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Columbia Missourian

Holt puts past lessons to work in Columbia School Board election

By Doug Davis
March 31, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Columbia School Board candidate Dan Holt leaves a campaign door hanger in the Grasslands neighborhood in Columbia on Friday morning. Holt is running against James Whitt and Jan Mees.

COLUMBIA — Dan Holt ran for a seat on the Columbia School Board in 2009 and missed becoming a board member by 446 votes out of more than 14,600 total votes cast. He applied for a seat on the board when Rosie Tippin stepped down last spring, but the board appointed James Whitt.

Now, he's running against Whitt and Jan Mees for one of two three-year positions on the board. The election is April 6.

Dan Holt

4811 Ruby Oaks Court

PERSONAL:

52. Married to wife Lisa since 1985. Has four children, two from a previous marriage: Dan, 29; Kevin, 28; Emily, 17; Audrey, 14.

OCCUPATION:

Currently a stay-at-home dad. Formerly an education loan officer at Boone County National Bank and a consultant at Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, Sallie Mae and Brazos Higher Education Service Corp.

EDUCATION:

Bachelor's degree in economics from MU; master's degree in business administration from William Woods University, Fulton.

BACKGROUND:

Member of Columbia Parents for Public Schools and Broadway Christian Church

ON THE WEB:

Holt has a campaign page on Facebook.


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The 2009 campaign was a training experience for both Holt and his campaign manager that year, Kevin Johnson. They learned the value of advertising by seeing how the successful campaigns used it, Holt said. Holt’s campaign funding last year was so modest that he did not need to file a campaign disclosure form.

Holt said that since March 10, his campaign has received several “very generous” donations and that his treasurer has filed a disclosure form. Aside from traditional advertising, the campaign is using Facebook to communicate with voters, Holt said.

For 2010, Johnson handed the campaign manager's title over to Kevin Ventrillo, another friend of theirs who works as a manager at VAmortgagecenter.com. John Karle, another longtime friend, is campaign treasurer.

Last year’s campaign taught Holt about more than fundraising. He said he got to know all of the candidates and was impressed by the absence of an adversarial tone — everyone shared ideas about what was vital to Columbia public schools, and then the votes were cast.

Holt said it was exciting to see how engaged the public became with issues and the candidates the closer the election got.

He learned to "never underestimate the public's thirst for knowledge, no matter how rudimentary," he said. "Gathering as many scraps of knowledge together, no matter how insignificant they might seem individually," was crucial to being prepared for the job.

Holt has multiple school district connections. His wife, Lisa Holt, is chairwoman of the math department at Rock Bridge High School and used to coach the girls' basketball team there. Their older daughter, Emily, now plays on the team. Audrey, their younger daughter, attends West Junior High School, where she also plays basketball. Holt's sons from a previous marriage, Dan and Kevin, are Rock Bridge graduates.

The family's basketball connection comes through clearly when Holt talks about his life. He has served as a "Team Host" for the state basketball tournament held in Columbia every spring for 18 years. The Team Hosts are part of a collaborative program between Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri State High School Athletics Association. He hosts a team from out of town every year, helping them get around Columbia, making housing arrangements and sitting on the team's bench during games to help with game-time details.

This year, he faced the prospect of sitting with the team playing against Rock Bridge — his daughter’s team — during the state basketball tournament.

"That could be trouble," Holt said. Rock Bridge’s loss to Kickapoo High School in the Class 5A quarterfinals prevented that.

Although that might have been a troubling scenario, it's more easily resolved than the kind of budget problems Columbia Public Schools have dealt with in the past three fiscal years. Holt's opinion is that many problems the district faces are due to the decrease in local control over public education.

When districts become too dependent on external funding, Holt said, local interests can be pushed to the side. He said this holds true for districts all over the country.

"Public schools reflect the community they are in, and are an issue for everybody, even those who seek private schools or do homeschooling," since everyone supports them through taxes, he said.

Holt said his student loan finance experience helps him understand the district's financial picture. During his time at the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, he got the organization involved with the Missouri School-College Relations Commission, which promotes student preparation for college. Another focus of the commission is helping inform legislators about ways to more effectively fund public education in the state.

Holt said he supports the $120 million bond issue, which would provide funding to upgrade buildings and build the district's first high school since Rock Bridge opened in 1973. It will relieve overcrowding, he said, and that helps students and teachers.

“The board needs to concentrate on teacher workload,” Holt said. He said three consecutive years of no raises for public school teachers has helped set the stage for teachers and building administrators to be more open to forming a collective bargaining unit through a union. In that scenario, teachers would be more responsible to the union and might be less responsive to the board and district, Holt said.

He said the Missouri State Teachers Association and the Columbia Missouri chapter of the National Education Association are working to give more decision-making power to teachers. It's important, Holt said, to give district teachers "some kind of hope that things will improve" with respect to number of students per class, salary and benefits, and being allowed more prep time during the day.

The question is, how would the district get the money to do those things in these budget-cutting days? A property tax levy increase would be one way to get the money, Holt said. But the reality is, “when the district needs money and the state and federal government do not have it, it comes back to the local level to decide,” he said.

Before Holt can make decisions as a board member, though, there is the election.

"I think my message was well-received last year," Holt said, "and I think the votes reflected that."