Residents of southeast Iowa will travel to the polls on Tues., Sept. 8 to choose the men and women who will represent them on their local school boards. One such race is in Burlington, where a field of five candidates is looking to do big things.
- Bryan Bross
- Heather Brueck
- Deb Hatteberg
- Marlis Robberts (incumbent)
- Michael Warner (incumbent)
Bross said he'd considered running for the Burlington School Board in the past, but did not feel it was the right time. He said he believes the right time is now because he has two children at Burlington High School.
He said he would bring a business background to the race, which would allow him to hit the ground running in areas such as the budget, facility needs and leadership.
Bross said the school district has a lot going for it right now, with the renovations to Bracewell Stadium, the new BHS home room program and the wide range of extracurricular activities for which students can participate.
He said a challenge, though, is the district's image. He said it gets negative press because of its size and the complicated issues that come with that. He said one way to improve that would be to do a better job of reaching into the community and helping the families of students who might not have the means or the opportunities of their peers.
"Being more available to help those students," said Bross. "Help the families and being part of that would improve
Bross said another challenge is open-enrollment, with Burlington losing dozens of students to neighboring districts. He said while it's important to work to bring those students back, that cannot be Burlington's entire focus.
"Our focus should be that we are the best opportunity for our local students to get all of the possible educational resources that they need to be successful as adults and in their careers," said Bross.
Brueck said she entered the race because she wanted to get more involved in the district due to having children in the system and because of the enthusiasm being brought forth by Superintendent Pat Coen.
She said if elected, she would work to improve communication between the school district and the public. She said there are a lot of good things happening now, such as student awards and grants, that people need to know about.
Brueck said she also wants to see the district balance the budget and hold the line on property taxes. She said with costs constantly increasing, the solution could be new revenue sources. One that she supports is Burlington handling some IT duties for Burlington Notre Dame.
"That would be an opportunity for the school to make a little bit of money," said Brueck. "Those opportunities don’t come along very often so as a school board member, I would like us to really look at that and pursue that.”
Brueck said one potential area to save money could be to move the administration out of the old farmhouse in Perkins Park known as "the White House."
“I’d really like to explore that," said Brueck. "The White House is an old building. I would be interested to know how much it costs every year for us to maintain that building and if that would be something that would be feasible.”
Brueck said she would also focus on reversing the open-enrollment trends, encouraging the public to attend school board meetings and implementing body cameras for building administrators.
Hatteberg is well aware of the importance of the Burlington School Board, following a 33-year teaching career in the school district. She has remained involved as a choir director, a mentor to young teachers and as a substitute teacher since she retired.
Having a teaching perspective, according to Hatteberg, would provide a better understanding of how new initiatives work and what needs to be changed. She said it also gives her more insight to ask questions along the way.
Hatteberg said one of the biggest challenges facing the Burlington School District is the budget, balancing rising costs with flat to reduced revenue. She said with that in mind, the money available needs to go to keep up with technology and get it in the hands of the students.
"A lot of the teaching strategies that can utilize technology will reach the kids quicker and have the desired result," said Hatteberg. "The other thing would be making sure you have facilities that can support the new types of learning.”
Hatteberg said she would also like to see improved communication between the district, parents and students. She would also like to see more of a presence outside of the classroom.
“The school has to do things other than just teaching reading, writing and math," said Hatteberg. "They have to look at the whole child and maybe address some of the other issues that need to be addressed before that child is ready to learn.”
Robberts said she has learned a lot during her first full term on the Burlington School Board, even assuming a leadership role as the current President of the panel. She said the board has undertaken some significant programs and she wants to see them continue.
One is a restructuring of the high school in which one principal and three assistant principals work more closely with students.
"[It allows the team] to have more established relationships, to provide bettter service to our students, [and] to provide more identity with [the] Burlington Community School District," said Robberts. "That's one big change."
Robberts is also proud of the decision to move the alternative school to the high school campus and she’s a strong supporter of the new commercial kitchen classroom at the high school.
She said the school district's greatest strength is its employees while the biggest challenge is open enrollment.
Robberts said it's not a lack of opportunities leading people to send their children to school outside of Burlington.
“They never try our district," said Robberts. "Our biggest open enrollment is in kindergarten. These are people who are just scared of the size of Burlington or whatever other reason and just don’t give us a shot.”
Robberts says if re-elected, she would push for the district to reach out to parents and guardians of students in preschool or daycare to invite them to the schools and show them the opportunities available.
Michael Warner did not respond to a request for an interview for this story.