By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — The ballot for this fall's school board election is full of candidates with family ties to the district.
Three seats are up for grabs on the Ottumwa school board, comprised of seven at-large candidates. Board president Carol Mitchell plans to run again, but two other seats will be vacated by Payson Moreland and Jeff Strunk.
Five other candidates filed as of the deadline Thursday: David Howard, Dr. Charles Coram, Michael Burton, David Weilbrenner and Torey Young.
The election will be held Sept. 10.
Burton, who owns Brickhouse Grill with his wife, is running for the school board to do his civic duty, ask the tough questions and understand the district's policy and procedures. He has two children in the district.
"I couldn't think of a better way to give back to the community," he said. "We just want to make sure that the school system is sound, that the kids are well prepared for the future."
One improvement he wants to see is better communication to the taxpayers and from administration to staff.
"I don't know if it's been lacking, but you just don't hear a whole lot of what's going on," he said. "People need to be kept informed. And I do think there are some questions that need to be asked."
One concerns the new school, Liberty Elementary.
"That decision had some people upset," he said. "Not that they were against it, they just didn't have enough information to ask questions. What was the reason to build one school? What was the reason we didn't build it big enough to accommodate preschool, K-1, to put everyone under one roof? If the goal is to shut down schools, why didn't we spend a little more money and build the infrastructure where we could have ... like in Evans or the high school where everyone is under one roof?"
Howard, manager of ORMICS, Ottumwa's ambulance service, said he wants to be part of the school district's decision-making process. He has two children in the district and his wife is a teacher.
"But I'm not really one that likes to make waves and have a bunch of objections to stuff, I just would like to be a voice in the decisions that are made and help guide those decisions," he said. "I'm the kind of person who listens to the other side of the equation to see it from another perspective and offer that viewpoint."
He is also one of two youth ministers at Christ's Church.
"I think with my dedication to the church and to youth group ... that will help me make those decisions that are best for everybody involved and have that kind of calm approach," he said.
Local control is important, he said, and education starts at home.
"We have to help our teachers and the district with things that need fixed, and that starts with us [parents] at home," he said.
Weilbrenner, agency owner of Allstate Insurance, said in order for Ottumwa to flourish overall, education needs to be the priority. He also has children in the district and his wife is a teacher.
"I don't think you can ever point to any one thing. I think there are many things that could be done differently, but that's also an outsider looking in," he said. "I don't have one agenda I'm getting on for. I want to see how the whole process works, because I'm sure there's more to it than meets the eye."
He also said the biggest issue this school year will be Liberty Elementary, "getting through the hurdles of having it be new and different."
"And obviously a big push for being proficient in reading, math, science," he said. "But the big elephant in the room is the new school.
"Whether you like it or don't like it, it's built. It's probably like a Bridge View topic: some people like it and some people don't."
Young, day maintenance coordinator at Cargill Eddyville, said while he thinks the current school board has done a good job, his investment in the district — his wife is a teacher and two of his three children are currently in school — made him want to get involved.
"Probably my biggest thing is not to go in there and make any major changes, but to help ensure students have an equal opportunity to a good education," he said. "Also, too, to ensure our schools are safe. I want to make sure students and teachers feel like it's a safe place, a place they want to come."
No one issue pops out to Young as something that needs to change, he said. The district's implementation of values to ensure students graduate with the skills necessary to succeed is a priority, he said.
"A lot of those things on that list are things that I hope the people I work with have," he said. "If they don't, first of all it's pretty hard that the person would make it in the world today, but it also makes it harder on everyone else if they don't have those skills."
Coram and Mitchell could not be reached as of press time.
— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to twitter.com/chelsealeedavis.