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Students question Columbia School Board candidates at forum

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:02 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 1, 2009
CORRECTED CAPTION: School board candidate Michelle Pruitt, center, listens to Jeannine H. Craig, left, answer a question proposed by an audience member. Rock Bridge High School students hosted the forum for the candidates in the upcoming election on April 7. An earlier version of this caption misspelled one of the candidates' names.

COLUMBIA – Students expressed concern with budget cuts, making schools green and the unweighted grading system in Columbia high schools during a school board candidate forum Tuesday night at Rock Bridge High School.

Rock Bridge High School Young Democrats held a forum that gave students, parents and teachers districtwide the opportunity to question school board candidates. A crowd of about 30 gathered to pose questions to the eight candidates present.  Attending candidates were Marc Bledsoe, Jeannine Craig, Greg Flippin, Dan Holt, Christine King, Sam Phillips, Michelle Pruitt, and Adam Sorg. Bill Merideth was absent.

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"The students have got a perspective on things, too," candidate Greg Flippin said. "I think it's important to hear all sides on things."

Rock Bridge junior Cara Miller agreed that it is important for students to pose questions to the school board candidates.

"It's important to us because these people decide what we're going to learn in school," Miller said.

The candidates first were asked how budget cuts will affect students. Sorg, Craig and King explained that programs and certain classes will be cut – possibly resulting in larger classes.

Everyone has to give up something during these economic times, Craig said.

"The cuts will be made, but we're going to get through it," she said.

Pruitt and Flippin said that operating the salary schedule is essential to minimizing the negative effect of budget reductions on students. Running the salary schedule keeps teachers in the district and affects the student-to-teacher ratio, Pruitt and Flippin said.

When asked where making green schools fell on the priority list and how environmental consciousness can be put in place in schools, candidates acknowledged that the process is already under way, but cost is an issue.

"If it's cost-effective, we do it.  It's also a good way of life," Christine King said.

Students also expressed concern with the unweighted grading system in the high schools. Schools that weight grades count AP courses higher in the grade point system, making it possible for students to achieve GPAs higher than 4.0.

"Students have the right to ask for an equal playing field," Adam Sorg said.

Most candidates felt unprepared to address the issue. They suggested that the board look into the actual affect of unweighted grades on Columbia students competing for spots in college and financial aid with students from systems that do weigh grades.

The Young Democrats, the organization that hosted the event, fosters political discussion and involvement for students. The group has about 30 listed members and a dozen or so very active participants, Rock Bridge junior Cyrille Goldstein said. The Young Democrats is not technically affiliated with the Democratic Party or the Missouri Young Democrats but has worked in conjunction with these groups before.

"The Young Democrats have done less with local politics and wants to do more locally," Goldstein said.

When discussing hosting a forum, the student group initially considered a forum for city council candidates but decided on the school board instead because it's relevant to students, Goldstein said.

Planning for the event began in early March, two weeks before the public schools' spring break. The Young Democrats began advertising early, knowing it could be difficult to interest high school students in local government. The group promoted the forum at Rock Bridge with fliers, posters, announcements and talks to classes.  The group also advertised in other schools to cast a wide net and offer students the opportunity to ask questions focusing on student issues, Young Democrats President Ana Boettcher said. 

 "The school board is in charge of the schools, so (the forum was) a good opportunity for students to get a say in what goes on," Boettcher said.


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