Four candidates for three open seats on the board weighed in on several issues at the League of Women Voters forum Sunday. The four are Marcia Rozell, Mitch Beims, Aaron Estabrook and Pat Hudgins.
Schools raising children
The candidates were asked whether the community relies too much on schools raising children.
Estabrook said it’s the state’s job to provide a suitable education through the school districts. “It’s also the parents’ responsibility to make sure that education continues at home,” he said. “I think we can always do more as a community and as parents.”
Beims said the taxpayers and government places limits on what schools can do, but added, “there’s no doubt this is one of the most important things that we spend on money as taxpayers.”
Hudgins said education is an “everyday lifestyle” from home to school. “School is a set time where they’re focusing in on the things that should be groomed with the things that have happened at home,” she said.
Rozell said society relies more heavily on schools due to the changing dynamics in the home. “We now have dual-income parents working,” she said. “We now have a lot of single family homes.”
Armed guards at schools
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. in December has led some school districts — among them USD 320 in Wamego — to consider having armed guards or teachers .
Hudgins said it’s not possible to be on guard all the time even with protection, and armed guards could be a distraction from education.
“I’m alive today and we did not have armed guards at our (inner-city) school,” she said. “We did not have resource officers that carried guns at our school. We did not have metal detectors at our school.”
Rozell said the district updated the school security as part of its bond issue. The district allocated $2.2 million of its $97.5 million bond issue to security improvements including secure public entrances, teachers being able to lock their doors from the inside and security alarm systems.
“I do not feel that armed guards are the answer,” Rozell said. “I do not feel that arming our educators is the answer.”
Estabrook said it’s important to explore the reasoning behind armed guards to see whether it’s a deterrent for crime.
“Putting more guns in the school is a shell game,” he said. “It pushes the goal post down further. It doesn’t answer the big societal question of the mental health issues.”
Beims said he hopes this is a local decision rather than a state or federal mandate. He said armed guards don’t necessarily have to be in every building, but there might be a need.
“Our students are the most important things we have,” he said. “We have to protect them. If this day and age those are the kind of things we have to do, then we should do it.”
The school board voted for a two-year plan to increase professional development, planning and collaboration time for elementary teachers during its March 6 meeting.
The second year of the plan calls for hiring seven technology teachers to provide 60 minutes of collaboration time per week.
If elected to the board, the candidates would be dealing with how to fund adding the technology teachers, starting with the 2014-15 school year.
Rozell said she would look for efficiencies within the budget. “We’re going to have to look at areas in the budget we can still tweak, still cut,” she said. “I would not hesitate to raise a tax, but that would not be my first option.”
Estabrook said he supports adding technology teachers, who can also help teachers learn more about how to implement technology in the classroom.
He said the community has a responsibility to educate the students, and a dialogue between the board and community needs to take place when discussing whether to increase tax. “If that requires a tax, unfortunately that’s our responsibility,” he said.
Beims said planning time is obviously important for elementary teachers, but he would resist any kind of tax increase.
“If you’re a home owner like me and a person who lives paycheck to paycheck like me, gas prices are high and my health insurance is going up, taxes need to stay level,” he said.
Hudgins said her first decision would be not to raise the taxes but look for where cuts could be made immediately or temporarily. “Then perhaps have a grant written for the future for this to be taken care of,” she said. “If it’s going to be something we always need, why not look at something like that as an option.”