School board to appoint new member Nov. 16
At least 16 Laramie residents applied for the school board vacancy. The board will appoint their new colleague from a final pool of five.
Seeking to fill the vacancy left by Mark Bittner’s resignation last month, the Albany County School Board will interview five candidates for the position during a public meeting next week.
There was a lot of interest in the open seat, with 16 individuals submitting applications. The vacancy comes during what has been an intense semester for the board.
COVID-19 — and the district’s response to the high level of viral transmission in Albany County — has dominated school board meetings since the outset of the semester. In particular, the board’s mask mandate incensed a large contingent of parents who either thought the pandemic was a hoax, or at least believed that masking decisions should be left to parents.
Trustee Lawrence Perea said he wanted to thank everyone who applied to fill the vacancy.
“I appreciate the involvement in the school board right now,” he said. “It’s great to see.”
The board announced its final list of five candidates during a meeting Wednesday. Those candidates are:
Rachel Suarez LeBeau, the development director at Cathedral Home for Children
Jennifer Hess, an ecologist and co-owner of HWA Wildlife Consulting
Mary Alice Bruce, a former educator and UW emeritus professor of counselor education
Steve Gosar, a financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments
Jeff Suloff, the vice president of claims at Mountain West Farm Bureau
Rachel Suarez LeBeau, Jennifer Hess and Steve Gosar were all candidates for school board during the 2020 general election.
“I appreciate all the interest that we received from people,” Chair Janice Marshall said. “And we had a wonderful selection of candidates to choose from and we’re looking forward to moving forward with this process.”
Of the original 16, a few of the applicants were current or former educators, while others had close contact with schools through nursing or social work. A handful were candidates for school board in the last or previous elections, and several expressed their sadness over Mark Bittner’s departure from the board.
Very few indicated their specific stance on masks. One who did was Gwen Clark, whose application letter is aware it will be read by a board that has largely supported masking.
“I have written several letters to the board about the masking of our elementary students,” Clark writes. “I know that many of you do not agree with me on that issue and I hope that doesn’t automatically preclude you from considering me. It is good to have a variety of opinions on all topics and this is just one topic of many.”
But it was more common for applicants to discuss their approach to the topic rather than their specific support or disapproval of masks.
“I am committed to considering the viewpoints of parents regarding public health and the health of their students,” Logan Heard writes. “I am also committed to allowing scientific consensus to factor into any policy decisions the board makes … I acknowledge that these decisions are difficult to make and that not everyone will agree, but I am confident that my voice will represent a consensus of all parties involved.”
Most references to the district’s COVID-19 response were even less direct, however, as many chose to focus on their general ability to deliberate, listen and decide.
“The timing of this vacancy is not an easy one but I think my professionalism and extensive background in data dissemination and research would aid fellow board members in decision making,” Jennifer Hess writes. “I also have a great deal of experience speaking to the public, especially to audiences of varying viewpoints and on heated topics.”
The board plans to meet Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. to interview the final five candidates and take a vote. The appointed board member will serve through the 2022 general election next year, during which they will have to run and be elected to keep the seat.