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Holladay • Candidates running for the Senate District 4 seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Pat Jones not only proved Tuesday night that they know the issues, but agreed on many of them.
Democratic candidate Jani Iwamoto and Republican candidate Sabrina Petersen met at Holladay's City Hall to debate top issues, with a primary focus on education. Education funding, Common Core standards, and even public safety within the schools were discussed.
Iwamoto is a former Salt Lake County Council member who believes that the experience she gained there, as well as her legal background, will help benefit the state Senate as well as the district.
Petersen is currently a member of the Holladay City Council and says she is devoted to the community in which she lives and to the state's education system.
"I was raised with a passion for public-school education," Petersen said.
She is concerned rising class sizes pose a real problem. And she told the audience she knows the issue from personal experience. When her son was in the second grade he was placed in a classroom with 36 students and his reading declined from fourth-grade level to first-grade level by the end of the year.
Anything that has such a negative and measurable impact on children should be fixed, Petersen said.
"Classroom size for me is, especially in those younger grades, an area where I think education funding needs to be targeted and needs to be directed, whether that's with teacher's assistants, whether that's with smaller classes as far as providing more teachers in the younger grades," Petersen said.
Iwamoto agreed that education funding needs to be a priority. She said Utah's class sizes are not only the highest in the nation, but are larger than in most parts of the world.
"One of our most important jobs is educating our children," Iwamoto said. "Looking back on Utah's history, we had a passion, but somehow, I feel we've lost that passion."
Both candidates also believe that the Common Core standards need to be given a chance.
When the candidates were asked their stance on teachers having the ability to carry weapons in the classroom, each appeared to have more questions than answers.
Petersen said she wonders if major school shootings such as 1999 high school shootings in Columbine, Colo., could have been prevented if teachers were able to have a weapon, while Iwamoto questions whether the teachers who carry weapons have the proper training.
"Do teachers have the time or resources to maintain the level of proficiency needed?" Iwamoto asked.
The candidates described the different ways they make public-policy decisions.
"Every decision I make will have to pass my three principles of guidance, and those are faith, family and freedom," Petersen said.
Iwamoto said she relies on facts to find solutions and that she will work to bring all sides together in solving the state's critical needs.