COLUMBIA — The four candidates for the Columbia School Board are giving their views on district issues and ballot proposals and discussing their goals as the April 3 election approaches. For more background, see our election coverage so far this year.
1. What's been the biggest influence on your desire to go into education policy-making?
"I believe that education is important for the entire community. A better education leads to a better life. Vocational education was a turn-around for me, and I think it's important for there to be a focus on education here. My job requires me to look at everything in detail, and that's what I plan to do in this position. After seeing mechanics walk around me in my jobs in Florida, and seeing them be paid more simply because they'd learned a skill — this was very impacting to me. I knew getting an education would help push me up to a new level, and that's what I want to encourage in the school district."
King said she wanted to make sure the board does what it's supposed to do, govern and set policy to help lead the district, and not micromanage its day-to-day operations.
"I don't have any one single policy issue that drove me to be on school board or even stay on school board," she said. "I kind of like it all, and it's all important."
Blase said his biggest influence was a high school teacher who made the difference in his professional career.
He also said that having learned and taught economic principals, he learned about policy analysis and that questions about this subject are important.
"Making decisions with regard to oversight and contributing new ideas is an important role for a board to play," he said.
"I would say my kids. The schooling that my kids have had has been very positive, and I would like to see that continue. That would be the biggest influence."
2. What do you think about the bond issue and tax levy proposal?
"At first, I didn't agree with the bond issue and tax levy. But now, I see the benefit of both — I can't deny how it would support the district. I can't be a guy who holds on to a position through thick and thin just because it's my position. After talking to people in the community and in the system, I've realized that my position has changed. Nationally, schools are beat up because they're in the public eye constantly. What I'm finding by talking to my friends and families with kids in the district is that the district is actually doing a lot, and these proposals would really help out a lot."
"I'm always behind a bond or tax issue when a school district puts it forward because I feel that the district knows best," King said.
She said that after being on the board, she has a greater understanding of why the district needs the bond issue and tax levy. She said she has knowledge and experience of how the board took all necessary steps to utilize financial resources and efficiencies.
Blase said he is in favor of the two proposals, but that it was important to realize not everyone's home fits in to the average home value.
"The figures that have been used have been based on an average value of approximately $150,000 for a house in town, and that would increase the taxes by about $150," he said. "On the rural-urban fringe, you may have someone who has such a house, but also a combine worth the same amount. And in that case, the individual will end up paying twice as much in terms of increased taxes, as contrasted to someone in the average urban setting."
"I'm in favor of both. The bond issue I'm particularly in favor of because it is simply giving the district permission to sell bonds. And as you may know, as an investment, they're in demand. The tax levy is necessary because of our continued success in Columbia. We're continuing to grow, and so we're a destination for people. I'm in favor of the tax levy in order to continue our good growth."
3. There is a bill in the Missouri House that might eliminate teacher tenure. What is your opinion on teacher tenure and performance evaluation?
"I think tenure's a non-issue. It's a rite of passage for teachers. Tenure is beneficial for the teachers."
King said her main question about tenure was to research and ask what its original purpose was, and if tenure currently fits that purpose. She said that without having done any research, it was important to ask whether tenure still provided the necessary job security that is was originally intended to provide.
She said in terms of pay for performance, the way the district pays teachers needed to be changed to fit today's needs.
"I'm not in favor of paying teachers based on student performance, because how would you track student performance back to a teacher?" she said. "But I think there are elements of their job that can be measured. Like, for example, are they timely? Do they communicate well with parents? Those types of things."
"The key in this area is the effectiveness of the teacher," Blase said. "Effectiveness is something that we need to have, regardless of whether or not a person has tenure."
He cited an example from when he worked at MU as acting head of the social science unit in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, he had a faculty member who achieved tenure and then did very little to increase productivity. Blase said he recommended that person not receive a salary increase.
However, he said that most faculty with tenure are conscientious and that it would be in the best interest of both teachers and the district to have some assurance that the district and teachers would receive job protection.
"I am absolutely in favor of tenure, and I am opposed to any kind of performance-based test for teachers. Tenure is job protection and a privilege of a professional status. You can't buy tenure. You have to earn it. Here's a really important part of having standardized tests for teachers. I don't believe teachers should be evaluated based on students' standardized tests. And I don't think it's fair, and it's not appropriate to measure a teacher's competency. And I don't think there's a program to fairly rate a teacher or a student's performance over a lifetime of learning."
4. What do you think should be done about the achievement gap in Columbia schools?
"My gut feeling about the achievement gap is it's an abused phrase. There's always been a gap. The problem is we don't have manufacturing jobs in the country anymore. It's not our goal to eliminate the gap, but for at-risk students, we should consider vocational education where they would get a skill and succeed in that way. We need to find the stragglers and figure out what they're good at, and help them with that."
King said working on the achievement gap was a community-wide issue and that the district shouldn’t cut resources from teachers.
"It's not any one thing that can help the achievement gap, it's everything working together," she said.
She said these elements included teachers, the materials and resources they have, community support and parental involvement.
"I believe that we need to focus on the employment requirements that are present and on the horizon," he said.
Blase said there were individuals not interested in going to college who could contribute to the community in other ways. He said this created a need for vocational courses, and that an important one would be care for baby boomers who would need people to fulfill caregiving roles in the near future.
"There will be jobs in that area, there will be situations in homes where it is necessary to have people who understand caregiving," he said.
Blase said there were students not graduating from high school who could contribute to society if given the correct combination of course opportunities.
"Fortunately, the Columbia Public School District leads the state in that narrowing of the achievement gap, and what I think should be done is continued and further funds going to the preschool education and particularly Parents as Teachers."
5. What is the most important short-term goal you hope to achieve during your three-year term? Long-term goal?
Cushing said he has three main goals: find additional revenue sources for the district, encourage community involvement and parental involvement in students' success and introduce more technology into the district's schools.
King said her immediate short-term goal is getting the bond issue and tax levy passed and putting those into action.
She said in the long term, she wants to see more student success, especially in closing the achievement gap. She said while the achievement gap might not ever be closed, part of this goal would be to get students who are below proficient levels performing above state and national averages.
Blase said he thought four areas are most important. The first is improving the effectiveness of teaching. The second is finding additional resources and sources of resources. The third is the need for training in caregiving vocations. The fourth is understanding the unique characteristics of the rural-urban fringe, which is in the outer areas of the district.
He said the need for additional resources and sources of resources is a long-term issue, and that the district could look into other means of finance, such as submitting grant applications.
Cone said in the short-term, he most wants to try to eliminate trailers. In the long-term, his goals are more focused on curriculum.
"I'd like to see an expansion of our career center for our students who aren't on the university track after school," he said. "I'd like to see a better collaboration between the business and the district in establishing curriculum so that we’re training people that they're needing to fill jobs."
6. What is one word you would use to describe yourself?
"Loyal. I want to say I'm loyal to my community and this is how I want to show it. If I can give back a little bit to the community, then why not?"
"I try to practice the golden rule."