Phil Miller to fill vacancy on school board
The Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors heard Monday from four interested residents willing to serve in a vacancy on the school board and the six remaining board members voted to appoint Phil Miller.
The other candidates were Ryan Kurka, Gail Miller and Gilberto Rodriguez.
Board member Amy Miller, elected in 2011 to a four-year term, announced in October she and her family will move back to Des Moines in December.
Board President Jennifer Anderson had said she’d like to appoint a replacement in November so the new board member could attend the Iowa Association of School Boards’ annual convention in Des Moines this month.
Iowa law allows an appointed school board member to serve until the next school election.
Phil Miller will face election against anyone else who would like to run on an April 1 ballot. The person winning the April 1 school board seat would then serve the remainder of Amy Miller’s four-year term, until the September 2015 regular school board election.
Regular school board elections are held every odd-numbered year.
The district will have an April 1 election to ask district voters to continue the physical plant and equipment levy, which expires in 2015. It is a 10-year levy which residents have been paying at 67-cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The district intends to keep the amount the same for the next 10 years.
“It is not a tax increase,” said Superintendent Art Sathoff. “This funding is critical for keeping our bus fleet safe and funding technology purchases.
“As we create the 2014-15 school year budget in February and March, we will know more. But I anticipate that we can take a budget to the taxpayers that decreases the school tax levy even with this PPEL continuance, much as we were able to decrease the overall school tax levy when voters approved bonds for the high school project,” said Sathoff.
Each of the four residents interested in filling the board vacancy was asked to speak at the board meeting Monday night.
After hearing from them, Anderson asked all board members except Amy Miller to write down their choice of candidate. Anderson collected the ballots and announced no one received a majority, or four votes.
Anderson asked the board to vote again among the two top vote-getters, Phil Miller and Kurka.
After a second written ballot, Anderson announced Phil Miller would fill the vacancy.
Phil Miller is a doctor of veterinary medicine and co-owner at The Veterinary Clinic P.C., in Fairfield.
“I’m excited to consider filling this vacancy,” he said. “The district provides excellent education. The buildings function well, the teachers and administrators work well together. I promise to listen, learn and help make decisions very carefully.
“My wife, Connie, who has worked as a secretary at Washington Elementary School since 1996, and I moved to Fairfield in 1975, right after I graduated from Iowa State University,” said Miller. “I’ve practiced large and small animal medicine here for 38 years. We have 12 employees at the clinic.
“We’ve raised four children here who have all graduated from Fairfield High School and ISU,” he said. “We have nine grandchildren.
“We have a very good school system that provides an opportunity for our youth to grow into future educated adults. I took advantage of a good public education, my children took advantage of good public education, and I want my grandchildren to have the same opportunity.”
Miller said he would work to continue the current direction the existing board is taking. He thinks it important to have air conditioning in all attendance centers. And he said it would be good to use as much Iowa-grown food as possible on student menus.
“I would like to have a course in grammar taught at the high school and a course in Iowa history so students know more about our state,” he said.
Board member Joe Carr asked Miller what he sees as the district’s strengths and challenges, and if he is willing to run for election on the April 1 ballot.
“The strength is the people,” said Miller. “We have a good community. We have to maintain the structures students attend. The challenge is always money. Southeast Iowa and Fairfield have had a decline in students, but we can still find ways to have good teachers. And yes, I am willing to run in April for this seat.”
Miller is a member and past president of Jefferson County Board of Public Health. He is an active
member of First United Methodist Church and serves on the pastor parish relations committee, finance committee and participates in the chancel choir.
Ryan Kurka is employed as a full-time driver at Fairfield Fire Department and has been a member of the fire department since 2001.
He first ran for the school board as a write-in candidate in September.
“I see the district’s strengths are the teachers and our technology,” said Kurka. “I’m community oriented, and I’m very involved with the parents groups at schools. I see a lot of young teachers in the district, and I want to help keep them here in Fairfield.”
Kurka and his wife Sabrina, have a fourth-grade student at Pence Elementary School and a preschool child attending Washington Elementary School.
“I believe my unique background enables me to provide a new and different point of view for the board,” he said. “I graduated from Fairfield High School. I own and have run my own [construction] business for eight years.”
Carr asked him what the district’s challenges are, and Kurka said keeping Fairfield’s graduates in the community and keeping good teachers in the community.
He also would be willing to run for the vacancy in April.
“I enjoy community service and helping to make Fairfield a better place to live,” said Kurka. “I feel I’m a strong leader. I’m not afraid of making tough decisions.”
Kurka earned an associates degree from Indian Hills Community College and is working on a bachelor’s degree in public administration.
He is a certified EMT and worked for the ambulance service. He is a certified Iowa level 2 firefighter.
Gail Miller said she thought about running as a write-in candidate for the school board in September when not enough people filed to be on the ballot.
“Then I saw Joe Carr and Kate Van Pelt stepped forward as write-ins, and I knew they’d be good candidates,” she said.
Miller taught in the Fairfield school district for 31 years in special education.
She’s been an adjunct professor at Buena Vista University in Ottumwa, teaching classes in special education areas and evaluating student teacher candidates. She also was an adjunct professor at Kirkwood Community College in Washington, Iowa, at the same time, teaching remedial prep courses to college students who scored low on entrance exams.
“During this same time, I served on the Fairfield school board, serving three years as board president,” Miller said. “I won’t need re-training, I can step right in.”
Board member Amy Miller asked how long ago she served on the board. It has been two years ago, Gail Miller said.
“I would be able to serve beginning tonight and serve through the end of the term in 2015,” she said. “I’d reconsider at that point.”
Gail Miller said one of the district’s strengths is the administration team.
“Fred [McElwee, auxiliary services director] has done a fantastic job and Marci [Dunlap, curriculum director] also,” she said. “Money is always a challenge. Declining enrollment hurts funding.
“I’m sure closing Libertyville Elementary School is on everyone’s mind and we need to take a good look at all possibilities before doing that.”
Miller said having taught more than 30 years at Fairfield High School, on the third floor, she knows the need for air conditioning.
“I’m glad to see the plans for the building,” she said in reference to a slide show about the design progress at FHS given by StruXture architect Nick Hildebrandt earlier in the evening.
Gilberto Rodriguez said he was encouraged to volunteer to serve on the school board, “by my very good friend Kevin Hosbond, an English teacher at Fairfield High School.”
He said Hosbond and he have had many discussions about improving education in general, exploring what happens in the Fairfield schools and what can be done and potential for improvements.
Originally from Columbia, South America, Rodriguez moved to the U.S. in 2001 to study and earned a master’s degree in business administration at Maharishi University of Management.
He has lived in Fairfield since 2001 and works as the information technology manager at The Sky Factory in Fairfield.
“I’m interested in businesses sharing resources with students in school,” he said. “I’d like to see how we can involve people like me with students to give them a better understanding how the world works. I know I would have liked that at that age.
“I like learning about many subjects and my areas of interest include science, computers and business. I’d like students to have the opportunity to work with community business people to find out about many choices,” Rodriguez said.
“In my conversations with Kevin, I have expressed interest in giving students more chances for extra curricular activities such as seminars in science, technology, economics, money management, computer systems and more — activities designed to engage students in their future careers,” he continued.
“I think taxpayers — and I’m a taxpayer — like to see their money well-spent in education,” said Rodriguez. “Using community resources for students to get excited about learning and involved is a good use of resources. We can offer more resources through what we have in our community.”
Rodriguez points to the many new companies started in Fairfield as an example of the creativity and resources the businesses and school district can collaborate together to ignite students’ interests.
He agrees declining enrollment is one of the district’s challenges.
“A stronger business climate can bring more people here and help with student enrollment, while using the community to provide learning opportunities and extra-curricular clubs for students enhances life for everyone,” said Rodriguez.
He also was willing to run for the school board again in April if chosen to fill the vacancy.
He is married to Heather Miller-Rodriguez.
“I believe I am a good candidate for a school board member because I can be a good source of knowledge and activities for students,” he said. “And I am a good team player.”
“We have a tough choice to make,” said Anderson. “We appreciate all who stepped forward and volunteered. Please continue with your interest.”