2015 Iowa Bystander School Board Election Endorsements

By Jonathan Narcisse, Editor & Publisher

The Iowa Bystander endorsement process consists of two steps and utilizes an objective set of criteria to determine our endorsements.

The first thing required of candidates is the completion of a 24 question pre-interview questionnaire. Following completion of the questionnaire a 25 minute interview is conducted with the questionnaire serving as the foundation of the line of questioning.

Our endorsement takes into consideration much more than a love of children, a desire to serve or even political considerations. In 2013, for example, one of our panelist had an employee running for a position on the Des Moines School Board. That employee did not earn his boss’s endorsement. This year we had a panelist who contributed a $100 to a particular candidate and had taken two of his yard signs yet the candidate he was personally supporting was unanimously endorsed against based on our objective criteria.

It wasn’t even close. He, in fact was the first to say “we have to endorse her!”

We do not endorse based on a candidate’s partisan affiliations, racial or ethnic heritage, gender, or our political agenda as a publication. We view this as a hiring process and our expectation is that we will hire the best School Board Directors for our students, families, area residents and taxpayers.

The Bystander is a historic African American publication yet our commitment to excellence is such that an older White gentleman such as Ed Linebach can absolutely earn our endorsement over a very popular young African American candidate. Why?

I understand the gravity of the position and, therefore, demanded our endorsement process reflect that!

Candidates are asking voters to put them in charge of annual budgets ranging from $100 million to $500 million. They are asking voters to trust them with the education of thousands of students and the careers of hundreds to thousands of employees per district, especially at times when tough fiscal decisions must be made including making personnel cuts. They are asking voters to trust them to provide oversight over tens of millions or more in construction projects. And they are asking voters to trust them with making decisions that will impact the reputation, growth and prosperity of the communities they serve. Great schools invite growth. Poorly perceived schools become a prime reason communities lose population.

Our process rewards commitment and vision but it also places a premium on competence, knowledge and the ability to be an effective steward of tax payer investments. Once elected these individuals will make decisions over four years on anywhere from one billion dollars in school districts like Ankeny, Waukee and West Des Moines, to more than two billion in the Des Moines School District.

One prime example of how our process works is the first District of Des Moines. Heather Anderson is a person of the highest quality. She called me as a former member of the Des Moines School Board and we spent a of couple of hours discussing my time on the Board and my education philosophy.

She’s a great parent and a great teacher and she loves kids. Once we got past that, however, to the massive responsibility of being a Des Moines School District Director she was out of her depth. And the independent panel appointed by our publication to make the endorsement decisions did their job.

Her opponent, Shane Schulte, had an impressive grasp on everything from Common Core to the District budget. His knowledge was superior in area after area. The work and preparation he has put in to be qualified to serve spans years and after reviewing the questionnaires and conducting the interviews it was a very easy endorsement for the panel.

Heather is someone we absolutely want teaching our children but Shane is the one we want in charge of $2 billion dollars, 32,000 students, 5,000 employees and the fate of our state’s largest school district.

Finally, when the decision was made years ago to empower a panel to make endorsement decisions previously made in-house the first person I contacted was Dick Murphy.

It is no secret that Dick and I battled when I served on the Des Moines School Board. Even during this process there are two or three times each day of the interviews our ideological and political differences surface – like when the question of policy governance was raised. Dick and I are as far apart on that issue as the east is from the west.

I knew, however, from the very beginning that this process had to make a statement – this is not about us but our children, our communities, our taxpayers.

I have often said I believe there are three sources of ultimate truth in the known universe – The Bible, John Wayne movies and this line from Blazing Saddles “gentlemen we must protect our phony baloney jobs.”

In the movie John Wayne and Curt Douglas, bitter rivals, come together for the greater good.

We have achieved that.

Click here for bios of our interview and endorsement paneli


Des Moines Candidates Endorsed By Iowa Bystander

Des Moines At-Large (4 year seat)

Cindy Elsbernd

While the Des Moines School District has challenges before it there is no question significant improvements have taken place recently. Cindy has done a good job as President of the Board and represents a needed continuity as the only incumbent in Des Moines seeking re-election.

Her professional life is also dedicated to improving the lives of children and represents the type of commitment that matters. Her opponent looks the part yet he not only failed to show up for his scheduled interview he doesn’t even vote regularly.

Typically when non-voters run for office it isn’t because they’ve been moved by student and taxpayer concerns but by political ambition – school boards being great stepping stones. Now this may not be the case but since he didn’t call or show up for his 2:00 p.m. September 2nd interview we’ll never know.

This endorsement, however, is not just about his failure to show. We made it clear that Cindy still had to earn it. And what she made a compelling case for is that now is not the time to replace an experienced, effective and competent board member with an ambitious politician whose rhetoric doesn’t match his record.

Results matter. This will not be the only time that is stated. Cindy has been a part of getting results. She has earned re-election.

Cindy also received the endorsement of El Comunicador.

Des Moines District #1 (4 year seat)

Shane Schulte

See above statement.

Shane also received the endorsement of El Comunicador.

Des Moines District #2 (2 year seat)

Ed Linebach

This was the most difficult race to make an endorsement decision for.

When asked why our panel should endorse her, Dionna Langford provided a very compelling reason why. She is impressive! And she would bring intangibles to the Board that can’t be taught. It is a shame both candidates cannot be elected.

It helped our panel that this is a two year seat.

If Ed is elected and doesn’t live up to expectations we encourage Dionna to make another run for the seat just as the Chair of our panel, Dick Murphy, and the Editor & Publisher of Iowa Bystander, Jonathan Narcisse, ran, lost, ran and won seats on the Des Moines School Board.

In the end, however, Ed is the total package. While he is exceptionally qualified for the position of School District Director he is also exceptionally prepared to serve on the Des Moines School Board from day one. In fact he is qualified day one to take on the responsibility as President of the Board.

He was head and shoulders the best candidate two years ago when he ran for the seat and, while it is much, much closer this time, he is the best candidate this year, too.

Dionna Langford received the endorsement of El Comunicador.

Des Moines District #3 (4 year seat)

Rocio Hermosillo

Rocio blew away the panel in her interview. She’s young but she has an impressive track record and will bring a very unique and needed skill set and perspective to the Board.

Rocio also received the endorsement of El Comunicador.

Suburban Candidates Endorsed By Iowa Bystander

Ankeny At-Large (4 Seats)

Dustin Graber

Stephanie Jorgensen

Dustin has done a great job on the Ankeny School Board. He has demonstrated a real commitment to representing the residents of Ankeny and providing accountable stewardship of our tax dollars.

Stephanie has also proven to be an effective and competent public servant whose commitment to students and the families of the District is exceptional.

With a field of five strong candidates vying for four seats we encourage the voters in the Ankeny School District to bullet vote for these two candidates. It would be a tragedy for one of these two candidates to be knocked off the board because voters’ third or fourth choices piled up neutralizing votes causing the two best candidates to be defeated.

It has happened before in Metro Area School Board Elections and it ought not to happen in this race and that’s why we encourage bullet voting for Dustin and Stephanie on September 8th.

Johnston At-Large (4 Seats)

Gregory L. Dockum

Salome Nengean

Gregory Dockum is what a School Board President should be – accessible, accountable, committed, knowledgeable and focused on what’s best for our students. He has absolutely earned the right to return to the Johnston School Board and we encourage the residents of that community to make him their first choice.

Salome made a deep impression on the panel. She gets it. And she brings an impressive skill set to the race. She’s an attorney, a member of her college’s Board of Trustees, she works for the Downtown Partnership and has a potent grasp on why this position is important.

As with the Ankeny race we encourage the voters in the Johnston School District to bullet vote for Gregory and Salome to ensure their victories on September 8th.

Waukee At-Large 3 (Seats)

Susan Bunz

Dan Gehlbach

Marcus Jensen

This was a very challenging race for the panel. Waukee fielded five great candidates. And as the candidates said themselves, if you tossed three darts you would be hard pressed to argue against the three hit. Still, we narrowed our selection to three candidates we are encouraging voters in Waukee to support.

Susan Bunz was easy to support. She’s been a great leader of a great school district. If results matter, and they do matter, Susan has to be the first vote cast by residents of Waukee.

Dan Gehlbach, however, isn’t far behind. He is an exceptional candidate and will be a real asset to the District as it continues its explosive growth.

Marcus Jensen narrowly edged out Dr. Ethan Huisman in a split vote decision. Dr. Huisman was at a disadvantage in the process because the email address provided by the Dallas County Auditor’s office was incorrect and so he only had a day rather than a week to fill out the questionnaire.

Still, Marcus made a good impression with the panel and his unique background and experience served as a tipping point in an endorsement process that was as close as it gets.

Scott Blum is also a highly qualified candidate but his admission that he will place his duties in a neighboring school district above his sworn responsibilities as a Board member earned him a disqualification amongst panelist searching for factors to narrow the choice from five very strong candidates to three endorsed candidates.

Waukee deserves Board members fully dedicated to the District.

West Des Moines At-Large (4 Seats)

Jill Johnson

Liz Cox

Judy Jesse

Two years ago we had a Des Moines School Board incumbent who claimed in his press information and questionnaire he was responsible for certain outcomes. When he was interviewed by our panel it was confirmed that he was not only not responsible for key outcomes but had not even voted for a key program he was taking credit for.

That’s why we have to interview candidates and they just can’t fill out a questionnaire. A number of West Des Moines candidates asked to fill out the questionnaire who didn’t want to face the scrutiny that comes with the follow up examination.

We think missing this process will diminish their chances for election and is consequence enough. One such candidate, however, rises above the others in his shame – David J. Brown.

In our initial conversation with David he made it clear his decision to participate would solely be based on the politics of the race. He was eager to fill out the questionnaire but flat out refused to be interviewed. As an incumbent he ought to step up to the microphone. Period.

He eventually said he had a scheduling conflict but when we offered to have the panel interview him at a place and time of his choosing, day or night, he admitted he just didn’t want to answer questions.

If voters in West Des Moines re-elect him shame on them. David is a typical politician and with so many good choices available to them he just shouldn’t receive any consideration from the voters of this District.

The good news for West Des Moines voters at a time when their District is facing some fairly grave challenges is that a strong crop of newcomers are vying for the four open seats in the District.

Jill Johnson is a very talented educator with a comprehensive understanding of what is best for students. She also has the drive and determination to get results. And again, results matter.

Liz Cox is not an educator by profession but she has a demonstrated commitment that enhances what she offers to the West Des Moines community. She also brings excellent private sector skills and the ability to make the tough but right calls at a time when the West Des Moines District needs Board members who will do what’s right, not what’s popular.

Judy Jesse dominated the panel. It was like we were all back in class again and dare not interrupt the teacher.

Her forty years in education ranging from teaching in the classroom to serving as a highly effective principal will help the West Des Moines School Board. She knows her stuff and she understands how preparedness and competence make a difference.

West Des Moines is a great community and it has great schools but it’s District is demonstrably losing to surrounding Districts, especially Waukee. These three candidates, if elected, will make a difference for a District in need of accountable Board leadership and most important, they will make a difference for students and families of the community.

We encourage you to bullet vote for Jill, Liz and Judy on September 8th.

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