Exam: The rest of the Columbia school board candidate interviews

Apr 2, 2012

This week on the show, you’ll hear from a couple of the candidates running for the school board here in Columbia. In Tuesday’s election, voters will pick two of the four candidates, who will each serve three year terms.

Melvin Blase

KBIA’s Brian Pepoon spoke with Columbia school board candidate Melvin Blase:

Pepoon:“School funding is a huge issue around the state and locally as funds continue to shrink, what do you think the district should do to adjust?”

Blase:“When I was here at the university, I served in a number of capacities, including director of international programs for the campus.  We can do a number of things to supplement the resources of the public school system with resources from here on this campus.  We have over 100 countries represented with regard to the entire student population.  My experience working in 30 some developing countries around the world, has led me to believe that every one of those students would love to be able to come to a class and tell about their home country.  Why not have classes in living geography where you would have an instructor who would put together a lesson plan and would coordinate with someone here on campus and make arrangements for the students from their countries to come and, in fact, tell them what life is really like in their home country.”

Pepoon:“What are some of the challenges and/or opportunities you see with the building of Battle High School, the third school in Columbia?”

Blase:“The biggest challenge is to develop a sense of caring community.  I use as the illustration, elementary school about two or three miles down the road, by the name of Two-Mile Prairie School.  Two of my three children went to that school. When you visit that school, you can walk in the front door, and you can almost feel the desire to learn.  Nothing that is particularly outstanding, okay, but bricks and mortar never taught anybody anything.  They help, but they don’t do the teaching.”

Pepoon:“Going back to your sense of pride in the community and pride in your school, some families are worried that with the addition of Battle High School, there is going to be even more stratification between socioeconomic classes.  What do you have to say to those families?”

Blase:  “That’s a potential problem, no question about it. The way I would deal with it is with a learning technique used in a number of departments here on campus; it’s called simulation exercises.  The medical school uses it now to train doctors, to train nurses. It’s remarkable what happens because they will turn to you as their monitor and say, ‘I made that decision, did I make the right one?’ I’ve taught for many years and I have never been able to stand before a class in lecture and have somebody beg for information.  Simulation can be done in such a way that people will learn how to solve problems.  This can be done on a very elementary level.  You can take a group of third graders and say to a group of five, ‘We’re going to simulate the growth and the management of a garden.’ You can simulate the entire life of a garden with third graders. Simulation can be done at almost every level to teach problem solving.”

Christine King

KBIA’s Matt Veto spoke with Christine King, who is just finishing up her first term on the Columbia school board and currently serves as Vice President board:

Veto:“What can the school district to do respond and adjust to a continuing decrease in state and federal funding?”

King:“Over the last two or three years, the amount of funding that has come from the state has decreased. So, if they promise us a thousand dollars, we get 900, and so on and so forth. This year, we’re expecting to get 89 percent of what we should be receiving. So when people say, “Work within your budget, just manage with what you have,” we have done that. But we’ve continued to have to manage with less and less, and we continue to receive more students in our district. So that tells you we’re doing something right, not only as a school district, but as a community, as a city, as a state, I mean, this is a great place to live, so people come here. So, in order to give our public what they want in public education, that’s why we put on the ballot the tax and the bond issue.”

Veto:“Can you, again, just expand and maybe provide some information on your position regarding that bond issue and tax levy that will be up for vote?”

King:“Regarding the bond issue, just to remind everybody, bond issues pay for bricks and mortar. They don’t pay for teacher salaries, so all the buildings and the structures. And in order to maintain and stay ahead of our growth, and to do the things the public wants us to do, which we’ve had a lot of bubbling with crowded, especially elementary schools, over the last couple years, we have to really get a tax increase to really get ahead of that growth. And what that would include is, the main goal was to get rid of trailers. In order to do that, we had to find out how we’re going to get there. So, this first bond issue … that’s before us today is $50 million, we will not be able to sell those bonds until November 2014, and that will help us build another elementary in the southwest, which is like the Mill Creek area, what we’re calling it, because Mill Creek is over 850 students. We’re also planning to build an early childhood center on the Lang property, which in effect will free up classroom space from those surrounding elementary schools—Derby Ridge, Parkade, Blue Ridge—and bring those teachers under one roof for collaboration and gain some efficiency there. But then it’s like building a new elementary school for half the cost.”

Veto:“With the achievement gap serving as kind of a hot-button issue, could you first discuss how large of a problem you believe it is here in Columbia?”

King:“We are tackling a lot of these issues at the elementary level. We’re committed to keeping class sizes, kindergarten through second, at a lower class size, especially in our Title I buildings, because we know, kids who come from poverty, if they’re behind, in those early grades, we need to intervene sooner rather than later. We’ve gotten some more teachers trained on reading recovery, which is a very—I believe it’s first grade, and they basically intervene and give intervention to those kids, basically like the six to eight furthest behind on reading, and really work with them day in, day out to get them caught up with their peers.”

Veto:“What major challenges do you think the district will be facing in the coming years?”

King:“If we don’t pass the bond and tax levy, we’ll have huge issues financially, and also with our buildings. Most of our buildings are over 50 years old. Assuming this passes, which I’m very hopeful that it will, then I think that some of our issues as we move forward are we really have to make sure that our teachers, our community members and our parents know the importance of any child that is not where they need to be on grade level, especially reading by third grade.”

Those are just small portions of the interviews with the candidates. Follow the links below to listen and read the excerpts from the interviews with Rex Cone and Paul Cushing that aired in last week’s Exam; or to watch videos of the full-length interviews with all four of the candidates.

The polls open are open from 6 in the morning till 7 at night on Tuesday.