COLUMBIA — The candidates running for the Columbia School Board said Tuesday that they all think the two things the board needs most are transparency and accountability.
Five of the six candidates met Tuesday night for a public forum sponsored by the Columbia Community Teachers Association, Columbia Council of PTAs, Missouri National Education Association and Parents For Public Schools.
One seat, between School Board Vice President Darin Pries and candidate Ines Segert, was left open for board member Tom Rose, who is running for re-election. Rose had a heart attack last week and was at home recovering.
Candidates answered questions about their positions on a number of issues, such as the strengths of the district, the role of the board and the use of the Missouri Assessment Program test in assessing individual schools.
Nearly every answer was laced with references to the board’s need to create a more open relationship with the Columbia community.
“The role of the board is to set policy according to shared community values and goals,” Segert said.
Segert said the board should take a much more active approach in communicating those goals to the public, as well as fostering a two-way dialogue with the community.
“Otherwise how do we know what the public goals are?” she said.
Candidate Rosie Tippin agreed.
“It’s the board’s job to make sure the community is aware of what’s going on, and that includes values, goals and finances,” Tippin said.
Candidates also expressed their thoughts on the district’s proposed budget cuts. The board is currently trying to cut $5 million a year from its budget. It’s already approved some money-saving efforts such as teacher and staff layoffs and postponing the purchase of new supplies.
Candidate Gale Hairston said making the cuts will be difficult for everyone.
“Everything that might be eliminated does have an impact to somebody’s child, somebody’s program, to somebody’s position,” he said.
Some candidates said the district’s budget woes may have the unexpected benefit of highlighting easy things the district can do to save money. Segert pointed out that turning off schools’ lights could save up to $250,000.
“The good thing about this is that it caused the district to look at how it spends money,” she said. “You’ve got to look at all aspects of your spending.”
Candidate Arch Brooks said that he thinks there’s more room for cuts.
“I don’t believe we need the top-heavy administration that we have,” he said.
Howard Clark, president of the teachers’ association, said the group will hold more forums before the board’s April 8 election, but those dates for those have not been set.