UPDATE: Answering your questions: School Board Edition

By Bridget Kapp and Shaina Cavazos, Missourian education reporters

*Update: We’ve added responses from Helen Wade.

The candidates for the Columbia Public School Board answered questions posed by you, the engaged citizen.

If you would still like to ask the candidates a question, you can do so by clicking here.

All candidates with the exception of Helen Wade have answered the questions, and they are posted below. As soon as Helen gets back to us, we’ll post her responses too. Here’s a little background for the first question:

The Columbia School Board approved the purchase of new language arts materials in Oct. 2010, but the decision has been controversial. Some board members were concerned about the materials’ effectiveness with minority students, especially in light of the district’s efforts to close the achievement gap among racial groups. So…

Q: “What are your views on the new Language Arts curriculum? What affect do you think it will have on the achievement gap?”

Jonathan Sessions:

I think our language arts curriculum is exceptional. It was created by the teachers in a long process. It was spectacular and I want to say it was voted on unanimously by the board.

Materials and curriculum are two different things. I feel the materials are great, and I support their decision.

I feel that having a unified language arts and curriculum and material set across the district at the elementary level will benefit all of our students, especially our students that are highly mobile who move from school to school. Having a unified set of materials will provide them a more continuous education as they move from building to building.

Dave Raithel:

We are in fact conducting an experiment. My first question about the program is: How soon can we expect evidence, for or against, the methods?

I visited some grade schools, in part specifically to observe reading instruction… What the kids could not do… is separate the knowledge of the specific content of their reading from the “purpose” of their reading. The Pearson curriculum method is supposed to teach kids how to do this.

So, and especially since it is being introduced (that decision has been made, the money has been spent), we’re going to have to go with that. I want to know when we can say it is working, and when we can say it is not…

Liz Peterson:

I think that a single curriculum cannot close the achievement/preparation/

performance gap in this district. I do think that it is important for our Board of Education members to be informed facilitators of choosing new curriculum for the students in our district, and that curricula should meet the needs of all of our students.

Tom Rose:

I certainly had concerns with some of the data interpretations concerning the language arts materials. In the end it appeared with ALL things considered that supporting the choice of the curriculum committee had the best chance of success in our district at this time. This will certainly be better than the fragmented resources and approaches we had before throughout the district. The effect on the achievement gap is unpredictable and yet to be seen: however I still see the best chances of preventing that gap through quality early childhood opportunities for all children as the best answer.

Sara Dickson:

I believe it is irresponsible to spend tax dollars on materials if their effectiveness is undetermined. We must spend tax dollars wisely. The effect of the new Language Arts curriculum on the achievement gap is unclear at this time. Its effectiveness must be measured and evaluated.

Helen Wade:

I understand that there is much controversy surrounding the Language Arts curriculum regarding its implementation. As a candidate for our Board, I also understand that no single curriculum, material, or course will close the achievement gap. I believe to impact upon the achievement gap, we do need to have effective, and tested curricula and that same needs to be presented by highly qualified and effective educators. I also believe that we must more effectively invite and involve our student’s caregivers in the process of their education.

QUESTION TWO

The board approved the purchase of a used pickup truck for Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren. The purchase was on the meeting’s consent agenda. So, a community member submitted this question:

Q: “Given that the district will be making reductions again this year, would you, going forward, vote against such purchases? How do you think the CPS patrons should be informed about this kind of discretionary purchases?”

Do you think matters like this should be moved off the consent agenda?

Jonathan Sessions:

We bought a used pick-up truck for our deputy superintendent Nick Boren. It’s for him to use and it can be reallocated for different purposes. The true reason this was purchase was made was because Nick now, with all the construction going on for the bond issue, is traveling from building to building, day after day. We did the math of how often he was traveling between all the new constructions sites, which includes the new high school. He’s traveling a lot, so we reimburse him for his travels like we would any other employee in their personal vehicles. Nick was traveling so much that the cost of reimbursing him was greater than the cost of investing in a truck.

We were trying to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Dave Raithel:

I would have asked the following questions: Is Dr. Boren otherwise expected to use a vehicle as part of his duties? Has he in the past been required, as a condition of employment, to provide his own? Did that requirement change, and why? Has he been reimbursed, and at the district rate? Why or why not? If he has been reimbursed, has the district concluded it is cheaper to purchase and maintain a vehicle for his use than reimburse him for his?

Since I know none of those answers, I really don’t know what to say about the decision. Either his duties require use of a vehicle, or they don’t. If they do, then either he has one provided him or he provides his own.

Liz Peterson:

The district should invest wisely in providing the tools necessary for all of the tasks related to educating our students in an excellent, efficient and responsible way. If purchasing a vehicle today saves the taxpayers money in the long run, I will support that decision if it is within the budgetary means.

Tom Rose:

The board has become more concerned and questioning of items appearing on the consent agenda. The vehicle purchases were discussed somewhat at the finance committee meeting where I personally stated a desire to hold down cost on vehicles to those that meet our true needs and run efficiently (comparing to my own small manual transmission pickup truck that I use). I think patrons should be fully aware of the reasons/needs for the type of purchase, with the duty of the board to see that such information is clearly provided in all matters and publicly addressed as necessary.

Sara Dickson:

I am researching this issue and am waiting to receive a response from CPS.

In principle, it is a wise use of resources to perform a comparison study and make a recommendation for a lower-cost alternative. If a vehicle purchase (for critical, job-related travel) will save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be used to reimburse employees for essential mileage, I would vote in favor of this money-saving alternative.

CPS expenditure recommendations to the board must be made transparent for taxpayer review before and after being presented to the board.

I believe the bigger question is the issue of transparency and communication. In addition to being posted on the CPS website, I believe board and consent agenda items and information for meetings must be emailed to taxpayers prior to all meetings. Further, meeting minutes (or a summary of actions and discussion) must be emailed to citizens following each meeting. A mailing list must be dedicated solely to this purpose. All citizens must have the right to opt into and receive this information.

Helen Wade:

I do not have sufficient information to weigh in on the assumption underlying this question. However, in tight times expenditures of the district need to be critically evaluated. I believe that CPS patrons should be aware of all of the district’s financial information, and would encourage members of the public to review all the materials available on the website and to attend meetings.  The consent agenda should include items appropriate for this category. If disputed issues are to be debated, or action is required, then the issue should be placed elsewhere.

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