District 9 Debate- Renaissance Academy September 27

Moderators: Elizabeth Gharbi, Royce Van Tassell

Questions and Time Stamps


  • (22:58) Who do you believe should be the primary driver of education policy? The State Board of Education, the Legislature, the governor, local school districts and charter schools, or someone else?
  • (26:12) What accountability measures should the state use to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth with that $4 billion?
  • (31:22) How should the State Board of Education evaluate which schools are succeeding and which schools need to change?
  • (36:30)Our constitution explicitly allows fees, but it does say that we need to manage those so that we don’t have haves and have-nots and different sets of opportunities. As a potential member of the State Board of Education, how would you address this question of what the policy ought to look like?
  • (43:40)The question is there are very powerful interests usually associated with sports that have been involved in this issue over the last several years. And when that means fundamentally changing what is possible for football or volleyball or cheerleading, or how willing are you to actually take that question on?
  • (49:31)What percentage of our school budgets come from the federal government, and have you ever opposed a federal mandate?
  • (53:04)As you’ve talked to teachers and potential teachers, what would you encourage us to do to help convince teachers to want to stay in the profession and want to become teachers?
  • (57:38) What is the USBE planning or doing to distribute funds where needed, especially in charter and schools in low-income communities?
  • (1:03:39) Should our state school be partisan, or should it be appointed by the governor?

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Elizabeth Gharbi

(Video Time: 14:46)

Hello everyone. Thank you so much for coming this evening. My name is Elizabeth Gharbi and I’m part of the Utah Education Debate Coalition. We’re a partnership of a number of organizations. The Hinckley Institute, the Sutherland Institute, the Association of Public Charter Schools and the United Ways of Utah. We’re really excited to have all of you here tonight for this great debate. The organizations that have come together really believe that it’s important for the community to understand not only what the state school board does but who the candidates are and who they have the opportunity to vote on and can represent them. For tonight’s debate we want to thank Mark and the Renaissance Academy for hosting this debate here – opening their school to us. And with that I’m going to ask Mark to start us off with the Pledge of Allegiance. If everyone could stand. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Thank you. Thanks, Mark. Tonight this debate will be moderated by Royce Van Tassell, and I will invite him up and he can introduce our candidates.

Royce Van Tassell

(Video Time: 16:32)

Good evening. We are thrilled to have so many of you here as well as online. We want to, I want to personally thank Renaissance Academy – frankly, all of the other schools that have been willing to open their doors and host our debates. This is the fourth of five debates for the general election. The fifth one will be held next week up in Ogden, and then we hope that the public will listen to and watch the videos – all of which have been available and will continue to be available on Facebook Live – so that you can see the issues and where the candidates stand on them.

We will, for the first half, take questions from myself. These are questions that we have provided to the candidates several months ago. We didn’t want to play gotcha. We want to talk about substantive issues and hear what people actually think about them in the second half of the debate. We will turn to questions from the audience, both here in person as well as those that are available online at that point if you have a question. If you’ll just raise your hand, we will bring a mic over to you. It’s important that we use that mic so that we can get that on the livestream. Our format will go as follows. We’ll start with two minutes for each candidate to introduce themselves, and then we metaphorically flip the coin.

Actually we went odds and evens, which is the volleyball way to do that. And Cindy Davis won that, so she will introduce herself first followed by Avalie Muhlestein, who will go second at the end.

We will have one minute for each of them to give some closing comments and Avalie Muhlestein will have the opportunity to go first. And Cindy will go second. We anticipate that each candidate will have 90 seconds to respond to each of the questions. We have a timer from Elizabeth, who will keep them on target, and with that I will turn two minutes over to Cindy to introduce herself.

Cindy Davis

(Video Time: 18:54)

Thank you. First, I want to thank the Utah Education Debate Coalition, all of the organizations that are involved in that for organizing and putting on all of these debates all over the state. I think it’s really a great service to all of us who are trying to vet candidates and make decisions, and thank you to Renaissance Academy for allowing us to be here in the building. And thank you to Royce for moderating this debate. We are grateful to you. Like you said, my name is Cindy Davis, and I’m running for State School Board District 9, which involves part of Lindon, all the way up through Pleasant Grove and American Fork, Alpine, Highland, Lehi, Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain all the way down through Goshen, Alberta, Genola – it’s a wide area. I have worked in schools for 25 years.

I started as a teacher and I’ve also worked in administration. I’ve worked at the elementary school level, junior high, senior high, district level, and currently I work at the Utah Valley University. I’ve taught both at BYU and at UVU. I am pretty passionate about education. I have the wonderful opportunity to have a great husband and three great kids who are here today. Thank you to them – they were being dragged around to another school board event, but I appreciate them and their support. I also serve on the district school community or the District Community Council for Alpine School District and also on advisory boards at Brigham Young University, International Area Studies Department and also the Utah State Board of Education and a competency-based education advisory board.

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 20:55)

My name is Avalie Muhlestein and I am running for the same position as my sweet friend Cindy. We do have a very large district. One little note is that part of Eagle Mountain and part of Saratoga – the north ends of both of those are shaved off so we’re not showing up on your ballot because you’re not in our district – to our sweet friends in those areas. I have a pretty extensive background and an education as well for the last 20 years. I received a master’s degree in education 20 years ago at Pacific University and had an opportunity to work in seventh-grade classrooms and then moved to Hawaii, where I was a reading specialist and worked in third grade classrooms. We moved to Seattle, Washington, where I got to be a really involved PTA mom. After you’ve taught in the classroom you appreciate volunteers on a whole different level, and so I became that volunteer as my sweet son entered kindergarten. And then we moved here to Utah, so I’ve lived here in District 9 for the last 13 years and have been a part of Utah schools on all different levels. I’ve worked in charter schools as a volunteer. I sit on a board of directors for a distance education program at a private school. I work in homeschool circles and I still volunteer and work with my sweet friends in the public schools and I am here because I am concerned about some of the things that are happening in education, primarily the problems that teachers are having in classrooms with all of the mandated requirements at the state level. I’m concerned about the loss of rights for parents’ rights and what’s happening to our students’ safety and mental-health-wise because of a lot of these changes. And I know that we can restore the local control and take the power back to the families and into the classrooms and be able to save money and do that. And so I want to be a voice for the kind of change that our founders intended.

Questions 1 Responses

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 23:17)

The main driver of education policy should start with the family, and we should be making decisions closest to this student and the child as we can. And so when we have parents that are concerned, those questions should come up through the ranks to go into the classrooms with the teachers and then to the administration and then up into the district. We feel like we have our paradigm upside down where instead of the power and the driving for change coming from the families and the teachers that see the needs, it’s coming from top down from the state. And those needs to change because the best solutions come from really creative teachers and wonderful parents who understand the issues at a local level. There are things that need to happen at a state level, and I think it’s really important that we do have some teacher licensing things for safety especially and those kinds of things, but I still think that the driving of the policy changes really needs to come from the teachers, the schools, the parents, and not from a vendor or a federal entity or even a state entity, as wonderful as they all are.

Cindy Davis

(Video Time: 24:33)

Amen sister, get rid of those vendor bills. You know, honestly I would say I think that you heard the list that was listed in that question of stakeholders who should drive public education and policy. And I would say none of those none of those should be driving our policy. If you think about, raise your hand if you sit on any trust land councils, school community councils, trust lands councils in your schools. We have a couple over here. Out there in cyber world – if any of you who are watching, throw it out there on your computers. What drives your decisions when you make your school improvement plans for your schools? What is it? You two know. Teachers give input and it’s driven by data that shows the greatest area of what? Need, of student need. Our student needs should be driving our policy, period.

We have to figure out what that is. Our students are the ones who are attending our schools. Our families live with the students, our teachers teach the students, and we have to be working together as parents, community members, teachers, administrators and even policymakers to listen to each other. To look at our data to figure out what is the greatest area of student need, and we should be basing our policy in any area based on what the greatest student needs are.

Question 2 Responses


Cindy Davis

(Video Time: 26:46)

Well, currently we have audit systems within our LEAs. And when I say LEA that’s local education agent; that’s the district and we’re a charter. We also have auditors that are at the state level that work and study budgets and expenditures and make sure that our tax dollars are being spent appropriately on the local levels.

So there is kind of a check and a balance there and I think it’s important that that continue to happen; that there is oversight there heavily.

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 27:31)

I really believe that the best accountability measures are taxpayers. And when we have taxpayers who are aware, we have a lot of transparency in government. The parents know where the money is going, and the teachers can see where the money is going, and the administrators know where that money is going. It’s a lot more effective than any auditor is. Auditors are great at gathering data. They’re fantastic. And I really appreciate the hard work that they do. However, a lot of that data gets buried just because audits are not fun to read. And so – no offense to my friends that are auditors – but they’re not fun to read.

And so I think what we need to be doing is being very real about first of all when we pass a bill, legislatively pass a bill, or when there is a rule enacted at the U.S. level, that we really truly understand how much it’s costing when we sign a grant to receive money from schools or for schools from the federal government what that is actually costing us in the light of those analyses are never done. And we take the money and then we spend the money and then it costs us more than we think it’s going to. And that frustrates me a lot. So I really feel like that, first of all, one of the accountability systems shouldn’t be in place is student testing. I do not believe that’s an accurate count of how well kids are being taught in schools, how well teachers are doing in the classroom. But the accountability that needs to be happening is transparency so that the parents understand where the money is going if there’s not enough money for books in the classroom. They need to understand why.

Additional Response

(Video Time: 28:52)

Cindy: Can I add?

Royce: We did allow the opportunity for candidates to provide one-minute response, so Cindy if you’d like to respond, we’re happy to do that. We also have a one minute to respond if you’d like.

Cindy: It’s not necessarily response, but I just wanted the folks here to know that things have changed at the state board and in the last couple of years at the meetings every month there is a finance director who comes and gives a very detailed financial report and I think that you will see a lot more financial details coming through those public board meetings, and that you’re able to watch those online as well, so the public has access to hear every one of those presentations every single month that really gets into the finances of what’s happening in our state.

Avalie Muhlestein: Thank you, Cindy. They are doing a really good job improving transparency at the state. As I’ve attended meetings and things – they gave this beautiful handout a couple of weeks ago. We were there and talking about the public education statistics and things like that. And there is really a lot of data. The problem is that it’s just you have to sit through an eight-hour meeting to find the data sometimes, and most of us don’t have time. Crazy people like us actually do take the time to do that and we wrote that we women represent you, but I really feel like we could do a better job educating our parents, do a better job helping our teachers understand, because they don’t have time. Our teachers are so taxed right now and I don’t feel like that they have time to understand that and they’re feeling frustrated, and so – maybe I can amend my comment a little bit – better transparency perhaps is better communication and better understanding of where the money is going and definitions of when our legislators pass bills or when we enact rule as USBE that we really understand how much it’s going to cost and where that money is going to come from and where it’s going.

Question 3 Responses

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 31:32)

He says he talks fast and that’s a good thing, because he’s advocating for important stuff at the state. We appreciate the work you do. Thank you. So we can measure how schools are succeeding in a lot of ways. The USP actually this month was evaluating alternate methods of looking at assessing schools – I guess is the way to say it because we have some schools that have very significant special populations, whether it’s special needs, or kids that are at risk, youth in custody, things like that. And so those kinds of schools, obviously state testing is not an appropriate way to measure their success. When you have kids that are just trying to stay out of jail. You know that’s a very different thing. We can’t expect them to be scoring high scores on the state assessments because they’re in a different mode of survival. And so they approached this and it was really fascinating to see the kind of ideas that they had and I appreciated a lot. The way that they that they determined this and one of the things I actually liked that they were suggesting was to allow the schools to have a lot of different benchmarks. A lot of different ways. Maybe it’s small class size that they can talk about, maybe it’s the fact that they also take the Iowa test and their students score high on the Iowa test, maybe it’s ACT scores – and again I’m going back to standardized testing, which I’m not a huge fan of – but there are lots of different ways to evaluate. It might even be how long teachers stay at the school – teacher retention – because we know, teachers who stay, that means that’s good. I mean that’s a good school. It’s good evidence that the people have bought into the vision that the school or maybe it just says we have a really talented administrator. All of those things are awesome and there are incredible ways to evaluate schools, and to me if you have things like that teacher retention and the class sizes are manageable and you have children returning, even returning student numbers is huge. All of those are great ways that we can assess schools.


(Video Time: 33:22 )

I think those are hypothetical right now.

And those ways would be great actually and it would be also great to add survey data – students survey and parents survey. I would love to see that, but currently that’s not what’s happening. And most recently our accountability system was prior to last year basically school scores.

And here’s what I find kind of odd. Like you have state test scores which create legislated school grades. That’s not from a state board policy that’s from the Legislature, and the school grades are based on tests. But then the Legislature says we have to take but then the Legislature also made a law so you don’t have to take the test if you don’t want to take the test, and then later than that the Legislature made a law that said you can’t use this test for any part – even one half of a point – on a student’s grade. So then now we have secondary students taking a subtest that should be 45 minutes in four minutes and bragging about it to other students. But you have this test with no teeth that’s being used as the accountability measure to make the school grades that are published for our schools, so that all seems very precarious to me. So in reality where we are moving as of last year Senator [Ann] Millner worked with some of our – I didn’t recognize you draw without the beard. You look like a whole different person. So we’re running for the seat that that Joel is vacating. But he would I’m sure remember last year working with Senator Millner and the Board of Education and the employees there to try to create a more reasonable evaluative system with some of the things that you mentioned but more things like adding graduation rates and things like that along with the scores. The scores are still a component and that’s where we stand right now. I do think we need to make more strides in adding more pieces, more evaluative pieces to our school accountability system. And I hope that we’ll see that through legislation similar to what we saw last year.

Question 4 Responses


(Video Time: 36:37)

This is an interesting question I am hearing from people with a myriad of opinions on this issue. You would kind of think it would be all one opinion but I’m hearing a wide variety of opinions. You know the first thing we have to do is look at what does the law say? What does the law say? And you’re laughing, because we haven’t really been looking at the law, so that’s where we need to start. And if we don’t like the law then we need to change it. Right? But what we need to be law abiding.

So we need to look at what the law says on a state level and on a district level and an individual school level. We also need to look at, you know, what’s reasonable. As I read the first audit I was asking, well, are these fees jumping up because of inflation? And how do they relate to inflation? And then I got to the end of the first report that I read, and I read that actually the increase in fees varied as it pertained from 1994 until now. It varied from 55 percent below the relative changes to inflation up to 712 percent above the changes to inflation – relative changes to inflation. So that’s a big – that’s a big spread and I think we can do better as a state to kind of look at that and see how we can get a little more consistency. She’s telling me to stop. I’m going to have to take my extra 60 seconds after Avalie Muhlestein is done. Thanks Elizabeth for reminding me not to be so verbose.




Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 38:20)

We both have that problem. It’s totally fine. OK, I think it’s important to remember with this what this audit – we know this stemmed from a 1994 lawsuit, and so this was actually decided in court. So as much as fun as it would be, I wish we could just kind of go fix the law. We do – we are under court mandate for some of these things now because of the court rule which was based on partisan California law because they had a similar part of their constitution. And anyway, long story short, we have a court mandate that we have to uphold whether we like it or not. And so I think what we need to do first of all is we need to go look at what the court did mandate, and then what the failure in my opinion that happened is that we didn’t really as a – not we as the people but we as in our lawmakers and the USBE as well – didn’t define the terms from the the court mandate. And so we have this injunction that have been given that doesn’t have an end date, and we never really take the time to say what is that exactly going to look like? We use the broad terms, and so we need to go back and look at the rule of law.

I’d like to see the LEAs surveyed to see what they feel like is an equitable amount of money to charge for activities, including like the people who are actually running the activities, like the cheerleading coaches and the football coaches, and then we’re going to have to make some decisions at local levels on whether some of those programs can stay, because the reality is if we don’t have enough money to pay teachers, we can’t be subsidizing programs. And that’s super sad and I hate to say it. I used to be a cheerleading coach and I love extracurricular activities, but we have to follow the court mandate.

Additional Response


(Video Time: 40:14)

I just wanted to say, you know, this is not like there is a widespread variance with what’s happening with fees. And I just want to say a couple of examples within District 9. So you’ve got Alpine School District schools within District 9. The state board only has oversight of district schools and charter schools. So you know, they recently there were member showed fees from 10 years ago and how they’ve changed now. And you would be surprised they’re like almost the same. I mean they have been working really hard to keep their fees pretty level, and that percentage increase is very very small. They’re not up here in the 700. So you’ve got this widespread – and then I’ve talked to a charter school director this week who said, “You know I gave them all my information for this audit and then I don’t get any information back saying here’s how you can, here’s how you’re out of compliance, and here’s what you can change. I get nothing. And the next thing I see it’s on the 10 o’clock news that every school is not doing things right.” And he said, “We don’t even charge fees, we require like one tie, and we give that to our students.” So he said you could understand how he is surprised and how there also needs to be a way that we look at how we do these audits and how we communicate with schools. And I think the process could be looked at as well.

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 41:38)

Yes please. So I think we need to find the terms. We decide what’s equitable and fair based on serving in the LEAs and talking to local schools and coaches and parents and looking in each area because what’s going to cost– it’s good for districts to set their own fees because what’s fair here might not be fair in like Sanpete County. Right. And so that’s important. And then the training component comes and that’s is where the USBE can step in and provide training and help these people who are struggling who want to run programs and can’t figure out how to consolidate resources so that they can have their choir program for less than whatever is required by the district. And then we do need an accountability system. And I know the word is ugly sometimes – that accountability word – but we do need to be accountable so that we can be compliant with the law and help the districts offer the help they need and not in the Big Brother sense, in a mean scary “come audit and then never talk to you again” sense, but “hey, how can we help you; we can see that your program is struggling and that you really want to keep this program afloat – what can we do to help you decide that it’s legal?”

Audience Questions and Responses


(Video Time: 43:40)

The question is there are very powerful interests usually associated with sports that have been involved in this issue over the last several years. And what that means fundamentally changing what is possible for football or volleyball or cheerleading or how willing are you to actually take that question on?

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 44:38 )

Thank Joel. We appreciate your service. Thank you for all you’ve done – it’s a tough tough road you’ve had up there. The thing – that’s the thing we need to remember, that’s really hard to keep perspective on – is the role is the role of education at the state level and in our constitution, in the state constitution. It says that every child shall have access. I think it’s “shall have access to free public education.” That, to me, to define education is to define the things that happens in the classroom. And I feel like a heretic saying this as a former cheerleading coach and a person who loves football and loves sports, but at the same time we have to prioritize. And I keep thinking of my husband, and I lived in Hawaii when he was in college and we were so broke. I mean, we’ve all probably been there, right, so broke like fishing to eat. And by climbing coconut trees to eat. I’ll tell you the mango tree story sometime – it was bad. Broke an ankle – don’t ask. But anyway, so we there’s this thing that happens when we have to choose and people do get upset. And the sports complex is a powerful entity. But at the same time when our kids don’t have books, when our teachers feel so underpaid, when we don’t have what we need in the classroom, that has to take priority – so yes, to answer your question, I will take them on because the most important thing is that our kids know how to write, that they know how to do math, and they know how to read, and the teachers feel the support they need in the classroom, and you know what – the free market system works. So if we need to, those clubs and stuff will end up popping up in the community – you’ll have incredible dance programs, incredible football programs, incredible just like we have with other sports right now. It will privatize. And those kids’ needs will be met in a different way and they don’t have to follow the same fundraising rules.


(Video Time: 46:33)

We had four teachers at my house the other night, and we were having this discussion about academics versus athletics. And they were saying, oh look at our, you know, professional sports players and then look at our teachers, and this is where our society puts – you know the way we pay our athletes versus our teachers. We tend to prioritize athletics. But schools are about academics and academics have to come first. And the learning has to come first.

And I think it is a misnomer at the school level that more funds and resources are being put into athletics than academics or instruction. That is not the case. We are putting the bulk of our resources into instruction and into learning. Can things be adjusted on the extracurricular level? They could be. But here’s some other feedback I’m getting from parents. I just talked to a parent who’s concerned about this whole school fee discussion because she said clubs are already privatized, sports are already privatized, and they’re expensive even in a free market system.

Let’s take swimming, so we just stay away from the football world. Okay guys, I was going to talk about concussion, and the whole thing’s going to unravel. So let’s take a more benign sport. So let’s talk about swimming. She said yeah, I’m spending almost 300 dollars to have my child participate in swimming high school. But she said that includes the meet costs and the swimming; the experience is phenomenal. And even if I don’t go to the private clubs which are so expensive, I could go to my city, but my city is hundreds more than what we’re paying in our school fees, it’s cool. And she said – and think of this, my city, she’s in Orem – she said my city has the lowest city fees for swimmers to participate in swimming and swim meets and things like that. So if I’m saying I want to keep this at the school level, you know, there are parents from every other city that are paying even more to participate in city that want to also try to do what they can to keep these activities at the school level. It can be adjusted. It needs to be adjusted. My husband and I debated this until midnight in bed the other night when we were thinking through every aspect of this issue. And there are many aspects. It’s not a one-lens issue. Thank you.

Online Audience Question

(Video Time: 49:31)

Let me repeat that it’s a two-part question. What percentage of our school budgets come from the federal government? And have you ever opposed a federal mandate? We’ll start with you.

Cindy Davis 

(Video Time: 49:42)

Thank you. Six and a half percent of our education budget comes from the federal government, and that money specifically goes to pay for our most vulnerable populations. That money goes to fund our special education programs. It also goes to fund our Title I programs where we’re experiencing higher levels of poverty with our students. I think at some point in our lives every person has a post some kind of mandate federally, from the state, from even a local school. There are things that we don’t like, but the reality is I’ve heard people say “well let’s tell the federal government to just stay totally out of our business and keep our money and then we’ll just do our thing without having this money come back to Utah.” And that to me sounds like a Massachusetts solution on a Utah budget. So I think that we have to be really careful when we look at saying, you know, “let’s get rid of the money that we get back from the federal government.” Thank you.

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 50:58)

So according to this 2017 Utah public education report put out by the USBE 6.82 percent of the of our funding comes from the federal budget. The total revenue was $4,297,269,764. So, if you wanted details there they are, and this is a place where Cindy and I part ways. We don’t need federal money, and I love the population that she’s talking about. We do foster care – and we’ve adopted some kids that have special needs that were in that target population that she’s talking about. So that’s where my heart is. I love those kids and I love them enough that I brought a couple of them in my home to be with us forever because they need places to be. And the reality is though is that every time you pick up that federal funding, that federal grant money, you pick up both ends of the stick. Stephen Covey talks about “you can’t choose to pick up one side of the stick without it affecting the other.” And when you pick up that grant stick, in every single grant that comes from the federal government, every mandate that we choose to participate in comes with requirements and those requirements cost money. And so yes, I’ve heard people say “we can’t leave the money on the table, we can’t leave it on the table.” But when you leave it on the table, you also are not required to be compliant with the requirements. And so those federal requirements are costing a lot of money – a lot of, a lot of our federal funding actually is going to assessments as well; if you look at the federal grant that’s running, paying for our new RISE testing. It’s like lots and lots and lots of money. But it’s all going into assessments, to building, to writing tests for the state of Utah. And so if we didn’t pick up that end of the stick we wouldn’t have to also create new tests.

Audience Member

(Video Time: 53:04)

As you’ve talked to teachers and potential teachers, what would you encourage us to do to help convince teachers to want to stay in the profession and want to become teachers?

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 53:24)

This is a really critical question to Utah right now. The reason that I’ve talked to lots and lots and lots of classrooms and have a ton of friends that are teachers and honestly the reason I left the classroom was because of the requirements that are put on teachers right now. Teachers are not data collectors. And I say that a lot but they’re not. Most of us don’t enter the teaching profession to administrate tests all the time that we don’t even get to write and then to have to analyze data that sometimes is not super helpful because we didn’t write the tests. And so what I think we can do to help teachers want to stay is to increase teacher salaries, find the way to do that. And I know we can, I know that there’s the money in our budget to do that. Our legislators need to prioritize the funding and we need to prepare teachers more. And that is going to be a long road and a long fight, and I’m willing to make that fight. I also think we need to deregulate and help the legislators understand that a lot of the very – I’m going to use a word from a meeting yesterday at USBE – schizophrenic language in the law, it drives me crazy because they require but then they restrict and then they don’t allow the teachers to use their genius. I think that’s why we’re not recruiting teachers and we’re not keeping teachers. The other thing that I would love to see is for us to be able to utilize our highly specialized workforce especially in our area. We have a shortage of math teachers like calculus teachers, but up on this hill behind us we have this incredible group of men and women who are incredible at calculus and if they could Skype and do the same things as the UVA professors do for college classes we would probably have quite a few volunteer teachers who are incredibly qualified and be willing to fill that gap for us.


(Video Time: 55:11)

So I’ll just kind of go back to where Avalie Muhlestein mentioned that we parted ways. And she’s a gem. We are friends by the way I should say, but yeah, I think we need to pay our teachers more. Actually, we really do. Compensation is impacting teacher retention and our teachers are tired. Where we don’t part ways, where we actually quite agree, is that our teachers are over mandated and that’s not coming from the federal government, friends, that’s coming from our state. So our state requires a lot more than our federal government does of our teachers, and sometimes legislators say to me what should we do for schools this year. I say “Nothing. Just give us a break.” Right? Because we have hundreds of education bills on the Hill every year that are drafted.

I remember hearing Representative [LaVar] Christensen one year say we have over 400 education bills drafted in Utah and he mentioned another state that they have four. And I think, man, we would get our home runs from our teachers and our schools our education system if we would stop moving home plate to a different part of the field every year. There are just – I mean things are changing faster than our teachers can keep up to get any kind of consistency and momentum going. So I think we do need to decrease that for our teachers and those requirements for our teachers.

And then I do think we do have opportunities for what Avalie’s mentioning, to have some shared expertise through distance learning; we’ve got some distance learning labs in our schools right now and some opportunities and some partnerships – and I’m getting my sign to stop – but there is just this cool aerospace partnership going on in the north and some cool tech partnerships coming up in the south where we are doing some of these things, but where the rubber meets the road in our classrooms, the teachers – I mean they’re doing a lot and they are tired. My heart goes out to them. And I’ve been one, and I get it’s like doing aerobics for seven hours a day and having 250 emotional suckers sucking on you all day long at the same time. I taught junior high at a productivity model, but I mean I feel for our teachers. Thank you.


Online Audience Question

(Video Time: 57:38)

What is the USBE planning or doing to distribute funds where needed especially in charter and schools in low-income communities?

Cindy Davis 

(Video Time: 57:57)

  1. Well thank you for that. First of all, USBE doesn’t make those decisions, that funding is a legislative responsibility, but certainly members on the State Board of Education can advocate. This is actually something that’s a little near and dear to my heart. My grandfather who passed away this last summer – he was responsible for the state finance, the state finance director for many years and he actually was the one who originally added the formulas in to help make funding more equitable in our state. So we had our students, especially in rural areas, having a fighting chance to get a good education. So that is something that I care about. I care about equitable – equity does not always mean equal. And I think we have to remember that also. Also, I think it’s important to note that just this past legislative season we had funding equity legislation that was passed that makes some headway in equalizing some of that education funding between districts and charter schools are funded at an average, at a state average. So that answers that piece of that question.

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 1:00:03)

Thank you. Thank you for your question our online friends. You – so the USBE, currently, as Cindy was talking about, that there’s an equation that determines where the money goes and how and all those kinds of things but the one thing that they do do at the USBE level is identify schools that need additional support. So that’s actually written on them through school grading which we are kind of talking about before. But the additional funding comes with support which also comes with requirements and things like that. So if there’s a school that they consider that’s needing additional support – which is a nice way of saying that they feel like it’s falling behind the standards – then they receive additional support, meaning help in different ways. So this is a very very interesting question. It’s complicated because there are 41 streams of revenue that come into schools and in the public schools the money comes from so many different sources and there’s all these complicated equations. Bless her grandpa’s heart for working on that because that would make my head spin. Trying to figure out that math to make it equitable. But it’s really difficult. And this demographic issue of where you live affecting the kind of school you attend and things is hard. And it’s a hard reality that I have dealt with and probably some of you have attended some of those kinds of schools too. And our hearts go out to those teachers and the administrators and things, but I don’t believe that this is the role of the USBE. This is something that’s legislatively mandated, and so we can advocate. But at the same time I think if we’re concerned about those things, we need to be discussing those things with our lawmakers and discussing them with our local boards to find solutions that work for the school on a local level.

Additional Response


(Video Time: 1:01:53 )

Well you remember Cammi Alvarez, she ran a primary with us. You know she was just so great because she was really passionate about this bill. And you mentioned you know arts schools that are struggling the most, we have this legislation called the turnaround legislation, but even when you look at that the way the bill is written, it’s written that there will always be a bottom percentage of schools. So even if we support and help these schools to come up to a certain benchmark legislatively, we’ve always pulled out this money that it’s going to go to this bottom percentage anyway, even if they make the progress that they need to make while USBE or any other resources are supporting them. So I think we need to really think carefully about how we’re using our money and how our policies are written.

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 1:02:46 )

Yeah sure. I think the other thing to remember as well is that having money in reserve – I know that they do look at total assets and things like that as they allocate funding – but to me having money in reserve also demonstrates some fiscal responsibility. And I don’t feel like it’s good to penalize. I don’t know that the suggestion – but to penalize schools that have reserves because there are times when they will need that. Economies go up, economies go down. I remember in Orem, we remember when Geneva shut down and the Alpine District was just – it was a hard time. I mean these are really hard time, because everything was gone. And so I think it’s good for us to take a look at this and maybe our friends out in cyberland can help us find some solutions for this.

Audience Member

(Video Time: 1:03:39)

Should our state school be partisan or should it be appointed by the governor?


Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 1:04:10)

Thank you for that question. This is a really interesting question that I’ve actually kind of shifted on during this campaign as I’ve experienced this fabulous gantlet that we’ve gotten to run together.

I don’t believe that this should be an appointed position by the governor. I believe that the USBE is designed to be sort of a check and balance with the Legislature or the governor. You’ve got these branches – and I know that technically I think it’s part of the executive branch, the way that it’s structured in our state constitution – but it almost feels more like a judicial branch. They’ve got the real making of executive. But it’s fascinating to me just how they balance things. I don’t know. Anyway, so I don’t think that they should be appointed by the governor because I think that that needs to stay separate. I think that this needs to be an entity that is representing the people.

I’m not – I’m still out on the partisan, bipartisan, because what happens when you do not have a bipartisan race or a partisan race – excuse me – and we have more than two than two parties in the state. Well you have a partisan race; you have a big party behind you and entity behind you. When you remove the partisan it makes space for other entities to step in and still get behind people. And so regardless of how you run a political race there’s going to be some big political action group or something that gets behind the race to try to determine what’s happening. And so I’m kind of out, my jury’s out on that on whether that’s the Republican and Democratic Party or Libertarian or the new party or we choose to do more, or like you know unions and stuff instead, it’s just kind of going to be the same result.

Cindy Davis 

(Video Time: 1:05:46 )

So I think there are pros and cons to all of these, actually, all of these models. I was surprised initially when the judge deemed the appointments unconstitutional, because like a third of the states out there have appointed boards, so then now legally then we’re back – we were back to nonpartisan elections.

But then the Legislature said we’re going to have partisan elections at the state level so then we were back to that, but then another lawsuit came out, and now we’re waiting to hear if we’re going to have that or if we’re going to have nonpartisan – obviously this coming race is a nonpartisan election. You know, I don’t have a problem with the political system that we have in our state. I’ve been a delegate for years and years and years. I’m happy to serve my community that way. I have to say having gone to the convention this last time and sat there for 10 hours I was glad that we were not a part of that. But honestly it was big and lengthy. And you know, I think a nonpartisan experience allows for more voices to become involved. I do think an elected board makes the people and the voters feel more connected and it gives them some recourse. They can talk to people about policy. I think an appointed superintendent could add for more nimbleness to the organization. But you have problems with that too. I talked to someone from another state where they had actually a nonpartisan election for the superintendent which kept the nimbleness, added some voter recourse, but then the educators were saying you can’t get any consistency going because our superintendents use it for a political stepping stone. And even that superintendent was running for governor at that time. So I really do think there are pros and cons. I think what we have right now is a nonpartisan election, and that’s what we’re doing and we are ready to rock and roll. I think I can speak for both of us. We want to serve, are ready to go, and, well, let’s move forward.

Concluding Statements

Avalie Muhlestein

(Video Time: 1:08:25)

How long do we have again – 60 seconds starting now? Just kidding. She can take all the time she wants.

Oh girl, I love it. No, he said 90 – didn’t he say 90, guys? I’m pretty sure he did. I’m pretty sure he said 90. My name is Avalie Muhlestein, I am happy to be here and I’m happy to serve.

And I just wanted to comment briefly on the issue with the Utah Education Network kind of fiasco that’s blown up over the last week.

I fully support terminating that contract. If I were a voting member of the board and had that opportunity and I don’t actually know if they have full opportunity to do that, that was legislated or that was board rule that contract. But I would say that if we have someone supplying pornography into our schools that intentionally was done, no matter how much they scrub it, I don’t feel like they’re trustworthy and we need to terminate that contract. And so that’s where I said – and I’ve gotten tons of e-mails asking me to address that today. So I have. It’s time for us to protect our kids and not worry about hurting people, civilians, or worry about the sunk cost of a contract. But it’s time to make sure that those things are not in there. And if you’re not familiar, it’s just a database that was created that all kids have access to in the schools. It’s not filterable because it’s a closed loop system. And so the filters in the schools don’t work. Everything in that database is intentionally placed there for research purposes and if you put in a word like Red Bull you end up with pornography. And so those things need to be removed. And I can I have you remember EBSCO think is the company that’s that’s that done this. They’re on the dirty dozen list for the sexual kids safety group. So they watch these people that do internet and database stuff, and they’re on the top 12 people that push pornography, so Utah needs to cut their relationship with that entity.

Cindy Davis 

(Video Time: 1:10:23)

I have seven pages of thoughts about specific policy but I’m just going to put those away for a minute. Let’s just talk about public education for a minute. Let’s think about what our communities would be like without it – what does it do for us? I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and what it does, what public education does, is it protects the public; it protects us.

And there are so many correlations that you can make with crime and education and graduation rates and incarcerations, and the more we support our schools and the more we can help the young people in our communities, the more our society and our communities will benefit.

Family is first the key. Gosh, it would be so great if every child had a fully functioning family – that would be the key. That doesn’t always happen. The place our children spend the next amount of time next to their home is at school, and our schools need to be strong. I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a principal. We wear so many hats. Yes, we teach reading writing and math. We also provide sometimes the only meal a child gets in a day. We also – you know, as a teacher, I can remember spending one night planning lessons, but spending the other half of the night finding a coat for a child who was freezing and never wore a coat. I mean, we have a responsibility as policy makers, as parents, as educators, as community members, to work together to help our schools to be the best that they can be for the children in our community who will grow up and become the adults that surround us as well, and I hope to be able to serve you. I’m passionate about our schools. I’m passionate about education and I’m ready. I’m ready to serve if that is the will of the people. And if not, then I’m ready to support Avalie and help her in whatever she needs. Thank you.


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