Candidates for the Columbia school board discussed privatization of summer school Tuesday night at a forum at the Columbia Public Library.
The five candidates — competing for two seats on April 6 — participated in two forums Tuesday, one sponsored by KFRU/ 1400 AM in the afternoon and the second at the library, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. These were the last public forums before the election.
The League of Women Voters asked the candidates their thoughts on Newton Learning, the company that the Columbia School District recently hired to run summer school in the district this year. School officials predict the firm will raise student enrollment in summer school, and consequently bring more revenue to the district. The firm motivates students through incentives, such as gift certificates for as much as $100.
Martina Pounds, running for the first time, said she does not like the idea of using incentives to get children to attend summer school.
“I think the approach we took before is better. I think it’s a bribe,” she said.
Chuck Headley, an incumbent running for a third term, said it’s too early to make predictions. He thinks the extra money from increased enrollment will make a difference in the budget if the program is successful.
“I think everyone on the board knows this is just an experiment, and it’s just a one-year contract to see if it works,” he said. “If it doesn’t, we can deep-six it just like we’ve done to other programs.”
Henry Lane, running for the sixth time, expressed his doubt that this program is the right way to go. He said the school district didn’t look enough for competing bids or consider student achievement.
“The whole idea is to make money, the whole idea,” Lane said.
Karla DeSpain, an incumbent seeking a second term, was optimistic about the program and said the incentives might help get kids into summer school who need it.
“Newton has a dynamic program,” she said. She described what students will do, which includes reading, writing and math in the morning and activities such as racing in soap-box derbies and dissecting sharks in the afternoon.
Arch Brooks, running for the second consecutive year, said he didn’t think summer school would even be an issue if the district did an adequate job of assessment and instruction.
“Good assessment reduces need and additional programming,” he said.
Brooks also was questioned at the forum by audience member Elaine Janes, a teacher at Parkade Elementary. She questioned his statement at a forum Saturday that he was denied access to some of the buildings because of his race.
Brooks didn’t want to go into the issue but said that of all the principals he contacted to gain access, less than half responded. Janes said her principal hadn’t gotten the e-mail until after the forum and said the staff was hurt by his remarks because Parkade has a very open building.
The other district item in the April 6 election, the $22.5 million bond issue, also was discussed. The money from the bond issue would go toward construction, maintenance and equipment in the district. The current tax rate would not increase from this bond issue, but debt payment would be extended for another three years.
At the forum, Superintendent Phyllis Chase supported the bond issue. She said it is crucial for maintaining and improving learning facilities, more than half of which have been around for more than 40 years.
“Bond issues are about bricks and mortar,” she said. “They’re for creating, renovating and maintaining quality learning environments.”
Mary Lou Weilbrenner, an interested resident, presented the opposing view. She said the bond was fiscally irresponsible because the district should be trying to cut expenses, and the district was giving people the wrong impression when it said it wasn’t raising property taxes, because taxpayers would have to pay the interest on the new bond issue.