QandA with Coeur d’Alene trustee candidates

Two of five seats on the Coeur d’Alene School Board are up for election and five candidates are vying for those positions. There is one incumbent, Heather Tenbrink, facing challenger Matt Blatt in Zone 3. In Zone 2, Jimmy McAndrew, Yasmin Harris and Mike Stavish are candidates for the open seat, currently occupied by board vice chairman Casey Morrisroe, who is not seeking reelection.

With the Nov. 7 election day approaching, EdNews reached out to each candidate to ask about their campaign priorities and strategy for serving on an elected board. Here’s what they had to say.

What connection do you have to either education or to the Coeur d’Alene School District?

Jimmy McAndrew, Challenger (Zone 2): In addition to having my two children in the district, I have served as the chair for EXCEL Foundation, which exists to help fund innovative, challenging and creative projects in the classrooms that would otherwise go unfunded. Because of the generosity in our community this program relies on no taxpayer dollars. I also volunteer every semester teaching local senior economics students about credit management, and the pitfalls of becoming over leverage with credit card debt. Lastly, my wife volunteers at Hayden, Meadows, and I have served with D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students) in the past.

Yasmin Harris, Challenger (Zone 2): I have two boys in the Coeur d’Alene School District, and I am also the PTO Treasurer at Hayden Meadows Elementary School.

Mike Stavish, Challenger (Zone 2): I am a father to three children currently in the CDA schools. I also attended these schools myself when I was a child. My wife trained to be a teacher in these schools. I am a fully vested citizen in our schools. I use them, I believe in their benefit for us, and I want to contribute to our greatness in an impactful way.

Heather Tenbrink, Incumbent (Zone 3): My 4 children have attended CDA school district schools for the last 15 years! Two have graduated from Lake City High School. The younger two currently attend and love Lake City High School.

Matt Blatt, Challenger (Zone 3): Since retiring from 28 years of military service, I have chosen to make CDA my home. We moved here to raise our 11-year-old child  close to family and to re-energize those bonds. I have been volunteering with the Parent’s Rights in Education group, PTA, and curriculum review committee. My military experience included responsibility for doctrine and training of entire career fields within the Army.

What is motivating you to be a candidate for the school board?

McAndrew (Zone 2): I have found my purpose in serving others, and have done so in several different leadership capacities in the Coeur d’Alene area over the past 20+ years. Now that my children are in the schools and I have more bandwidth with fewer current service roles, this is an ideal opportunity for me to give back. The trustee position is a great fit for me because it encompasses much of the skill sets that I have in my everyday role. I also feel that I have been able to build a lot of bridges in our local community over the past 20+ years and we are in desperate need of someone with a temperament to do so in this role. Finally, as a taxpayer I have seen how much money has been squandered with the dysfunction at North Idaho college and the Coeur d’Alene school district #271 is in no position to waste that kind of money.

Harris (Zone 2): My interest began when my kids started attending school in the CDA school district. I began attending and watching the school board meetings and staying current with issues being discussed for our schools and our children. Stepping into this role is an opportunity for me to be a voice for the community, and an opportunity to help reflect the community’s expectations and goals. I have a vested interest in considering the needs of the students, our future generation, and translating them into goals and policies that will support: student achievement, budget clarity and anti-bullies, among many more.

Stavish (Zone 2): My daughter entered middle school this year, and realizing that last Christmas made me take a much greater interest in the inner workings of our schools. The issue with getting the Supplemental levy approved by our voters was in full swing, and I was also among the group that was skeptical of the ask. I looked into the issue and was eventually able to vote yes for the May ballot, after they removed the perpetuity clause, which was an ask to be taxed forever in the future without further voter input. The entire issue was mismanaged by the current board and our school admin because of very poor communication and messaging. Some of that messaging was negative, which put off the voters, but it was mostly just ineffectual. The Supplemental Levy is a vital part of our school funding process, and our voters told us something last spring when they voted NO on it twice! They said “Hey, this is expensive. Fresh off COVID, that’s a big ask.” And they also said “We know there is poisonous ideology in other schools, and some accusations are going around about ours. We need trust and transparency.” Through broadly available and quantifiable communication channels, I will bring trust and transparency to our schools. Our voters can vote with confidence next time, knowing that our schools are a gem in our crown, and our board and admin are zealous to serve them. A vote for Mike Stavish is a vote for trust and transparency.

Tenbrink (Zone 3): It has been an honor to serve on the CDA school board for almost two years! As a mother, I understand firsthand the importance of a quality education and the impact it has on our children’s futures as well as our community. I am dedicated to the success of our local kids through access to robust and varied educational resources and opportunities. I want to ensure that our schools have the resources necessary to help our students reach their individual potentials and be well-prepared for whatever they choose in the future. Our children’s futures are too important for us to be distracted by divisive issues advanced by outside influences. Because I believe quality public education is a key part of the American dream, I will continue to work for the stability and long-term success of our district and students.

Blatt (Zone 3): I see the local school board is in disarray. The current leadership has squandered taxpayer money. There is steadily increasing bloat in the administrative function. Simple math makes it obvious – if schools get around $8k per child. There are about 30 pupils per class. That means $240k per class. Teachers here make between $60-90k per year. Where does the rest go? Secondly, the board is ignoring the steady incursion of progressive programs turning our children into community agitators and activists. Worse is the unconstrained adult behavior engaging with our children on topics of sex and religion in opposition with our values.

Please select two school district, school board or school issues that you want to impact in some way or to correct in some way.

McAndrew (Zone 2): 1. Student achievement: the district implemented a new strategic plan this past spring. This is the first time a new plan has been adopted in 10 years and from the surface, I am encouraged by what I see. It’s an old school plan, which focuses entirely on the student achievement. I look forward to monitoring its success, and will be peeled to the results. 2. Building up community trust and growing parental engagement: we know how critical it is for our teachers to have the community’s support and we know how important parental engagement is to raising the ceiling on the child’s academics. These initiatives should go hand in hand and I look forward to working with my fellow trustees to find solutions.

Harris (Zone 2): We need to be more academically focused on the fundamentals of our children’s education, instead of entertaining distractions or ideologies that don’t belong in the academic setting. We have lost focus on what is most important and why children are going to school in the first place, and ultimately, we need to take it back to basics. There is also a lack of trust and clear communication between our district leaders and the community. My goal is to support our students, be a voice for the parents and ensure we have clarity and open dialogue from the district regarding spending, curriculum and parental involvement. This is one of the biggest points of contention surrounding the recent levies: lack of transparency and clear, honest communication. Our parents and our community deserve to know that their voice is heard and valued.

Stavish (Zone 2): I have three budgetary goals for our district: 1) Prioritize teacher salaries to maintain morale, reduce turnover, and meet the competitive market head on. 2) Make incremental small budget decreases (dime-stacking) to create financial stability, smaller Supplemental Levy amounts, and less dependence on federal funds. 3) Make and execute a decisive plan for the deferred maintenance, while investigating community involvement for volunteer efforts. I have three auxiliary goals: 1) Open and utilize multiple communication channels between the board and the people, depending on quantified input from the people, and effective-reach output from the board. 2) Reduce complex language in the budgetary documents, and produce common-tongue summaries and breakdowns of all items. 3) Verify a total lack of radical ideological materials in our curriculum and produce transparent reports of the findings.

Tenbrink (Zone 3): First and foremost, I want to help improve student achievement in core subject areas. We need to help kids at all levels including those who could use some extra academic help to catch up to grade level, those who need advanced opportunities and everyone in between. I am excited to help implement our new strategic plan that is focused on student achievement! Since 25% of our budget is from local levy funds, my goal is to help our district communicate with our community more effectively about finances. I will work with administration on better ways to present our budget and spending so that more people in our community can understand how their tax dollars are spent.

Blatt (Zone 3): I am a fiscal hawk. I am focused on finding more efficient organizational models and management practices to find savings we can shift to directly improve education and academic outcomes. The simple fact is that if charter and private schools can provide a better education than CDA #271 – for less money – we can too. We must make fixing 100% of deferred maintenance the priority before any more expenditures on the administration. We must shift our resources toward improving teacher morale and support. Teachers shouldn’t be forced to work off-the-clock, and certainly not expected to spend their own money on classroom materials. I am attuned to the incursion of programs which inject value systems alien to ours. We have current issues with vendors providing materials most sensible adults would not provide their children. I will ensure the Board conducts due diligence on all programs and materials in our schools to prevent the introduction of topics and materials to which our community objects. The focus must return to academics and away from other programs which detract from our children’s education.

Which specific qualities do you possess that better qualifies you compared to your competitor?

McAndrew (Zone 2): The trustee position consists largely of three buckets of duties/responsibilities: 1) Budget experience: I have developed, monitored, maintained and balanced million dollar + budgets professionally and civically in this community for the past 20+ years. 2) Hiring/firing/accountability of the Superintendent: I have actual experience in these areas. I’ve hired and recruited talent and lead highly effective teams that have consistently met and exceeded their goals. I’ve also had to fire and/or discipline employees on the occasion where results are not satisfactory. 3) Policy development and implementation: I am very goal driven and have ample experience in this area. Outside of work, I cofounded The Coeur Group in 2004 and we identified a need in the district. Our flagship project became The Locker Program and it has been incorporated into nearly every school in Kootenai County. Coeur Group members design “lockers” that are stocked with clothes, toiletries, school supplies, etc. Kids in need can anonymously come and get whatever they need so that they can direct their attention on their academics. The program is 100% self-sufficient and relies on no taxpayer dollars.

Harris (Zone 2): While being an “outsider” to this area can all too often be seen as a negative, I actually see this as one of my greatest strengths and assets coming into this role. As someone not from Coeur d’Alene, I have had the unique opportunity to come to this town with a fresh pair of eyes set on the future, rooted in the foundation of my past. Not only did I move to Coeur d’Alene with the dream of what it would be for my kids and my family, but I moved away from my former state with a complete understanding of what I was leaving behind, and why. I have spent my whole life knowing what it means to have freedoms taken away, and as such, I have the distinct ability to identify patterns in agenda. I come with an open mind and an open heart, and with genuine hope that our town is protected, but I also come with a critical and discerning eye based on worldly life experience. I am willing to fight to preserve the values that North Idaho holds so dear. I am an active and concerned parent, with a stake in the community and the future of my children and their peers. I trust I have both God and my conservative values working on my side to maintain objectivity as I seek truth, transparency, and accountability within the school district. I have a background in finance, bookkeeping and property management for large publicly traded companies as well as small entities and non-profit organizations. I believe this will also be a huge asset in going into this office, for my ability to carefully analyze budgets, spending and organization on a large scale.

Stavish (Zone 2): I am a vigorous investigator and apt communicator, by text and conversationally. I ask the hard questions, and I don’t care if that hurts feelings. I do not get this sense from my opponents. I have met them personally, and they seem like decent people, but that alone did not leave me with any confidence to drop out and leave the duties to them. I believe that my particular brand of thorough analytical thought will be noticed by our voters and our school admin, and that my iron will sharpen their iron. My style of approach is what is needed right now, but I don’t see that in either of my opponents. Beyond this and more politically, I have no establishment attachments, though both of my opponents do. One has collected multiple $1000 donations! For a small local race, that is really quite a feat. Or, if you’re like me it makes you skeptical of their bona fides.

Tenbrink (Zone 3): I have lived in Coeur d’Alene for more than 19 years. My children have attended every level of schooling in the Coeur d’Alene district and I have been an active volunteer. This has given me a long and varied exposure to the people and programs in our district. My service as a trustee for the last two years has provided experience in the duties required and I am excited to continue that service. In addition, my work as an accountant has prepared me to understand the complex budget of the district and help provide accountability for the way our funds are allocated and spent.

Blatt (Zone 3): I was a senior Army officer for 28 years. My career included projects and programs to rebuild failed or failing nation governments. I was an advisor to foreign government officials and ministers. My final years of service were in the Pentagon providing analysis of national strategic problems and advice to senior US military and government officials. Throughout my career I was responsible for working with small teams and large organizations. In all cases I was responsible for coordinating many officials – each who had their own vote or veto – ultimately to build a coalition to accomplish the most difficult of challenges. I hold a variety of higher education credentials to include a Master’s of Science in Management, Command and General Staff College, and other certificate programs at the Naval Postgraduate School, National Defense University, and the Defense Acquisition University.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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