QandA with Kuna trustee candidates

Three seats on the Kuna School Board are up for election this November.

Incumbents Joy Thomas, J.D. Grant and Russ Johnson each face one challenger: Hillary Lowe, Kristi Hardy and Michael Thornton. Each position is a four-year commitment.

How do school trustees fit into the web of agencies and individuals that oversee what happens in Idaho classrooms? Check out our graphic to find out.

With the Nov. 7 election approaching, EdNews reached out to each candidate to ask about their goals for the school board.

Here’s what they had to say.

Why are you running for a spot on the Kuna School Board?

Joy Thomas, Incumbent (Zone 1): My passion is education and serving my community. When you add those two together, to me, it means serving on the school board. When a board is cohesive and holds leadership accountable, including themselves, kids succeed! I am proud of what we have accomplished in the eight years I have been on the board and I want to see us continue to do better for kids and the sake of our community.

Hillary Lowe, Challenger (Zone 1): I am motivated to serve, not by specific issues, but by principles that I believe will determine the success of our schools and community. I believe that as the governing body, the Board of Trustees should lead the district by asking hard questions, listening to stakeholders, making purposeful decisions, and wholeheartedly supporting students, families, and educators. I believe that parental involvement is a foundational principle for the success of students and communities and that schools should focus primarily on traditional values in education.

J.D. Grant, Incumbent (Zone 2): I am passionate about education. I grew up with few resources but still became a doctor. I want to encourage the youth that the sky is the limit. I am very connected with the community through my dental office and volunteering as a coach for the last 16 years. I can bridge the gap with the patrons of the district to the administration for effective communication.

Kristi Hardy, Challenger (Zone 2): With 15 years in the community and four children attending 7 of the 11 Kuna public schools, I understand the critical need for an education that prepares our kids for their future. Drawing on my experience as a former preschool teacher and active involvement in various school committees, I’ve gained valuable insights. Years of attending school board meetings and volunteering have highlighted essential priorities that need adjustments. I’m driven by the desire to contribute and ensure the voices of the community are heard in shaping their children’s education.

Russ Johnson, Incumbent (Zone 5): To continue the work I started in 2019, including mitigating the effects of growth in our district to help provide for learning spaces and quality education for students in the district, to continue to be frugal and wise with taxpayers funds, and to partner with all stakeholders to improve and move public education forward in our district. Public education is vital to our economy, our families, and the community.

Michael Thornton, Challenger (Zone 5): I am running for School Board Zone 5 this fall to give back to my beloved Kuna community. As a fourth-generation local, I’ve seen the positive impact of a quality education in our schools. I cherish the memories of my own education here and want to ensure my children and others have the same opportunities. My family has a deep- rooted history of community involvement, inspiring me to continue that legacy. I aim to plan for Kuna’s future, adapting to its growth and ensuring our children receive the best education to thrive and contribute to our wonderful community.

What do you hope to accomplish as a trustee? What are your top three priorities?

Thomas: 1. Our kids need to have safe places to learn. That includes having smaller class sizes. The best way to do that is building more space. All of our schools are either at capacity or over. That is not acceptable for me! In addition to being creative in ways to fund building we need to pass a bond and soon.

2. Our test scores are not at the level we would like to see. I believe that test scores are not the end all and be all, but we need to do better. That includes making sure that teachers have the curriculum they need to guide the learning and we need excellent leaders to get there.

3. I love that since I have been on the board that our CTE Program has gone from 6 choices to 27! I am always looking for ways to help build that program. I feel like it is very important in a community like Kuna that kids know they don’t have to go to a four year college to provide for their families in the future!

Lowe: Leadership – The Board of Trustees is the decision-making body for the policy and should set the direction of the Kuna School District, not respond to it. As a Trustee, I will ask hard questions, listen intently, and make decisions for the good of the students and community. Clear communication is important, including listening to stakeholders. I will prioritize logic over emotion in making decisions.

Support and Accountability – I intend for Kuna to be the district of choice for the best quality teachers and administrators. I will wholeheartedly support those who serve our children and hold them accountable for equally high standards.

Financial Responsibility – Operation of the Kuna School District requires a substantial investment from taxpayers. I will direct those resources where they will make the most impact on students, reduce waste and inefficiencies, and plan wisely for the future. If required, bonds and levies should be presented to voters with full transparency. I value private property rights and recognize the effects of property taxes on school district stakeholders.

Parental Involvement – The proper role of public schools is to support the family in educating children. Policies and practices should allow and encourage parental involvement in every step of their childrens’ education.

Grant: 1. Increase student achievement.

2. Decrease class sizes.

3. Work with the city and developers to collect mitigation fees.

4. Push for legislation to be able to collect impact fees for education.

Hardy: 1. Better parental partnerships: I aim to implement policies that foster strong parental involvement in education, emphasizing transparency and guarding against unwelcome agendas.

2. Greater fiscal responsibility: Given the urgent need for more classroom space in Kuna, gaining community trust is vital for garnering public support. I’m committed to responsible allocation of every dollar to ensure efficient use.

3. Increased student achievement: Kuna’s ISAT scores have consistently fallen below State averages during the incumbent’s tenure in both math and language arts. Kuna Middle School’s recent identification for comprehensive improvement underscores the need for urgent action.

Johnson: 1- Continue to develop communication and partnerships with the City of Kuna, other planning agencies and developers in our area to find innovative and strategic ways to mitigate growth. We have increased our level of communication and trust with the City greatly, I would like to continue that effort and do more to use new and existing strategies to mitigate the impact on existing taxpayers.

2- Continue our work with “defeasance” and levy rates to keep tax rates as low as possible, and still provide quality learning and quality learning spaces.

3- Continue with our innovations and expansion with all learning programs such as CTE as well as existing and well established programs such as FFA. Keep our partnerships with all stakeholders to find win/win solutions to the problems that face us in our District.

Thornton: Empowering Parents: I believe in involving parents in their children’s education and policies. Transparency and collaboration ensure a quality education and a safe, informed environment for our students.

Fiscal Responsibility: Kuna’s growth demands responsible spending by focusing on essential needs like, classroom expansions and building maintenance, while remaining transparent about financial decisions.

Property Taxes: As a farmer, I understand the impact of property taxes. I aim for a balance that respects private property rights, maintains low taxes, and invests in our community’s future.

Growth is one of the biggest factors impacting Kuna schools right now. What is your plan to help the district deal with growth, especially considering that there won’t be another opportunity to float a bond or levy until May 2024?

Thomas: I think it is not what we would do it is what we ARE doing. We are striving to use every space we have to educate kids safely. In the future, if we are not able to pass a bond, we may have to consider year round school, redraw the attendance boundaries, or possibly a four day school week. No options are off the table at this point. Even if we do pass a bond soon, it will be 2 to 3 years before a school is built and ready to be used. We are going to have to be creative, with the help of the community, to find solutions! I will continue to push for impact fees with our state legislature. We will continue to work with the cities on development. In partnership with developers we can make the amount we ask for in a bond lower. I want the smallest burden on our tax payers as possible.

Lowe: Crowded schools are certainly something to be concerned about. To build more schools, the district will need money. I don’t know of another way.

Grant: First growth should pay for growth. In the last 3-4 years I have been spear heading the work with the city and developers to collect mitigation fees. We have collected 5.5 million dollars for eduction with this process. We have worked with the state to help pass legislation to collect impact fees. Then lastly we have to educate the public of the need for bonds and levies if the options are not working. My goal is to continue this work for another 4 years.

Hardy: Serving on the year-long capital planning committee makes me uniquely equipped to evaluate how to use our current spaces and find solutions temporarily. My priority is to optimize existing spaces by adjusting school boundaries and reducing underused programs. Through strategic changes to the last bond initiative, I am confident we can secure approval in 2024. I have identified ways to implement substantial taxpayer savings of over $25 million compared to the previous bond request. With the right leadership we will gain the trust of the community that is necessary to pass a bond.

Johnson: We have already undertaken the process to identify our strategies. We are pretty good at working hard to identify areas we need to improve, and that process has already started and has happened throughout the summer.

Obtaining more “buy-in” and urgency from our parents and other stakeholders will be important.

Grow and expand our partnerships with the City of Kuna, other planning agencies in our District, as well as expand our willing partnerships with developers to mitigate.

Explore all options for additional positive changes to State law, ordinances and implementation of existing law.

Thornton: Focus on utilizing the resources that we do have available and making sure that we are taking care of immediate needs.

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday