Election 2012: Candidate Forum: Board of Education

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Candidates: District 2, Sam Hinkle (i), Karen Sams; District 5, Brenda Jackson (i), Kurt Smith.

i: incumbent.

Each candidate received two questions, with his or her opponent allowed to rebut. There was one question for all four.

Sam Hinkle has been very outspoken about focusing on quality educational standards, and asked him if he thought the school system was doing all it could in that regard, and if not, why not?

Hinkle said "I don't know that we can ever do enough to encourage and improve the performance of our children. I do think within the limits of our budget and our ability, the school system has been very successful in improving student achievement."

He cited the strengthening of preschool and implementing MAP testing, and the successful of summer school, which he called, "wildly successful" in bring students that were two and three years below grade level up to grade level in the course of a single summer, as well as created challenging curriculum for gifted students. He cited increasing percentages of students college and career ready.

To the same question, Sams said she felt like the board had done an excellent job, and more approachability was needed, and another issue was the efficiency of the school system.

"Because we have increases in taxes does not necessarily mean that we're going to have a better school system," she said. "We've had consistent tax raises since 1999. It's just time, in my mind, for someone with new eyes with the eye on the efficiency of the schools to step in and take a look in trying to close that gap in the lack of efficiency. Our school system has done a wonderful job, but just because the scores are rising, doesn't mean we have an efficient system."

Doyle's question to Sams was that she had been very critical of the board concerning fiscal matters. "Can you provide one or two areas in which you think schools can save money without damaging the commitment to students?"

Sams said she thought they need to concentrate on what the students receive from the system.

"After that, we are obligated to look at the efficiency of the system, the administration, staff and student ratio, and cost per student. We need to look at every dollar we are spending. It is coming at the burden of the taxpayers, and we owe our taxpayers that obligation."

Hinkle said in response that, "I reject any suggestion that the school system is not efficient."

He cites statistics that spending per student is 58th in the state.

"That doesn't sound lavish to me," he said. "Our tax hike this year, there was a raise, was less than half of the what the other districts in the state enacted."

He said that while taxes have increased over the past 10 years, the school system has had growth of 10 percent, and opened four new schools, and had met the needs of a student body of which more than half were receiving a free or reduced cost lunch, and more than five times the state average of English language learners.

For Hinkle's second question, Doyle asked him what elements are lacking, on the board, in administration, or in the classroom, when it comes to leadership.

"I think that the greatest task that we have as a community and as a school district is to establish big goals and we have had leadership that has done that," he said, adding that it has taken time and effort.

"I've been real disappointed in this campaign; people have made fun of big goals for our children," he said. "We also need leadership in the classroom, which is exactly why we implemented MAP."

He said administration has worked hard to get everyone on board for those goals.

Sams said in response that goals have had not had as much clarity as she would have liked.

"Our board needs to be more communicative with our community," she said.

Doyle asked Sams what concerns did she have about children in the classroom.

She said she is concerns that children are receiving quality instruction in the classroom and that MAP testing concerns her because it's a new initiative.

"There's no data, nothing to back it up. All of us want our children to have the best education, but it has to be affordable for the community for it to work. More money doesn't make a better school system."

Hinkle said he agreed that all board members do need to be more approachable and complimented Neihof on being approachable. He also cited instructional support as being very important.

To District 5 candidates, Doyle told Jackson, "In the several terms you have served on the board,  what decisions do you look back on and regret that you helped make?"

Jackson said she couldn't think of even one decision she regretted making.

She said the hardest decision was when she first came on the board, having to close some of the some local schools, such as Henry Clay.

Smith said it's tough to comment on someone else's actions, but he didn't understand why the school system would take on such extensive projects, such as a new childhood development center, "That I have let to get a good, clear answer on what its purpose is."

"Their sole answer has been, let's spend more money, and I think we need to look at another answer."

Doyle asked him for specific ideas about how schools could save money without damaging commitment to students.

"I think we need an unbiased eyes to the programs that are out there and see which ones are getting the results that we want," he said.

He said central office is cycling off some of the best talent in the school system, and cited the rapid turnover of principals.

"Principals should be a career position; that's a big issue," he said.

Jackson responded by saying that preschool is a key to education and studies have shown it helps students all the way through school. She said the system is looking at all of its programs. About principals, she said the turnover is due to retirement and evaluations.

Doyle's next question to Jackson was about technology. "It the school system sufficiently versed in that topic to create a technological mission for the future?

"I do believe we are," she said, adding that funding was available to put technology in place in looking on the horizon to see what is best for students.

Smith responded that he thought the system was doing well with technology, but wanted to see electronic textbooks.

Smith's second question: "In 2010, the school system opened Collins High School and restructured its middle schools. What should the school board have learned from those changes and how should that experience have formed plans for the district?"

"I am not real happy that those students got tossed into high school. I think was too early. I think that when you start putting thirteen year olds in the same building with seniors, they are in a different stage of life and growth."

He said also the kids at Shelby County High School resent the students at Collins having a new school and better facilities.

"It creates animosity between our students and between our families."

Jackson said that when Collins was built, the goal was to help younger students adjust and assimilate before it was time to go to high school.

"There may be some drawbacks, but overall, I think it was a good idea," she said.

The bonus question was since serving on the school board is a part time goal, is it possible for the board to understand and define educational needs when it comes to both standards for qualitative and fiscal responsibility?

Hinkle said it's a complicated job, but he thinks the board can and has done that.

"We want every student to be on grade level and graduate college and college ready," he said. "We can ask the questions, are we reaching that goal, and if so why not? Those are the things that the board can do and those are the things the board has done."

Sams answered that she thought it was very possible, and the superintendent was crucial to that.

"We are a community, we should all be working together to make the school board and the school system the best it could be."

Jackson said that even though it's a part time role, it's what you make it.

"The public sees us meeting twice a month, but you're doing something every day, trying to get a feel for the what the students need, and what the parents want," she said.

Smith said he just thinks the status of a board member being a part-time position is irrelevant.

"We here to help guide the superintendent and to help him or her make the decisions that's needed to make the school system better and more efficient."

Smith, for his final comment, said he likes to look at numbers, and that the state of Kentucky is third from the bottom in that nation. "To me, that's a travesty; we've got to do something to fix that," he said.

Jackson said she thinks that in serving 20 plus years on the board, it has been important to prepare students for going out into real life.

"I would like the opportunity to reinforce the things we are doing well for our students," she said, such as increasing ACT scores.

Sams said she thinks the board's purpose is to guide the superintendent, and that she thinks early childhood intervention is very important, but not to the extent it has been taken in Shelby County.

"We have raised taxes, that is not something that our school system needed to do," she said.

Hinkle said what motivates him is that he imagines a child that is bright but doesn't have a lot of advantages.

"I want to provide for that child the best opportunities possible," he said. "When his or her time in our schools is complete, they will be fully ready to be citizens in our community."