Columbia School Board candidates discuss relationship of board to city government

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia School Board candidates answered questions about options for student transportation and the district's relationship to city matters at a forum Tuesday evening.

The League of Women Voters hosted the discussion, which was held at the Columbia Public Library. Marilyn McCleod, from the league, moderated the event.

The four candidates in the April 3 school board election — incumbent Christine King, Paul Cushing, Melvin Blase and Rex Cone — took questions from audience members.

One question asked how the candidates saw their roles in creating communities around elementary schools so students would be within walking distance of school.

The candidates agreed this was a complicated issue.

King said she would love to see communities with neighborhood schools, but wasn't sure how feasible it was.  

"It's a challenging, multifaceted approach, given the growth of our community, where our schools are and where the kids are," she said.

Melvin Blase said this would be "practically impossible" in areas of Columbia that are less developed, specifically referring to Two Mile Prairie Elementary School.

"It is not possible for people to walk to Two Mile Prairie in terms of their living location," he said.

Another question posed was whether candidates would consider using city buses to get some students to school.

Cushing said he would not be in favor of this, and that the school and city bus systems have two different roles.

"The school has a budget specified for busing, and they use that creatively," he said.

Blase said this would be of questionable practicality, again citing Two Mile Prairie as a school for which this would be difficult. He said servicing those kinds of needs could create a huge load on the city bus system.

Cone said he would be interested in looking at using city buses to get students to school. 

"Now's the time to talk about it," he said. "It seems reasonable to me. I think it's worth exploring."

Candidates were asked about the intersection of education and city matters like planning and zoning and taxation.

Cone said as a school board member, in interactions with the City Council he would want to find out what is in the best interest of students, as well as what is best for different areas.

"We just have to be able to talk together," he said.

Cushing said the district had done a good job working with the city in selecting locations for future schools. He said in terms of planning and zoning, he had been pitching the idea of a tax so that when developers make new neighborhoods, they would have to pay for some of the schools that would need to be built.

King said in terms of planning and zoning, the school board and Superintendent Chris Belcher had done a good job keeping the city and county involved. 

She said the City Council and the school board often communicate with one another and have a good working relationship. 

The next candidate forum will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Paxton Keeley Elementary School, 201 Park de Ville Drive.

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