COLUMBIA — Seven of the eight School Board candidates to replace Rosie Tippin were questioned Wednesday night about challenges they might face and solutions they could offer.
“This is your opportunity to ask them whatever you want,” moderator Sean Spence said to the audience.
The forum was held by local business organization COLORS (Columbia Locally Owned Retail and Services) at the Upper Crust restaurant.
“There is nothing more important for the businesses of Columbia than the schools of Columbia,” Spence said. “We think it is important for our community to know the people who want to run our schools.”
Seven of the eight applicants — Robin Hubbard, John Miles, Philip Peters, Sam Phillips, Jonathan Sessions, James Whitt and Martha Tomlin-McCrary — were able to attend the last minute forum. Tomlin-McCrary arrived late and was not able to answer any questions. Dan Holt was absent.
Each candidate was allowed a two-minute introductory statement and a two-minute closing statement and was given 90 seconds to answer each question from the audience.
The question focused on most throughout the evening was asked by audience member and Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters. He asked the applicants what they thought the greatest challenge they may face might be and how they plan to address it.
“Money,” Phillips said.
Phillips, who ran in the April board election, said there is a need to regain the confidence of the entire district to gain support in financial decisions.
“It’s not just about money, but that’s the biggest challenge,” he said.
Sessions, a graduate of both Hickman High School and MU, said the board needs to communicate its needs better with the community.
“Confidence,” Whitt, owner of the nonprofit organization cPhase Sports Association, said. “If the public is confident with the board and money decisions, the board will be able to pass whatever they need to pass to get the money they need.”
Hubbard, an applicant who introduced herself as an involved parent, “life-long learner” and a “believer in education” said teacher-staff morale was the biggest challenge. She asked that the school district "go on a diet" and construct more creative, less costly solutions.
Miles, a semi-retired mechanical engineering professor at MU, agreed with other applicants and said, “We need to regain public support and do some belt tightening.”
Peters, executive director of First Chance for Children, an early education system, replied, “Building the faith of the public is a key challenge for next year.” He also mentioned creating a more competitive pay schedule for teachers.
“A school district is only as good as its teachers,” Peters said.
Audience member Leigh Spence asked the applicants how the school board could intervene with the challenges students face outside of school that still affect them in school and what could be done to better the situations.
Whitt said parental involvement is key. “If you are not involved, external factors will pull your child down.”
Hubbard replied, “One size does not fit all,” and suggests remembering the “Five Rs": responsibilities to the community, followed by reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic and real technology application.”
“We need to anticipate what they (the students) will need,” she said,
Miles said more parental or adult involvement and “a sense of student ownership.”
In Miles’ closing statement, he expressed how impressed he was by all of the applicants and said, “The school district will be well served by any of them.”
Sessions asked for the unity of parents, community members and the school board. “This is not something the school district can handle on its own.”
In Peters’ closing statement, he said he was saddened by former school board member Tippin’s vacancy but grateful for this great opportunity.
“I believe the public schools are the backbone of a successful community,” he said.
Phillips concluded by saying he is excited for the opportunity. “These are exciting and challenging times. It is an opportunity for a fresh start and I think Columbia is ready for that.”
Tomlin-McCrary arrived in time to give a closing statement. “It takes a community to raise kids. We need to work together,” she said,
One of the main concerns she would like to address is the drop-out rate, finding out the problem and helping those children.
The applicants will be interviewed by the school board at 6 p.m. Thursday during a public special session at 1818 W. Worley St. The board will select Tippin’s replacement at the end of the meeting and will be sworn in at the next board meeting on June 18.