NAACP hosts forum for City Council, school board candidates

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:46 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 30, 2009

COLUMBIA — The candidates for City Council and the candidates for school board faced scrutiny Tuesday night about pay disparity, stimulus money, citizen review boards and curfews. One candidate even volunteered to be shocked by a Taser.

The Columbia chapter of the NAACP hosted a candidate forum for the school board candidates and the four City Council candidates at Second Baptist Church. The roughly 25 people who attended submitted questions tailored to First Ward concerns.


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The candidates for City Council Second Ward, Jason Thornhill and Allan Sharrock, came. Rob Robison and incumbent Barbara Hoppe were also present as candidates for the Sixth Ward. The First Ward seat is not up for election this year.

Candidates for school board who attended were Marc Bledsoe, Michelle Pruitt, Greg Flippin, Sam Phillips, Christine King, Jeannine Craig and Adam Sorg.

Questions were written down by audience members and then asked by the forum moderator.

The candidates were asked how stimulus money would be used in the First Ward. Barbara Hoppe, who currently serves on the City Council, referenced a plan that was proposed to provide insulation for houses in the First Ward to cut down on energy costs. Hoppe also mentioned a fund to repair sidewalks in the First Ward and the Columbia Farmers' Market pavilion project as ways to use stimulus money effectively in the First Ward.

Jason Thornhill, running in the Second Ward, said it was important to improve public transportation in the First Ward.

Community discussion about the Columbia Police Department's use of Tasers presented itself in a question about the appropriate use of the stun guns by the Police Department. Policies regarding Tasers were a "work in progress," Thornhill said. "I think the Columbia Police Department has come around to the fact they weren't prepared to use them."

Second Ward candidate Allan Sharrock offered to be shocked for charity, saying he thought Tasers were safe and would be willing to feel what it was like.

When asked about Douglass High School, an alternative public high school, and integrating it back into the regular system, school board candidates differed on how, or if, that process should take place. 

Michele Pruitt expressed confusion as to why it was necessary to integrate Douglass into the larger system. Pruitt said the programs for Douglass are for at-risk kids who are "not well served by Hickman and Rock Bridge."

Sam Phillips said they needed to understand the mission of Douglass and ask "Is the concept working?" Both Phillips and Adam Sorg said their first concern was to be an advocate for students and do the most to help them succeed, regardless of what policy that entailed.

One of the questions submitted by the audience asked about the funding cuts affecting the Minority Achievement Committee Scholars program. Phillips and Pruitt both said there needed to be long-term, strategic planning by the board to preserve programs like MAC Scholars. Fiscal responsibility was a reoccurring theme echoed by all school board candidates.

Christine King said MAC Scholars creates mentors and role models. King said she helped write a grant so a group of MAC Scholars could visit a black college.

"(Students) may not understand what education can do for you," said Pruitt.

Some of the candidates for the school board were unaware of the program or said they did not know enough about it to answer the question.

"Shouldn't you know about this as a school board candidate?" asked Robin Hubbard.

Board candidate Marc Bledsoe replied, "If elected, I should know about it as a school board member."

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Charles Dudley Jr March 25, 2009 | 3:13 a.m.

A well founded Alternative High School Program is a "must have" in any community to help catch those students who are "at risk" and often times fall through the cracks of conventional schooling.

Eliminating such a program or reintegrating it back into main stream schooling is a "fools choice".

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 25, 2009 | 4:18 a.m.

But a lot of "at-risk" kids are at risk precisely because they, and their parents, don't take advantage of programs that already exist. A teen that feels that gang life, or the allure of easy money through drugs and other crime, is more appealing than school, is not going to benefit from an alternative high school program.

Perhaps some of this education money could work through the juvenile penal system to increase both educational programs for kids that want it, and increased penalties and punishments for the chronic offenders.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 25, 2009 | 6:07 a.m.

Without a Family Court structure, with family support services and parental/minor accountability/responsibility requirements, pouring more money into Columbia's juvenile system will only perpetuate more of the same old same old.
Should our town adapt a family court penal system similar to that in St. Louis, (before we have the same density of juvenile delinquency), we may be able to "nip things in the bud" more effectively than St. Louis.
The need for a Douglass High School is, in a large part, due to youngsters living lives based on unchecked hormonal, cultural and media influenced behaviors/choices. I would suspect that genetics, unhealthy lifestyles of the parents, (before and during pregnancy), and poor nutrition of the youngster also contribute to low IQ and behavioral problems.
Because of the special needs and individual circumstances of Douglass High School students, it would hurt the quality of schooling for all students if the nature of this special needs High School changed and all students were mainstreamed. It is interesting that at the NAACP sponsored meeting the word "integrated" was used. Douglass is not segregated from CPS, it is part of CPS. Non-black students attend as well. It is merely a special-needs school. Why would anyone want to take away such a valuable, much needed resource? Get over any stigma or embarrassment people and improve your life. Douglass High School may be your last chance!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 25, 2009 | 6:09 a.m.

Both of the foregoing comments are correct. A program or programs should be available, although only large communities may be able to afford them. On the other hand, it's often larger cities that need such programs the most.

But, as the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. If teens and their parents do not avail themselves of available programs that's a problem.

I know of one city where a successful and long running alternative program, operated as a separate high school in a six high school system, was folded back into one of the other existing high schools and ended up effectively "castrated." Be careful who you elect to your school board!

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 25, 2009 | 6:55 a.m.

>>> I know of one city where a successful and long running alternative program, operated as a separate high school in a six high school system, was folded back into one of the other existing high schools and ended up effectively "castrated." Be careful who you elect to your school board! <<<

I know of two very successful alternative high schools that operated in the county I lived in back in Northern California and the students still had the opportunities to to take "shop classes" at the regular high schools with out having to be "integrated into them.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with alternative high schools if you have the "qualified teachers" willing to take the time with their "at risk" students" who need that extra "teacher time".

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 25, 2009 | 7:49 a.m.

I didn't get a chance to attend the meeting but I did bump into Allan Sharrock later that night.
After reading this article, this morning, I'm wondering if any parents asked how they can help the school system by volunteering and participating in Parent-Teacher-Student Associations or perhaps organizing peer-peer parenting/support groups or developing Parents as Teachers coaching and tutoring programs.
This article seems to focus on greed for money and fear of the police.
What are parents and citizens of the first ward and the NAACP willing to do to help the system as opposed to just taking from it? Was there a tone of partnering at this meeting or just the basic, who are you and what are you going to do for me, Mr./Ms. politician wannabee?

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock March 25, 2009 | 8:33 a.m.

I was actually surprised that nobody asked me what I thought of the programs and the schools. I have pushed for public transportation to travel to all schools at least on parent teacher night. I also mentioned how I approached the Chamber of Commerce on the idea having schools partner with businesses and have the businesses let people off of work so they can attend parent teacher conference. The Chamber had just launched a committee to explore such a idea.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 25, 2009 | 10:35 a.m.

Mr. Sharrock:
Interesting. Perhaps there was some shyness on their part.
Nevertheless, thank you for encouraging parent involvement and accessibility.
Also, improved partnerships between CPS and our business community would also give many of our students an "in-town" view of employment opportunities, with a future. Of course this would also mean improved economic growth and attracting new businesses into Columbia. Something this town has been lagging behind for sometime.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 26, 2009 | 8:39 p.m.

If MAC does not include white students in need of help, I'd either be for eliminating the entire program or opening it up to any student in need. If it's a public funded program, designed primarily for blacks, then it obviously has not been successful with balancing out the disparities we see in actual school performance.
If older siblings, peers, parents and computers can't help with supplemental tutoring, coaching and teaching then why waste your time and money just to placate the black community? Just another entitlement to buy votes with tax-payer money. What an inappropriate way to win votes and alienate others.

(Report Comment)

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