School board candidates participate in Q&A session

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 1:28 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 24, 2010

COLUMBIA — Columbia school board candidates spoke at a forum Tuesday night at Columbia Public Library. The forum was sponsored by the Columbia Public School Employee Organization, the Columbia Council PTA, and Columbia Parents for Public Schools.

Parents and teachers filled out questions on index cards that were drawn at random for each candidate to answer. Questions about teacher merit pay were most common. Only Dan Holt supported merit pay. Other topics included President Barack Obama administration's "Blueprint for Reform," and the "Race to the Top" competitive grant program.

Candidates for three-year seats:

Paxton-Keeley third-grade teacher Monica Miller asked about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which 48 states are considering as a new standard for K-12 teaching benchmarks.

Jan Mees said the initiative had the potential to reduce local control over teaching standards.

If President Obama decided to address our children in our federally-funded school, would you support or oppose?

Dan Holt said an Obama visit to Columbia would be fantastic for students, but taking time out from normal teaching for any elected leader to address students on a broad scale would not be justified.

How would you improve the food our children are served in schools?

James Whitt said he serves on the committee that oversees the school lunch program. He said they have to cut down on unhealthy choices, such as soda and have replaced them with more nutritious alternatives.

Candidates for a one-year position:

What are your plans for meeting the occupancy demands of schools?

Phil Peters said passage of the April bond issue would be the first step to meet those needs. The tougher question, he said, is what to do three years from now, when the district might be facing the same situation again, as student numbers are expected to keep increasing.

"If people don't stop having babies, we'll either have trailers or genuine classrooms, those are our choices," Peters said.

What role do you think the school board should play in curriculum?

Jonathon Sessions said he would expect to play a limited or no role on that issue. He said that curriculum issues should be handled by teachers.

"We should let teachers teach," Sessions said.

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