COLUMBIA — Because of the current budget crisis facing the Columbia School District, the nine candidates for the Columbia School Board have had to balance support for teachers with realistic approaches to dealing with a tight budget.
Eight of the nine candidates met to discuss the issues facing the district at a forum Monday evening at the District Administration Building.
The candidates are running for two open seats being left open by board President Michelle Gadbois and Vice President Steve Calloway. The election is scheduled for April 7.
Adam Sorg, Christine King, Dan Holt, Greg Flippin, Jeannine Craig, Marc Bledsoe, Michelle Pruitt and Sam Phillips answered questions posed by the parent and teacher groups Monday evening.
Candidates disagreed over the issue of operating the salary schedule, which works to assign teachers' pay raises based on education and number of years teaching in the district.
While the majority of the candidates supported operating the salary schedule, there were some who opposed making it a priority.
"Yes, we need competitive salaries for teachers," Bledsoe said. "But I don't know any teacher that got in there to make a fortune."
Bledsoe stressed the need to keep teacher satisfaction high by letting them know they are being listened to.
"I support operating the salary schedule," Craig said. "But the cost of doing this sometimes will mean losing more teachers, losing supplies and larger class sizes because the funds aren't always available."
Craig also emphasized that it's hard to measure whether teachers' salaries are competitive with other districts because each town and district offers different problems and incentives.
For the other candidates, the importance of paying teachers competitive salaries was a priority.
Holt, whose wife Lisa is a math teacher at Rock Bridge High School, spoke from experience on the importance of offering competitive salaries to recruit new teachers.
"Having a competitive wage for teachers starting out is very important," Holt said.
Pruitt cited her previous support of operating the teacher salary schedule when the district was faced with the inability to afford it last year.
"I believe it is crucial for teacher recruitment," Pruitt said. "We must think long term so that next year we don't run into problems when operating the salary schedule."
King agreed on the need to operate the salary schedule to attract quality teachers in the district.
"It's challenging to attract and retain new teachers at job fairs," King said. "Anyone who works 10 to 12 hours with children needs to be compensated fairly."
"Absolutely necessary to have competitive wages," Flippin said. "Without having them, you lose (teachers) to other schools and districts."
Phillips had a personal stake in the issue: His mother, sister and brother have all been public school teachers.
"Operating the salary schedule is not the goal, but it's essential to the (overall) goal of having successful schools," Phillips said.
Sorg expressed the need of paying teachers a competitive wage so they can focus on their job at school instead of financial problems at home.
"It helps to pay them a decent wage, so they don't have to worry about problems at home," Sorg said.
The candidates also answered questions on a number of other topics including lowering the achievement gap, whether they would support employees choosing their own representative for collective bargaining, what the role of the school board should be and what their most important agenda item is.
The forum was sponsored by Columbia Parents for Public Schools, Columbia Community Parent-Teachers Association, Missouri National Education Association and Columbia Public School Employee Organization.
The next forum, organized by the League of Women Voters, will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Friends Room of the Columbia Public Library, 100 W. Broadway.