Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

Boundaries, school sizes dominate board forum

March 15, 2007

At last week's candidate forum, everyone running for school board agreed they are committed to quality education. They differed in how to reach that goal.

Thursday night eight candidates for seats on the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education debated growth issues, bonds, curriculum and fiscal responsibility. Recent growth throughout the district and a failed bond issue has created many questions for the candidates. A big issue for Position 2 candidate Bob Dyche has been boundaries. He said his two sons attending De Soto schools make this district a vested interest for him for the next 14 years.

"My two kids have been personally affected by boundary changes," Dyche said. "If we want the boundaries for Mill Valley to stay the same it's going to have to increase in size."

Candidates Tim Blankenship and Jim Thomas called for community involvement in determining school sizes. Long-time incumbent Sandra Thierer said the board has heard from the public that they want smaller, local schools.

"There are a lot of schools east of Highway 7 but here are a lot of people there," Thierer said. "Those schools should hold all the students in that area and I consider those boundaries to be set."

Position 1 incumbent Rick Walker was especially concerned about maintaining a high school in De Soto. Blankenship said long-range planning would be the key to solving growth issues.

While every candidate agreed on keeping class sizes small, opinions differed on school size. Current board president Don Clark reiterated his stance of a maximum size for a high school of 1,300 students. Thomas suggested smaller than that.

"Research from the Gates Foundation has said the ideal size of a high school is around 1,000," Thomas said.

Both William Fletcher and Bob Dyche said they were open to larger schools if population density and community involvement suggested they were necessary. Position 7 candidate Kevin Straub said he didn't understand why high school class size was such a big issue.

"Kids go to college and they have 500 students in an English class or science lab," Straub said. "Is there something magic about that six months that means they can handle large class sizes?"

Straub also encouraged the board to be more fiscally responsible, by looking at how an item improves a student's education before it is purchased. Fletcher suggested a business manager needed to be hired to oversee problems such as cost overruns on building projects.

Fiscal responsibility is also important to Clark. He said, as a financial planner, he works with taxes and interest rates often.

"Two years ago, we literally refinanced our bonds at the best time as far as interest rates," Clark said.

Straub disagreed, saying that the district was more interested in having beautiful schools than quality education.

"People are going to say I'm the bad guy because I'm all about money," Straub said. "But this board can't keep spending money like it is."

When asked about the district's most important issue, Thierer said in the upcoming years, it wouldn't be growth or taxes.

"For those of us who have been working with No Child Left Behind, we know every child has to be proficient in a few years," Thierer said. "The law makes no account for children with disabilities or English language learners."

Walker agreed that the NCLB program should be based more on individual achievement instead of schoolwide progress. Walker noted that as a part of the current board he helped plan out a curriculum to meet the goals and keep achievement high. Dyche said he would like to improve academics.

"I would love to be in a district that brings home lots of academic awards," Dyche said. "We've got lots of trophy cases at the district office right now that are full of nothing."

The best way to improve achievement, Blankenship said, would be to attract and hire quality teachers.

Thomas said the goal is to encourage not only academic, but also personal achievement.

"We forget the most important thing is that we're teaching a child to be a contributing member of society," Thomas said.

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