Editor's note: This is the second part of a few stories to help you prepare for the Sioux Falls school board election next week. Watch for more in a special Tuesday morning issue next week. Find part one here.
Simplified: The five-person Sioux Falls school board will soon have a new member. Two people are actively campaigning for the open seat, and Sioux Falls Simplified sat down with each of them ahead of the May 16 election.
Why it matters
- See previous story for the full details, but the tl;dr is that the person elected will have influence over thousands of kids and hundreds of millions of tax dollars.
- You've already heard from the candidates about why they chose to run and an issue that's most important to them. We also asked Dawn Marie Johnson and Brian Mattson about a couple specific issues facing the district to get their response.
Answers below are edited for length and clarity. Responses are quotes from candidates Johnson and Mattson.
Sioux Falls has relied on federal pandemic relief funds over the last three years. As those funds run out, how will you approach budget conversations?
Mattson: I'll definitely be looking at what those funds went to in the first place. It's a big complex problem that we need to take a look, and with my deductive skills as an engineering technologist ... we can get to the bottom of things.
Johnson: I honestly haven't been able to dive into the budgeting piece of it. That's something I'll be able to do as an elected member, and I'm certainly going to ask for guidance and rely on those with experience.
Another big change coming in the next year is the switch to a Community Learning Center afterschool model. What will you be watching with that?
Johnson: What I see this as is a really good opportunity for us to build our community partnerships and also strengthen our parent and guardian connections through the school day. ... It'll create a direct line of communication between teachers, afterschool workers and parents. This connection is going to build up our community.
Mattson: I honestly don't know that much about the afterschool programs at this point, but being on the school board is definitely a big learning curve for anybody ... (there are) a lot of things I do have yet to learn, but I'm up for the challenge.
Sioux Falls just keeps growing. How will you approach conversations about how to manage that growth within the district?
Mattson: (It starts with) just looking at the growth areas of the city to find properties that are available for the school system to be able to build new schools. As far as how fast we're growing and in the meantime ... we'll see what we can do as far as accommodations can go, to make it so it's easier on the teachers for the most part.
Johnson: I have taken the time to meet with City Council members to learn about (growth), and infrastructure is going to be a major topic as we continue to grow. (I plan to be) working with them and people who have to be mindful of our growth more often. ... I know redistricting is on everybody's mind. (My plan is to) ask the experts and be open to learning about that.
Superintendent Jane Stavem wants to see Sioux Falls become the best school district in the nation. To that end, how will you work to ensure equity among different schools throughout town?
Johnson: I've been heavily active in meeting with and going to different communities ... I'm getting involved in the pockets of folks who might not feel comfortable approaching our school board or school entities in general in the hopes of bridging those gaps.
- I'm not going to assume I know what a South Sudanese family needs, for example, but I am going to go back and say, 'What do you need from me?'
- In terms of language barriers ... with the literature we put out, how can we expand to our top five to 10 languages with everything that we're posting to get better parent communication.
Mattson: I'd have to look into that to make sure everything is equal among the schools. I'm not familiar with any one school being any better or worse than any other school – as far as education, I would assume that the teachers are all teaching the same things.
- I know there are some schools that may have lower income families going to them primarily, but that in no way should have any effect on the quality of teaching that they receive.
Is there any other issue that's important to you or anything else you want the people of Sioux Falls to know before they vote?
Mattson: I do see, unfortunately, a lot of overweight-ness in the children today, and I think the school lunches could be better in lower sugars. (I'd also like to see) more physical education – a little bit more actual physical education going on because that helps the body circulate and bring more oxygen to the brain.
Security in schools (is also very important to me). My daughter was born in Littleton, Colorado in the hospital closest to Columbine High School one week after the shooting. She now has my grandchild, and I want to make sure we do have good security.
- I'd like to revisit the school sentinel program that the school board rejected. I think it's a viable option with trained individuals, and I don't think there's any reason for anybody to be afraid to go to school in a place where there's security.
Johnson: (Another important issue to me) is mental health – our children's mental health and our educators' mental health. We have utilized COVID funding to expand social workers and counselors. How are we going to sustain and grow those opportunities, and how are we going to work with the community to raise awareness of our children's mental health to make it a priority for them.
As a Native American and a woman of color, representation is key. It's that, 'If not you, who?' mentality.
- I feel a large sense of responsibility with that, the importance of it, and I know my daughter can look up to it and see representation. It's not just for the Native girls and Hispanic girls, It's going to be all little girls of color, all little boys of color can look up and say, 'That's auntie,' or just see themselves in that position. That's pretty rad.