COLUMBIA — Less than a month before the April 6 election, the League of Women Voters and the Columbia Public Library hosted a forum Wednesday to provide information on ballot issues and open up conversation between the community and candidates.
Following City Manager Bill Watkins' presentation of the city charter issues and his response to questions from the community, Columbia School Board candidates had two minutes for their opening statements. Then the floor was open for questions.
Voters asked about virtual learning, federal standardization of textbooks and increasing graduation rates. In response to a question about intelligent design being taught in classrooms, all candidates agreed that religion is a private matter that should be kept out of classrooms, making evolution the standard curriculum.
Andrew Twaddle, a retired resident, was concerned about parents ill-prepared to participate in their children’s education process. He asked the candidates how they would try to incorporate parents into decision-making.
“It’s a daunting task.”
“We have to be a good steward.”
For one uninvolved parent, Whitt said he signed a form so that he could represent the child in school. “More action of that nature needs to be taken.”
“I think where we need to start is by opening our doors and making them feel welcome.”
Peters said there should be a reciprocal relationship between schools and families, and suggested “starting to reach out to parents who are ready to be reached.”
“We have to make sure parents are comfortable coming to us.”
“We have to investigate every way we can.”
The next topic was the school bond issue. Two sides — one pro, one con — were given five minutes each to present information. Although the school district is by law unable to directly advocate a "yes" vote on the ballot issue, Superintendent Chris Belcher appeared at the debate as the "pro" party. Robin Hubbard, a frequent critic of the district, represented the "con" position.
While Belcher compressed a long presentation into his allotted time, he touched on the interest of the community in comprehensive high schools and the construction of a new high school. He ended his time by emphasizing the need for the schools to prepare for increasing student populations and to "get ahead of the growth curve." He also stressed that the money for the bond would not call for a tax increase.
Hubbard, who spoke second, called herself "the loyal opposition" and said, "I support the mission, not the process." She voiced concerns about disengaged students and introduced the alternative possibility of grouping students by interest, as opposed to the traditional education model.