Navy. While in the Navy I worked as a boiler tech. I also studied propulsion engineering then boiler A school. After the Navy I studied architectural drafting at Henry Ford community college. After college I worked for many printing and book publishing companies. I have bound books and various other publications for 30 years. During my Navy experience and in the publishing companies I learned valuable skills working as a team. I took those skills with me and worked at Costco for 10 years. After Costco I started working for KPS. I worked in Kalispell Public Schools for nearly eight years then retired. I have been an active member in the John Birch Society for over 15 years. As a conservative Vietnam veteran I will work towards a more efficient conservative budget. I have met all the requirements in the Montana Constitution, I am fully qualified to run for the position of school trustee.

Why are you running? I worked eight years in Kalispell public schools. During this time, I observed areas of unnecessary spending. When elected I will work towards a more efficient conservative budget. Students must be put first. Curriculum is currently being reviewed and as a Vietnam veteran, I believe getting more constitutional teaching into the curriculum at an earlier age is needed. Starting in elementary students should be learning about the constitution and the presidents of the United States. Curriculum should teach students American history accurately and without bias. The Pledge of Allegiance should be recited by each student in their homeroom class, at the beginning of the day every day. I appreciate your support and your vote. It is important to fill out your ballots and return them without delay.

Name: Kim Wilson (i)

Occupation: Retired

Background/experience: Prior to retiring, I was an office manager for 14 years; four years in high school and 10 years in adult education. The main focus was making sure the front office ran smoothly, but most importantly was supporting the teachers in their goal of educating their students.

Why are you running? To continue the collaboration of the community and the board on focusing on the educational needs of the students, and implementing policies to ensure that success.

Name: Sue Corrigan (i)

Background/experience: I am an incumbent and have been on the board for two years; currently involved with the following school board committees: finance, personnel, curriculum, negotiations and federal projects; Kalispell representative for the Montana School Boards Association Board of Directors.

Work experience: teacher at Flathead High School for 17 years, retired in 2018; special education department leader for four years; job coach for special needs students at Flathead High School for 12 years; National Board Certified teacher; FHS tennis coach, 10 years; basic skills specialist at Montana Office of Public Instruction for three years.

Education: bachelor's degree in education from Providence University and recreation resource management from the University of Montana; graduate work in public administration at the University of Montana.

Family: daughter is a graduate of FHS; husband is a retired Flathead County attorney; lived in the Flathead 35 years, in Montana 45 years.

Community involvement: current board member of Conrad Mansion Museum, past president; past board member of Glacier Conservancy, past president; Citizen Advisory Council for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Alumni Status; former Girl Scout Leader; former PTA President at Hedges School when playground rebuilt in the 1990s; FVCC fundraising volunteer and Scholarship reviewer.

Why are you running? My vision as a school trustee is to focus on student achievement. I believe schools should prepare students for their future and it is my goal to influence the current culture of learning on the school board. The COVID pandemic has changed the trajectory of jobs and industry in the Flathead and the school board should respond with innovations. We have learned much during this time of COVID and as board trustees, we have an exciting opportunity to encourage innovation in our schools. Innovations to support students as they imagine their future. I believe we can do this by setting clear and high expectations for administration (strategic plan), holding the system accountable (monthly updates), creating conditions for success (resources for operations), creating public will for success (acting as an ambassador for Kalispell Public Schools) and learning together as a team of trustees, administrators, teachers, families and community members.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? During my second term as a school trustee I plan to have a positive effect on student achievement. I plan to assess the possibility for alternative ways of earning credit toward graduation such as work-based learning and internships. I also plan to support our district wide Systems of Support to ensure students and staff receive the support they need to be successful in school. These supports include academic (i.e. numeracy and literacy) and non-academic (i.e. counseling, social emotional learning, nutrition) supports. My guiding principle for 2021 is to focus on student achievement.

Name: Lance Isaak (i)

Occupation: Social work – program director at the Flathead Youth Home

Background/experience: I have served two full terms as a trustee for Kalispell Public Schools and the last five years on the board leadership team, one year as vice chair and four years as the board chair. I have served on finance, governance, IT, federal projects, facilities, and various hiring committees during that time. I am also a Daybreak Rotarian since 2008 where I have held various club positions and volunteered on numerous community projects. As the program director of the Flathead Youth Home, I work with at-risk youth and am able to advocate for programs which meet their needs.

Why are you running? I am running for Kalispell Public Schools Board of Trustees because I believe having a robust public education is fundamental for our democracy and a strong community. It is where all of our children come together, are exposed to different viewpoints and ideas, are taught critical thinking skills, and prepare to become citizens. It is an honor to be part of KPS as a trustee and have my kids educated at a high performing school district that offers diverse learning opportunities through curriculum and extracurricular activities. Our district prepares all youth for their futures whether it is to immediately join the workforce or go onto higher education.

Over my past two terms, I have appreciated the dedicated professionalism from everyone who makes KPS a great place for students and the challenges they have faced providing in-person classes during the pandemic. The decision to open to in-person classes was made by current trustees because of our belief in the importance of public education, the welfare it provides the children and opportunities it creates. I am running to be a trustee because KPS is worth supporting.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? It has been incredibly rewarding over the past six years to see our district build a new elementary school, remodel FHS, and address so many facility needs in all of our schools. However, I am even more excited for the coming years. KPS will conduct a strategic plan with our community to envision where we want to be in 10 and 20 years. It will be a time of growth and providing more opportunities for our students. As a trustee, I will help ensure resources are managed and there is accountability to achieve our vision

Name: Rebecca Linden (i)

Occupation: Botanist

Background/experience: I am a current board member and parent of two children attending Kalispell Public Schools. My bachelor’s degree is in theoretical mathematics and my master’s degree is in plant physiology. I have served on multiple boards, including the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. I love to bring fun, educational experiences into the classroom. I personally have brought in maypole dances, cooking seminars, and craft projects, have judged for speech and debate and science fair, and have provided awards for MathCounts, jazz band and theater. As a parent I even suggested a daily recital of the preamble to the Constitution in kindergarten as a cultural bonding exercise. I founded and sold Root Laughter Herbals, a sole proprietorship manufacturing business, and was director of the Montana Herb Gathering from 1998 to 2002.

Why are you running? I believe the schools should support teachers, students, parents, and community. Supporting teachers means using the budget to give them the tools they need. Younger students need exposure to a breadth of disciplines, and as they grow they need expert guidance and space to explore their passions such as dance, science, foreign language, and math, both in the classroom and extracurricularly.

I am very proud District 5 has been able to offer quality both in-person learning and online instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, unlike many other districts.

In a Hedges PTO meeting, I asked, “Why are you here?” The most common answer was “to know what’s going on at our school.” The board has a responsibility to ensure open, respectful communication occurs among parents, teachers, principals, and the community at large. The school district wants a more involved community, so the onus is on the district to reach out. I have consistently and actively sought out conversation with parents and listened to their concerns, often regarding not excluding students due to their religious beliefs.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? My priority as a board member has been, and will continue to be, academic excellence, and access to academic opportunities for students. I believe in walkable communities so students have access to school functions.

As a board member, I always keep a tight watch on the budget with an eye toward fiscal responsibility, while treating budgets not as constraints, but as directing money toward our mission of putting students first.

I work toward well-integrated extracurricular opportunities, a safe and welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds, and good communication of policies and successes to staff, parents, teachers, and students.

Name: Trish Pandina

Occupation: Entrepreneur and stay-at-home mom

Background/experience: The Montana code lays out requirements for school trustees. I meet all the requirements. I am capable of holding a trustee seat. I understand the time it's going to take, and fully prepared to do so. I was a voting member of a Parent Teacher Organization for multiple years. Also, community service associated with Big Sky Martial Arts for many years. Being a part of Big Sky Martial Arts, I hold a 2nd Dan black belt, certified through Korea and multiple masters of Taekwondo. Hours of teaching as a volunteer is required to hold a black belt at Big Sky Martial Arts. As a B level Montana Taekwondo Association referee, I have refereed Taekwondo tournaments at local and state levels. I have served as a leader in church. I understand how to run a conservative budget. I am a conservative Christian woman. The Montana Constitution and the United States Constitution, I take seriously. The Bible and Constitutions will be the base of my decisions.

Why are you running? I want to be involved and have the opportunity to put students first; students are our future. I appreciate the teachers and want to make sure they are getting taken care of as well. Teachers do a lot for our students; it's important we as a community, recognize our great teachers. As a former voter (for many years) on a Parent Teacher Organization, teachers were treated with great gratitude at least once a year. I want to see students, teachers, and our community know their/our liberties and freedom rights. I see room for improvement. Again. I'm running because I want our children/students to come first. After all, they are our future and we as parents and leaders need to guide them on the right path as Americans.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? I want to accomplish putting students first, constitutional teaching and a conservative budget. I have seen our students being silenced firsthand. I have seen the rights of students trampled on, meaning no peaceful free speech, and that is not OK. That's just one example. Constitutional teaching should be 3rd-12th on both the Montana and United States constitutions. Learning our constitution will help shut down the government overreach. I think most people are seeing government overreach today. Let's protect "We the People" together. The budget is struggling due to waste that is not necessary; this must be addressed. Students come first because they are our future.

Name: Shaun Pandina

Occupation: Entrepreneur

Background/experience: The Montana Constitution, as well as the Montana Code Annotated, lays out requirements for school trustees. I have met all the requirements. Therefore, I am fully required to hold the position of school trustee. I have experience in balancing a budget, managing employees, writing contracts and running businesses. I currently hold the chief financial officer position of a long-standing successful Montana business. I was a voting member of the Parent Teacher Organization. I hold the rank of B level referee in the Montana Taekwondo Association. Through Taekwondo I have courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and discipline all excellent qualities a trustee should have. I have been a center referee and ring leader at many Taekwondo tournaments across the state of Montana. I am a God-fearing conservative Christian man. I have served in Awana children’s ministries. I have studied the Montana Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. “I do solemnly affirm that I will support, protect and defend the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the state of Montana, and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity so help me God.”

Why are you running? The main reason I am running for trustee is to be able to put students first they are our future. My goal is to ensure a system of education which will develop the full educational potential of each student. Making sure no student is refused in-person admission on account of creed, religion, or political beliefs. Furthermore, I think there needs to be a more conservative voice representing the taxpayers of the district. I have listened to the community, and they have told me they want those dollars directed into the classrooms. March 19 finance committee meeting Gwyn Andersen stated, “92% of our budget is salaries and benefits. So this is the business we are in, we're in the people business, that's really where we spend our money.” I value the teachers of KPS and will continue to make sure that they earn a fair wage, in line with the cost of living increases set by our Montana State Legislature. The Legislature approved a 1.5% increase for the 20-21 school year. However, the current trustees approved salary increases well over that 1.5% including 3.5% pay increases for administration. In my opinion that is not conservative or sustainable, this is just one example.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? Citizens have told me they want more constitutional teaching in the curriculum. Constitutional teachings should be in the curriculum starting at the third-grade level. Elementary students would be introduced to the Constitution and our inalienable rights in the first 10 amendments. Middle school curriculum can explain accurately where the principles of the constitution originated. Articles of the Constitution can be explained and how the checks and balances of the Constitution work to balance power. Finally, in high school having such a great foundation, students can learn how the Constitution was designed and intended to place limits on the government that protects “We the People.”

Name: Tina Tobiason

Occupation: Stay-at-home mother/private voice instructor

Background/experience: I have been actively involved with kids for over 20 years. I've worked at St. Matthew's after-school program as well as working three years with the Boys and Girls Club of Wisconsin as an after-school teacher. While living in Colorado, I worked as a house parent for teenage moms who had just come out of at-risk environments. My primary responsibility was to oversee the operation, labor and management of the home and maintain a daily log on each resident. I assisted with homework and scheduled and accompanied the residents to medical appointments and field trips. Throughout the years, I have also been heavily involved in kids ministry at the churches I've attended, specifically music ministry. I have a bachelor's degree in music and now that my kids are getting older, I am hoping to begin teaching privately again.

Why are you running? I think every parent should be involved as much as they can in their children's education. I have three children, two of which are enrolled in Kalispell Public Schools, so I have a personal interest in making the quality of schools as excellent as they can be. We are raising up the future leaders of our valley and America and the quality of education our children receive is so important. Our community is very important to me, and I want to ensure everyone has a voice. I would like to serve as a conduit for the concerns and interests of parents and teachers. I humbly ask for your support and vote and I look forward to earning your trust in the days and weeks ahead. Ballots will be mailed out soon, they need to be received before May 4.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? For me, I would like to advocate for how important parental involvement is in the success of our kids. With active parent involvement, academic achievement increases and there is better classroom behavior. Of course, an added bonus is helping out our amazing teachers! They work tirelessly and deserve all the support they can get from us. Involved parents develop a greater appreciation for the challenges that teachers face in the classroom.

Name: Heather Asher

Occupation: Stay-at-home-mom

Background/experience: My background experience would include attending Eastern Washington University for elementary education and being a homeschool educator as well as a small business owner. I run a large family on a conservative budget. I have volunteered in children’s ministry and have had children in the public school system for 10 years.

Why are you running? I am running for the SD 5 trustee position because I want to be involved in our community and involved in decisions that directly impact my children. After attending board meetings this year I realized I can’t complain about decisions my trustees are making on my behalf because I haven’t been proactive with attending meetings or serving on boards. I am a firm believer that you need to be the change you wish to see in the world.

As a SD 5 trustee I will represent the public, and help translate the needs of our students into policies, goals, and strategies that reflect the standards and values of our community. I will listen to your viewpoints and concerns even if we don’t see eye to eye. I promise to hear you and take the time to try to understand where you are coming from. I will fight for our teachers giving them my full support. I am proud to be a member of this community and I hope you will give me the opportunity to give back and work for you and your children.

I’m asking for your vote.

If elected, is there anything you want to see accomplished? As an elected trustee, I would shine a spotlight on our student’s mental health.

The future mental health toll of the pandemic may be far greater than we could imagine. Excessive burdens have been placed upon those without a voice. COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of our children’s lives. Their mental health, development, learning, and behavior have all been affected. We have children suffering from anxiety and depression directly due to COVID.

We need to remember every decision that is made in response to this pandemic reflects a choice and carries with it a set of costs.

Name: Amy Waller (i)

Occupation: Farmer

Background/experience: Trustee for Flathead High School, Kalispell District No. 5, 2018-2021; member of the following school board committees: policy committee 2019-present, personnel committee 2019-present, finance committee 2018, curriculum committee 2018, facilities steering committee 2020-present, Kalispell Ag Education Program advisory committee 2020-present; chairman of Fair-Mont-Egan School Board 2016 (appointed by the board to fill a trustee vacancy); trustee for Fair-Mont-Egan School District 2001-2007, served as

chairman for three years, facilitated changing from a three- to five-member board, high school advisory committee for recommending boundaries for Flathead and Glacier high schools.

Why are you running? I believe that every child should have the opportunity to receive an excellent public education in a safe and supportive environment. Both of my children attended grades K-8 at Fair-Mont-Egan School and grades 9-12 at Flathead High School, and I appreciate the excellent education they received. I am proud that School District 5 remained open for in-person learning this year, and was one of the few in the nation to do so. I am running for trustee again because I would like to see our schools remain safe and supportive for students, faculty and staff as we navigate the end of this pandemic and look towards a brighter future together as a community. Next school year will be the year SD 5 develops a new strategic plan, and the district is expected to receive millions of dollars of coronavirus relief funds which must be spent within two years. I believe my experience and understanding of school finances will help direct those funds toward expenditures that provide maximum benefits to the students and schools, and help develop a budget that does not rely on those funds for the future.

If elected is there anything you’d like to see accomplished? I would like to see the district develop and implement a recovery plan for addressing the impacts of the pandemic on student achievement and health. I would like to see the district’s plans for a transportation facility move forward, and I urge the voters to approve the district’s request for authorization to purchase the described parcel of land. I would like to continue to pass budgets that provide the best education for our high school students by retaining the best staff we can while also keeping residents’ property tax bills from increasing.