School Board candidates find common ground on funding, achievement gap

Thursday, March 6, 2014 | 10:30 p.m. CST; updated 3:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — The four candidates for three open positions on the Columbia School Board answered questions Thursday evening about next year's uncertain funding and the achievement gap, among other topics.

The candidates agreed with each other on nearly every question.

Paul Cushing, Jonathan Sessions, Joseph Toepke and Helen Wade answered questions submitted anonymously from the audience. The first candidate to answer a question was allowed ninety seconds to respond, and each subsequent candidate had thirty seconds.

Sessions and Wade are incumbent members.

Achievement gap

Candidates were asked what causes the achievement gap — the difference between under-performing students and those who excel.

"The achievement gap is driven by an opportunity gap, a lack of understanding of the system, a socioeconomic gap and poverty," Wade said. "It's also driven by a failure to acknowledge disadvantages."

Toepke said the key is "meeting children where they're at: strong for strong, weak for weak."

At one point, the candidates were asked if under-performing schools should receive more funding and personnel. Sessions said the way to address under-performing schools is to address under-performing students.

"The thing we forget is that the school isn't under-performing, but students need support," Sessions said.


The four candidates agreed that one of Columbia Public Schools' most pressing issues is the uncertain level of funding for next school year.

Although no questions were specifically directed at funding, each candidate mentioned it when prompted to list the district's three most important issues.

"The issue for next year is dollars and cents," Cushing said. "We have to work within our boundaries."

The public forum — the first of the campaign — was held at the Activity and Recreation Center at 1701 W. Ash St. It was hosted by the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, the Columbia Parents for Public Schools and the Columbia Council of Parent Teacher Associations. Sarah Read, president of Columbia Parents for Public Schools, moderated the forum.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton

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