The eight candidates vying for two spots on the Parkway School Board discussed issues surrounding budgets, teachers, safety, sports and test scores at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters Monday night.
Held at Parkway South Middle School, the forum lasted two hours as the candidates fielded questions proposed by the in-person audience and one watching via a live video stream on the district’s website.
Patch has provided a summary their responses to a few of the many questions answered by the candidates in order to give voters a sense of where they stand on some important educational issues.
For even more detail on the candidates, Patch will be publishing profiles of each individual as the election draws closer. This will give them a chance to introduce their background and beliefs and answer a set of questions, including those posed by Patch readers.
Editor's Note: For the remainder of this article candidate Sam Sciortino (incumbent) will be referred to as SS; Jenifer A. Clifton as JC; Tom Applebaum (incumbent) will be TA; Daniel P. Brodsky will be DB; Debbie Hopper will be DH; Brad Williams will be BW; Ken Eigenberg will be KE; and Diane Finnestead will be DF. The candidates' names will appear on the April ballot in the order here. At the forum, the League of Women Voters ensured the sequence for which candidates answered each question was rotated. The responses will be offered in that same sequence.
How would you effectively manage district resources? What would you cut if you had to?
DH: Cuts should be kept far away from the children as possible. Generally, there is always a way to find more efficiencies.
BW: You could cut supplemental reading instructors. They generally have higher level graduate degrees and are therefore higher on the payscale.
Classroom teachers are also certified in reading and reading comprehension, so we would try and utilize our existing resources so we can allocate current resources appropriately.
KE: First, every dollar that we spend must be aligned to support the district mission. Second, we ought to involve stakeholders and find out what the community values. Third, there are some things that we just have to meet the obligations for that are statutory.
DF: I think that Parkway is very rich in the resource of alumni and business partners. in-kind and philanthropic donations. It's an area that can be expanded.
SS: 90 percent of our budget is personnel related. The most important part of protecting that budget is our teachers in the classroom, which we should never reduce and we should maintain the class sizes that we do have.
Operating budgets are a small piece, but there are some areas that we can cut from time to time.
JC: Prioritize. We would examine each area for opportunities to first make an efficient use of resources. Make sure these cuts are from areas that have the least impact on student achievement and success.
TA: We are experiencing some efficiencies currently. The CNG buses will save the district $250k a year. The solar PVs will save the district over a million dollars over the life of the agreement.
The vast bulk of our cuts are staffing, so you have to ask teachers, custodians, anyone you can to find, what are the most efficient staffing models.
DB: We can look to see where this is any duplication between schools and if facilities can be shared for functions that have similar purposes/
I would propose a program called Parkway Points. It would involve people in the district going to the local merchants who have signed up for the program. They would get points when they purchase products at those merchants and derive revenue for Parkway in the process.
Should teachers be armed? How do we go about protecting kids in school?
BW: We need to find ways to maximize on our already existing resources and allow the district to function safely.
As a former state firearms instructor and NRA distinguished member, the last thing we need to do is arm our teachers. The teachers need to maintain their roles as educators and not security officers
KE: Armed security should be in the hands of armed professionals. Some improvements could be made, training staff in crisis intervention, expanding school resource officer program and investigate the feasibility of automated lockdown systems.
DF: I believe in a commitment to mental health and the supporter of those who need help with mental issues and emotional disturbances.
I applaud Parkway for becoming involved as a leader with Character+. This helps our students now that they are safe emotionally and also physically within our schools.
SS: We have a responsibility to create a safe environment. I know the district has taken outstanding measures to cause that to happen and will continue to do it in the future.
Also important is keeping our students safe within the schools. The emotional well-being of our students needs to be monitored closely. We need to provide a nurturing, positive climate within our schools.
JC: I want my children to be as safe at school as they are at my home. As a board member, I would want to see our district take responsible measures to see that we do this.
I believe school security is a local issue. The board needs to evaluate all options and consider input from all stakeholders.
TA: Some of it is a matter of policy, such as the SRO program, partnerships with local police, higher visibility and making sure schools are secure in regards to who can exit and enter them.
You also have to look at social emotional learning aspects. I think Parkway is leading the charge at looking at the student holistically and being able to address issues such as bullying.
DB: I came to the candidacy out of a desire to improve school security. We as a school board are not a legislative body, it's hopeless for us to debate whether we could arm teachers or not arm teachers because it's simply not part of our function.
I'm approaching it from the mental health approach with a proposal called Parkway Community. It's a program that would involve students, siblings and parents being involved in fostering a community for our students.
DH: I do not agree with arming teachers in our schools. That is not their job, we need to leave it up to the people who take that on as their profession.
Good to see district officials collaborating with first responders in the district to help keep our schools safe as we possibly can. They have taken additional measures and I've seen them in my son's school.
Do you feel it was a wise choice to build half-million dollar football stadiums instead of renovating science departments?
TA: We passed a bond issue and we told people this money was going to be set aside to put in turf. When you find out how much more these kinds of fields can be utilized, it's actually not a bad investment. The field can have all kinds of other events without having to worry about whether it's game ready.
DB: I am a big proponent of science myself, but these days school districts are driven by sports just like society is driven by sports. If a stadium can help us derive more revenue for the school district, than it is a wise expenditure.
DH: I attended one of the board meetings where this was discussed, and I understand why the reasons we have to have some of our sports fields in the best condition possible. It ends up costing more money to constantly replace and upkeep [a grass field].
Parkway has improved some of the science resources that they have as well. At the elementary schools in particular, the science curriculum is becoming very hands on based.
BW: I can understand the need for having new facilities to promote community involvement. On the same note, I understand the need for a strong science program because I would like to see the district generate more STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) students.
KE: It's a good investment. Over the life of the fields, it's going to save money.
The thing I have noticed at South high is that programs who before wouldn't have been allowed to set foot on the football field now have good facilities to play their games, like ladies lacrosse. They use it regularly, same for the band.
DF: I have seen the beautiful new wing at Parkway South for their science department. It is impressive. However, football and science aside, I will tell you I wish the money had been spent on the arts, but on the board, we don't get to make personal decisions. It would be by consensus. It would have to take into consideration all the stakeholders and I would do just that.
SS: There are good reasons to have turf fields. It serves the community and the programs that we have, and not only athletics. It also helps with maintenance costs over the years.
We have some start of the art science facilities at our high schools. They really serve the needs of our students and it will improve our STEM program for the future.