School board candidates speak to Columbia parents

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:02 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Parents for Public Schools hosted a forum Tuesday night to allow school board candidates to introduce themselves to the community before the April 3 election.

All three candidates — Karla DeSpain, Jan Mees and Michael Tan ­— said student achievement and community input were important for the school board to address, occasionally joking about their agreement on most key issues.

DeSpain, who is running for her third term, said Columbia Public Schools’ role in early childhood education is a crucial influence on student achievement later on.

“We need to level the playing field,” DeSpain said.

School board members’ responsibilities include approving the budget and setting policy, such as deciding which curriculum is best suited for Columbia’s students.

Tan said his No. 1 priority is student achievement and the school board should be mindful of the community.

“The public doesn’t want filtered information,” Tan said. “I will be a straight talker.”

The school board’s job is to continually improve education, Mees said, although she said there are challenges to be overcome.

“Each student is special, and we are here to help them achieve their best.”

A proposed $60 million bond, also on the April 3 ballot, was also discussed at the forum. The plan is designed to encourage student achievement by improving learning conditions.

Superintendent Phyllis Chase said the bond would allow the district to reduce overcrowding in some classrooms and maintain current buildings. Chase said the district has 154 trailers, or “learning cottages,” that provide extra classrooms for schools. About $40 million of the bond would be allocated for new buildings.

The bond would also finance a proposed reconfiguration of Columbia schools to reduce the number of transitions: Students would attend elementary school from kindergarten to the fifth grade, middle school for the sixth through eighth grades, and high school for ninth through 12th grades.

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