Brian Richman, a lecturer in the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business’ finance department, is racing for a seat on the Iowa City Community School Board.
He is among 10 candidates vying for one of four full-term seats in the Sept. 8 election, while three other candidates are seeking a two-year seat vacated when Tuyet Baruah resigned.
Richman, 49, also applied for a seat on the board that was vacated when former President Sally Hoelscher resigned in 2014.
He said he chose to run in the election because he wants his kids and kids throughout the district to benefit from their educational experiences.
Richman said his 25-year background in public finance would help him tackle financial matters linked to areas ranging from hiring to programming, at a time when the district faces financial struggles.
He said he wants the district to take a long-term approach to addressing financial challenges, and that the board should have “a leadership role” in that planning.
“I think we’re going to be in a challenging financial situation for a number of years, and I think the district needs to develop a strategy for dealing with that,” Richman said.
- Age: 49.
- City: Iowa City.
- Occupation: University of Iowa faculty, Finance Department, Tippie College of Business.
- Family: Wife, Jennifer; children, Noelle, in third grade, Samuel, in first grade.
- Attendance area: Hoover Elementary, South East Junior High, City High
Brian Richman’s answers to questions about key issues facing the district:
Q: Do you support changing the facilities master plan before the district’s planned bond referendum in 2017?
I expect the board to periodically update the FMP. It did so once already with the cancellation of several major projects last April, just a year after the plan was adopted. Revising the FMP is part of the process of making good decisions in a growing, dynamic district. The board should be commended for working to stay on top of the district’s needs.
I support building new schools where needed and investing in existing schools to improve the learning environment. I believe saddling the taxpayers with tens of millions of dollars in debt to close schools and then rebuild the capacity — in exchange for a couple hundred thousand of budgetary savings — is misguided. Many people took that approach before the recession —taking out mortgage and home equity loans to pay for living costs. Things didn’t work well for them. I don’t believe they would work well for the district or taxpayers.
Q: When are boundary changes necessary, and is preserving neighborhood schools a high priority for you?
In a district that is growing as rapidly as we are — and we will continue to grow for decades beyond the horizon of the current facilities plan — periodic boundary revisions will be part of our future. I support the development of a transparent strategic framework for how those boundary decisions will be made going forward. The process should identify the educational, logistical, budgetary, community and other factors that are impacted by boundary changes and develop priorities and guidelines that reflect the desires of the community.
Redrawing boundaries will always produce strong emotions for parents, students and other members of the community. But a clear framework developed with meaningful public input and reflecting the values of the community is a much better system than having 13,000 students and their families watch an ever-changing process and cross their fingers hoping that the board makes good decisions.
Q: At a time when educators are concerned about state funding, when is it appropriate for the district to make budget cuts and from which areas should the district cut first?
My focus is on improving the district’s long-term strategic thinking — on being proactive rather than reactive. The district must develop a strategy for dealing with what could be a multi-year period of difficult financial decisions. Advance planning will enable the board to help prioritize changes that affect our children’s educational experience and opportunities. That’s a far better approach than pretending things are about to get better and then having to rely on the administration to make decisions largely on its own in May and June about where to reduce costs.
In addition, the district should seek to sustain programming that helps kids develop creativity, critical thinking, teamwork and other skills that will help them succeed in the future; minimize the impact on families who can least afford the loss of school programs; and enact cost reductions as far from the classroom and, frankly, as far from the schools as possible.
Q: How would you promote equity in the district?
Balancing demographics among schools will not by itself enable the district to reduce disparities in educational opportunity and achievement. To accomplish that, what we need is not more equity but, rather, more inequity. In other words, the district should consider directing more academic resources into schools with populations of students who would benefit from them. Those schools may end up with somewhat smaller class sizes or greater auxiliary support compared to others. But if the effort is managed properly and improves educational outcomes, it’s a reasonable approach to consider.
The district also implemented training for teachers to enable them to better support students with “adverse childhood experiences”— everything from substance abuse in the family to lacking enough food. Research and practical evidence from other Iowa schools clearly indicate that understanding the difficulties faced by such students and building a support system around them is effective in improving academic success. I support the district’s efforts on this front.