COLUMBIA — School district employee salaries and tenure were among the discussion topics at the School Board forum Thursday.
The forum was hosted by the Columbia affiliate of the Missouri National Education Association. About 15 people were in the audience.
Melvin Blase, Christine King, Rex Cone and Paul Cushing, the four candidates running in the April 3 School Board election, all attended the forum held at the Paxton Keeley Elementary School cafeteria at 201 Park DeVille Drive.
Susan McClintic, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, opened the event by highlighting some educational issues the candidates might face during a term. She then introduced the moderators, Renee Mottaz, CMNEA president elect, and Kory Kaufman, the social chair of CMNEA.
Some questions were sent ahead of time, some were from the Columbia Missouri National Education Association members and some were from audience members.
The forum started with each candidate sharing something unique that they felt the voters should know, as well as why they wish to serve as a team member on the Columbia Public School Board.
Candidate Melvin Blase recounted a story of a teacher that made a big difference in his life and career. As a result of that teacher's influence, Blase said that he feels his candidacy is a way of showing his gratitude and recognizing the impact.
"My philosophy is that you live by the golden rule," Blase said. "I believe that one needs to be caring, and one needs to build community."
Cushing also said that giving back to the community was his primary motivation.
"I know that sounds cheesy, but I want to do something for the community that has done so much for me," Cushing said.
Cone said the School Board is inherently set on policy and having a united voice, which is something he considers beneficial to the entity.
"It's okay to be a team member and still have a different opinion, and you need someone that can offer an alternative view to trigger something (new) for someone else to think about," Cone said.
King, who currently sits on the School Board, said she looks forward to continuing to do the work she started three years ago, a time when she said the trust factor between the School Board and the community was at an all time low.
"We've worked so hard to come together, and I'm running to continue doing so," King said.
The moderators asked the candidates about their views on teacher salaries and whether they had priorities around restoring the lost steps to the salary schedule.
Cushing said the teachers should have the salary schedule resumed.
King said the schedule needs to be revamped because it doesn't work for the current system. She also said there needs to be a change in how the district attracts and obtains professionals. She said currently there is no money to give to put the salary schedule on track.
Blase suggested a survey that would examine what is going on in the rest of the country. He said there is a limit to how much the School Board can do because of the economy.
Cone said although he wants to commit to prioritizing the salary schedule, finding a solution for teacher salaries would require longer than a candidate's three-year term.
Cushing said tenure should be available to teachers so they know they are safe, although he doesn't believe the same benefit should be extended to the support staff and administrators. He stressed that teacher evaluations should be performance based.
Cone, while in support of tenure, said evaluations should not be based on students' test performance because they aren't a fair measure of the positive influences teachers can have.
"I support tenure, and I don't believe teachers should be evaluated based on standardized tests," Cone said.
Blase was the only candidate who said he was not in favor of tenure, because he fears some teachers could become complacent and not continue to show steady improvement.
"The salary needs to be tied to effectiveness in the classroom and not a specific number of years," Blase said.
King said she was neutral in attitude toward the issue of tenure, suggesting it would be more important to examine if tenure is performing its intended function.
"Is it helping to attract and retain the teachers we want to keep or is there a bigger issue that needs to be addressed?" King asked.
Educational support personnel
The candidates were also asked how the School Board would ensure that the salaries of the custodial staff would improve in the following years, as well as how they would work to encourage an open dialogue between the educational support personnel and supervisors.
Cone said it is an issue the board needs to commit to. He said it is "shameful" that there are some employees of the district on food stamps.
Cushing suggested that looking at the large turnover of employees and approaching the issue from an economic stand point could help solve the problem.
"We need to pay our employees enough so that they will stay, and pay them enough to retain them if they're good," Cushing said.
King said it would be important to look at how trained the supervisors are and how capable they are at addressing issues between educational support personnel staff and the supervisors.
"We need to commit to being the employer of choice," King said.
Blase said as long as the performance of the employees is satisfactory, cost of living adjustment should apply to everyone.
"There should not be any differentiation," he said. "There should be a cost of living guarantee for all individuals."
The next forum will be hosted by the Muleskinners at noon Friday, March 23, at the Columbia Country Club, 2210 North Country Club Drive.