This is the second in a three-part series looking at the five people running for two open seats on the Sioux Falls school board. Meet the candidates and read part one here.
Simplified: Five people are hoping to win one of two open seats on the Sioux Falls school board this spring. We met them last week and heard their thoughts on what teachers need. Now, we hear their thoughts on taxes, growth and post-pandemic life.
Note: Candidate answers are listed in alphabetical order.
Let's talk taxes
Question: What's your philosophy on balancing the needs of students with the burden on taxpayers?
The first step is making sure legislators in Pierre uphold their end of the deal when it comes to school funding, Begley said. He's not in favor of raising taxes, but he notes the community has supported Sioux Falls by voting for bond issues.
"That's giving the community members the say," he said.
"I think we're sitting very well," Ludens said.
She added that, of course, no one wants taxes to go up, but she's excited to see the two new schools – Ben Reifel Middle and Jefferson High – funded by the latest bond issue.
"It should be students first," Murren said. "At all levels, that's got to happen."
That said, Murren added, he thinks Sioux Falls is doing a good job involving the community, administrators, parents, and more in the budget process. The district, he said, has also done a good job living within the budget and not raising the opt out.
For Parker, it all comes down to stewardship.
"We've shown our community that we are conscientious of our tax rates and what we ask from our community and that we use the money we get from those taxes wisely," Parker said.
Pizer noted that the high approval rating of the latest bond issue shows the community trusts the school district. He'd like to continue down that path, while finding some efficiencies and relying more on philanthropy.
"Some of the gaps that we see in education, we can make up through philanthropy, and I think there's a lot of wealth and resources within our community," Pizer said.
What about growth, redistricting and a new elementary school on the horizon?
Question: What role should the school board play in managing growth and the continued rollout of the $190 million bond issue approved in 2018?
"We've got to stay on as a school board in monitoring our building levels to make sure we're not maxing out buildings," Begley said.
He also noted the importance of learning from lessons made in the middle and high school redistricting process when the district looks to redistrict at the elementary level in the near future when a new elementary school is added in the coming years.
"The growth is big, and I believe our teachers need help," Ludens said.
She also noted the different languages students speak in schools, and she said she'd like to see more opportunities for volunteers in schools.
Murren said the district has done a great job rolling out the bond and managing growth so far because they've been so involved in the community.
"They met on the (middle and high school) boundaries for nine months," Murren said. "It made it a very successful program. They involve the community, community leaders, parents, all who have a stake in it, and I think that's huge."
Parker noted the uncertainty in enrollment at the elementary level this fall, especially as the district lost hundreds of elementary-aged students during the pandemic. She also said the district has done a good job managing growth and engaging community members in the discussion over the years she's been on the board.
"I still see a lot of growth here in the next five years," Parker said.
Pizer said Sioux Falls should take a look at school boundaries more frequently than every 20+ years, especially when it comes to the goal of ensuring schools have a balanced mix of students from all backgrounds.
He also mentioned the importance of keeping the business community close as Sioux Falls addresses growth.
"I see that symbiotic relationship ... with the growth of the population, there's also going to be growth in the business community," Pizer said.
Let's talk life post-pandemic
Question: The coronavirus pandemic brought many changes to schools. Which of those changes do you think should continue? And, conversely, what's something that's changed in schools that you think needs to go "back to normal?"
One change worth keeping is the virtual academy, Begley said. Having an option for online learning is a good thing, especially for middle and high schoolers.
Something to get rid of?
"Hopefully our new normal in the very near future is we don't have to worry about the masks," Begley said.
"I think South Dakota has done a great job about getting (students) back to school with the option (of online learning)," Ludens said.
Something she'd like to see go "back to normal? No more masks.
It's hard to say online learning should go away, Murren said, because it's shown to be beneficial for some kids, especially those who like more flexibility.
"I don't believe there's a better way to educate than having kids in the classroom with the teacher," Murren said.
He also added that one thing he'd like to see go "back to normal" is attendance rates. He observed poor attendance during the pandemic, and he's ready to see kids back in classrooms.
It's too soon to say whether kids will wear masks in the fall, Parker said, but she's glad to see the virtual academy giving students another option for those who can be successful with online learning.
She also noted the addition of sound amplification, which helps students better hear the teacher wherever they're sitting in a classroom.
"I'm pretty proud that we've been able to stay open all year," Parker added.
By and large, in-person learning has been successful, Pizer said, and something worth keeping is the updated HVAC and air filtration systems added to schools.
The goal, he added, would be to "move us beyond the pandemic and get things back to normal as quickly as possible."
He also supports rolling the COVID-19 vaccine into whatever existing vaccination policies exist in Sioux Falls schools.
Check back next week for part three in the series.