School Board candidates discuss Common Core, school safety at Muleskinners forum

Friday, March 7, 2014 | 9:37 p.m. CST; updated 3:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — Questions about the Common Core State Standards, school safety and the city's recent tax increment financing decision were among issues raised at a Columbia School Board candidate forum Friday.

Jonathan Sessions, Paul Cushing, Joseph Toepke and Helen Wade are campaigning for three seats on the board. The candidates answered audience questions at a forum hosted by the Muleskinners at the Columbia Country Club. Wiley Miller, a vice president of the Muleskinners, moderated the event.

The following are paraphrases of some of the questions candidates were asked.

What do you think about Common Core?

Incumbents Sessions and Wade agreed that Common Core standards help the district. The standards can help Missouri identify its strengths and weaknesses when compared to other states, Sessions said.

"There's a lot of discussion about Common Core as if it is something negative," Wade said. "What it's really about at its heart is rigor and depth of coursework for our students. Our kids need to get a better education to remain competitive in what is an ever-growing global economy."

Cushing, who has previously served on the board, said the standards were a good comparison tool but that he did not know enough information about their content to say whether he was in support of them or not.

Toepke said he understands the purpose of Common Core but thinks standards are best left to regional areas.

The standards were developed by governors and education commissioners through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, according to the Common Core website. States independently chose to adopt the standards beginning in 2010. Only five states have not adopted the standards.

To what extent would safety be enhanced or hurt by non-security personnel having guns?

Sessions voted against last year's proposed policy to allow two security personnel to carry guns. The initiative was not definitive enough and left too many possibilities for the future, he said. The policy he referenced would have allowed the district's director and assistant director of security to carry concealed weapons, according to previous Missourian reporting. The school board voted against the policy in June.

Toepke, who has served 22 years in the military, said guns should be a last resort in the schools and suggested schools continue active shooter drills.

Wade, who had voted for the proposed policy, noted that the two personnel addressed in the proposal are allowed to carry firearms everywhere except the buildings they are hired to protect, she said. The issue should be revisited with a new policy, Wade said.

"Guns are there already," Cushing said, citing the school resource officers who carry guns. "I don't want to militarize the schools, ... but if somebody wanted to conceal a weapon for their protection, I agree."

What are your general thoughts about TIFs in the near future?

All the candidates agreed that the recently rejected TIF proposal would have hurt the district. The school board publicly opposed the TIF, Wade said.

"We were able to see a very strong possibility that our revenues would be affected by that particular proposal," Wade said.

Cushing called the proposal a "hijacking of funds" away from the Daniel Boone Regional Library and Columbia Public Schools.

The candidates agreed that future projects should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

What do you think about preschool education within the district, and what do you envision for the future?

"Early education is a key," Sessions said. "The investment we make in our children early on rewards us long term."

Sessions called for quality early education programs throughout the community and said the issue should be addressed at the state level. Wade and Cushing agreed that preschool was important to student success. A program for all 3- and 4-year-olds would be beneficial in the future, Cushing said.

"It's the first and maybe most important step in effectively addressing the perpetual achievement gap," Wade said.

Toepke said he supports preschool education and using parents as teachers.

"Both ways I think gets them to where they need to go," Toepke said.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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