SCHOOL BOARD Q&A: Paul Cushing discusses vocational education, alternative schools

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:29 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Editor's note: This is the first of four articles in which Columbia School Board candidates answer questions about their goals if elected and issues facing the district. Jonathan Sessions' responses are being published Wednesday, Joseph Toepke's responses are being published Thursday, and Helen Wade's responses are being published Friday.

COLUMBIA — Paul Cushing is one of four candidates for three positions on the Columbia School Board. The general municipal election will be held April 8. 

Cushing received his vocational degree in electromechanical engineering from Pinellas Technical Education Centers in Clearwater, Fla. He has lived in Columbia for 13 years and works as a software programmer for White House Custom Color. He was elected to the board in 2012, but left his position after six months due to a temporary relocation to Minnesota.

The Missourian asked each board candidate several questions about their goals if elected and about issues the district faces. Their responses were collected via email.

What experiences or characteristics would serve you well as a board member?

First, I have already been a board member so I have experience. It was brief, but I enjoyed it enough to want to do it again. I would also say that I am a good listener. The board's goal is to steer the district based on community input and overall district health. As a board member, I would do my best to constantly seek both community input and teacher and administrator input in order to make the best decisions for the district.

What are your short-term goals if elected?

To learn as much as possible about current issues the board faces while beginning to formulate new ideas to bring before the board.

What are your long-term goals if elected?

I would like to see more vocational training combined with internships for those students who many not be ready for college. I would like all students to carry with them enough basic life skills so they aren’t afraid of venturing out on their own.

The district's 10-year Facility and Bond Plan is to build five schools to address overcrowding and community growth. At the same time, a district goal has been to get rid of trailer classrooms by 2020. What do you think the district should do to address overcrowding in the short term? What about in the long term?

The district is already making tough decisions with boundary changes to alleviate overcrowding. Building more schools is the only other answer that is acceptable to me. Trailers are a short-term stopgap measure and should never be considered permanent or semi-permanent solutions.

The district has also started discussions on the possibility of establishing a community school that would partner a new school with local agencies to provide students in at-risk situations access to academic, health and social development resources. Also in the works is the development of a nature-based school that would be located at Rock Bridge State Park. What do you think of alternative schools such as a community school and the nature-based school?

I spoke with Dr. (Peter) Stiepleman briefly about the community school. My understanding, for now, is the community school would be for highly mobile children who have been in multiple schools and have the potential to keep shifting around the district. The community school would mitigate that by giving those children a permanent “home” for their entire K-5 career. Partnering with other agencies for needs services makes sense as well.

As a CPS finance committee member, I was given a presentation on the costs of the nature school. By partnering with the Missouri DNR (Department of Natural Resources), the cost to provide such a tremendous asset to CPS will be minimal so it makes sense from both a cost standpoint and as a good motivator for the attending children.

I am in support of both initiatives.

The district is asking voters to approve a 4-cent increase to the debt service portion of the property tax levy and a $50 million bond issue. The debt service levy increase would fund expenses such as construction, building improvements and technology. The $50 million bond issue is the third of six school bond issues planned through 2020. The funds would be used to build new schools and improve existing buildings. Do you support these ballot proposals and why?

I do support the bond issue because we need to keep up with community growth.

Is there a particular issue in the district that hasn't been addressed? If so, what is it and why do you care about it?

I believe school should not only be about academics but also opportunity. I don’t care how smart a recent high school graduate is, if he can’t understand how a pay day loan works, for example, then we have failed him.

We must make sure we are teaching things like real world economics; how to negotiate when purchasing a car or a home or even how to balance a check book. We should also be providing more vocational training options and opportunities to young people who are not going to college or into the military.

If we give them a skill, they can work and earn their way rather than incurring huge student loans that forever hamper their family.

We can do more to eliminate poverty by providing skills related to local businesses and by partnering with them for internships.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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