What You Need To Know About the Urbandale School Board Special Election

Left: Steve Avis, Right: Daniel Gutmann

Urbandale residents have a chance to elect someone to fill a vacancy on the Urbandale School Board during a special election on July 12.

The polls are open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12. But residents can vote early from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. until Monday, July 11, at the Polk County Election Office in Des Moines.

The vacancy came about when Judy Downs resigned from the board in March. Downs’ term expires in November 2023. The board had a stalemate over who to appoint and it is putting the question to the community. It’s likely the election would be held anyway, though, since a petition requesting an election was circulated and received 1,785 signatures.

The two candidates who want to fill the spot ran for the board in last year’s regular elections, too. Both answered questions for the Des Moines Register and the district.

Daniel Gutmann

Daniel Gutmann, who came in fourth in the 2021 election and was one of the appointees the board considered, is a teacher at Jackson Elementary School in Des Moines. He previously worked in children’s mental health care. Gutman said his experience has taught him that school districts should make an effort to support everyone, from students to teachers and administration, at the level they need.

Gutmann also said the focus should be on students and what they need to succeed in school. That means balancing diversity efforts with what data show about where students struggle and retaining teachers and other staff by offering better compensation.

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Gutmann said the board should listen to parents and be sure to balance their perspective with data and best practices. He also said the board shouldn’t be afraid to pay attention to different teaching methods for students with different needs.

“When a coach gives a struggling hitter extra batting practice, it’s not at the expense of the cleanup hitter. It makes for a winning team. Similarly, we can lift all students without tearing anyone down and create a leading school district,” he told the Des Moines Register in October 2021.

In many interviews, he’s said the board needs to be more transparent about all of these decisions and how they’re made.

Steve Avis

Steve Avis, a Certified Public Accountant for the IRS, came in sixth in the 2021 election. He said parental choice is one of his key issues and that parents’ perspectives should be taken into account for every decision. He’s suggested parents haven’t had a voice in their schools.

“Parents generally know what is best for their own children,” he told the Des Moines Register in October 2021. “The board must not only seek and encourage parental involvement in making major decisions, it must be willing to consider all comments and openly deliberate upon receiving them. School districts do not operate within a vacuum, they operate based upon the needs of the community.”

He’s also railed against schools teaching about structural racism and sexism, which is already illegal in Iowa. He’s also described teaching about race as critical race theory, the law school framework used to examine laws that have been used by right-wing outlets to describe any lessons about Americans of color. Avis also emphasized the need to focus on each student as an individual, not as a member of a group, even if the group is marginalized.

Avis said more focus should be on proficiency scores in math and reading.

Another top priority is school security. Avis said he’s interested to be involved in the school vulnerability assessments to prepare school buildings and procedures in the event of a school shooting.

Avis isn’t a teacher. He said that’s important because it means he doesn’t have conflicts of interest and he can bring an outsider perspective to the school board.

Background on issues

Urbandale, like many of the Des Moines metro suburban school districts, has been a battleground over culture war issues.

Teachers and teachers’ unions have been a target for right-wing suspicion for months, with a lot of figures insinuating that teachers are trying to indoctrinate kids by teaching them about subjects such as racism or LGBTQ issues. That’s also where the call for schools to simply focus on subjects like reading and math comes from.

The question of parental choice in schools has also been a rallying call for Republicans, particularly in this year’s session of the Iowa Legislature when bills were introduced to require schools to post curriculum months in advance of them being taught, to make books about LGBTQ and race harder for students to access, and calls for putting cameras in classrooms.

Those come from the same indoctrination suspicions.


Nikoel Hytrek

Have a story idea or something I should know? Email me at nikoel@iowastartingline.com. You can also DM me on Twitter at @n_hytrek

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