Seven School Board candidates express views at public forum

Quincy School Board candidates, from left, front, Jamie Foster, Richard Jones, Bobette Cawthon; back, Sayeed Ali, Sheldon Bailey, Richard McNay, and Kenneth Rollie Platt. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Mar. 26, 2013 10:57 pm Updated: Apr. 9, 2013 11:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Seven of the eight candidates in the April 9 Quincy School Board election expressed views on a variety of subjects at Tuesday night’s public forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Adams County.

The eighth candidate, Ronnie McKenzie, did not show up.

The seven who took part — Bobette Cawthon, Richard Jones, Jamie Foster, Rollie Platt, Richard McNay, Sheldon Bailey and Sayeed Ali — tended to agree more than they disagreed on most the 11 questions tossed out by a news media panel and audience members in Quincy University’s North Campus auditorium.

Most of the candidates said they would favor restructuring the district’s attendance centers to put grades K-5 in elementary schools, 6-8 at Quincy Junior High and 9-12 at Quincy High School.

However, several questioned whether the district would be able to afford such a move.

All of the candidates indicated they would be willing, but reluctant, to cut into extracurricular activities if the School Board had to make budget cuts.

Platt said he would cut extracurriculars “as a last resort” because he knows from 32 years of coaching how important those activities are in building well-roundedness in students. “There are so many things that happen educationally in a team sport or in a music activity or in a play that’s put on,” Platt said.

Jones said if the board had to make cuts in extracurricular activities because of budget concerns, “you should cut them all” in fairness.

“That music program, that art program, or that football player or basketball player — each one of those programs is important to those children,” he said. “How can you say one is more important than another?”

Cawthon was the only candidate to speak out against the School Board’s decision last year to ask voters to approve a $6.2 million working cash bond issue. Voters ultimately approved the issue, which provided $2.2 million to erase the Education Fund deficit and another $4 million to provide a reserve in the district’s checkbook for when the district runs short of money because of delays in receiving state reimbursements.

“We borrowed $6.2 million, and we only needed $2.2 million. So now we have $4 million sitting there in a fund and we didn’t need it at the time,” she said. “So I feel maybe the public was misled, and I don’t appreciate those kinds of things happening.”

The other candidates, however, felt this was a “successful action” on the district’s part.

“It was the right move,” Ali said, echoing the sentiments of others.

The candidates were generally in agreement that many students would benefit from an extended school year to help prevent students from losing so much ground academically over the summer months.

“For those students who are especially struggling, if you go through three summer months or 2 1/2 summer months and you aren’t reading, and then it’s time to come back to school and you haven’t read, you’re going to be really behind students who have read,” Bailey said.

The candidates generally agreed the district’s test scores could be better and expressed hope that the introduction of Common Core educational standards will lead to gains.

“There’s definitely room for improvement,” McNay said. “We have to get those test scores up.”

Some candidates were divided on whether the School Board made the right decision last year when it rejected a proposal to let all students at five schools receive free breakfasts and lunches — regardless of their family’s income level.

“It was a horrible decision,” Foster said, noting how the program would have assured every child in those schools would have received adequate nutrition — a concern considering the district’s high poverty rate.

Foster said it was “a mistake” for the board to turn its back on a federal program that would have netted the district an additional $39,000 while providing free meals to many Quincy students.

Cawthon disagreed, saying the federal program “was going to give free meals to every child, whether they were underprivileged or not.”

“I do not want to let any child go hungry,” she said. “But if someone is able to pay for a meal and they are making a ton of money ... I don’t feel like those people deserve to have their children get a free meal on the government’s dime.”