The League of Women Voters of St. Louis sponsored the Parkway School Board candidate forum Monday night. Three candidates are running for the Parkway Board of Education's two open seats on the April 3 ballot.
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The candidates, in order of filing and as their names will appear on the ballot, are:
Feldman and Appelbaum each have two children attending Parkway schools, while Casteel, a retired teacher, had two children who attended Parkway as well. For more information and bios on the candidates, visit the board of education page on the Parkway website.
Monday's forum at allowed candidates to present their views and address questions from the public. The forum was put on by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters.
Despite a low turn out, candidates took questions by audience members and moderator Norma Jean Downey. Downey is a retired teacher who worked in Parkway.
The will have some tough decisions
Among the issues addressed were the current lawsuit involving transfer students from unaccredited schools, budget cuts and issues facing the Parkway School District.
Parkway Accepting Transfer Students From Unaccredited St. Louis Schools -
All three candidates said they do not oppose accepting new students as long as students who are district residents are not negatively impacted with larger class sizes.
"We're not opposed at all to taking kids," Feldman said. She also said if is not adjusted and class sizes increase, she believes there will be more lawsuits filed by one or more school districts.
"I do not anticipate Parkway taking any legal action. Some of the smaller districts will feel the impact much more than a district our size," Feldman stated to Patch in an email.
Appelbaum and Casteel agreed with Feldman that there is no opposition to accepting students as long as class size remains the same. Casteel said the district is in the process of forming a policy to keep class sizes low.
What are the hard choices being made as far as budget cuts?
"We're trying to make as many cuts that do no affect children," Feldman said. However, she pointed out that people also lost their jobs as a result. "I know we are elected to do an important job and we have to keep our emotions out of it."
"We have the challenge of reducing seven to nine million dollars. We are well on our way to doing that and doing it responsibly and fiscally," Casteel said. "I do not believe that it will hurt the students at all. They will still get the education and materials that students need to make them academically successful."
"As long as it doesn't affect the kids' education, that's the main thing," Appelbaum said. "Even though there are budget cuts and people are concerned about the teachers and the specialists, there will still be close monitoring,"
Greatest Challenges Facing Parkway
"One of the greatest challenges right that now Parkway faces is the Missouri legislature," Casteel said. "Public education is for everyone and I think the Missouri legislature needs to take a look at what its doing to hurt school districts in our area."
Applebaum said the budget is the greatest issue.
"I think the biggest problem facing our district is the unknown," Feldman said, citing future enrollment, funding and the Turner v Clayton lawsuit.
Areas Where Parkway Needs to Improve
Casteel said the district needs to focus on Project Parkway and making sure the children receive the best education possible.
Applebaum said she's concerned about all of the same schools teaching the same subjects and would be interested in allowing kids to have online courses available and flex time for students.
Feldman said the biggest challenge is the district's relationship with the Special School District. She said there needs to a more consistent and better relationship and communication between Parkway and SSD.
About 600 SSD employees work for the district, Feldman said, but the district doesn't evaluate them because they are not Parkway employees.
"I think the relationship between Special School District and Parkway needs some bonding and strengthening," Feldman said. "I think we all need to grow and I am excited about the direction we are heading."
Thoughts on Tuition Free Full-Day Kindergarten
All three candidates support the district's decision to offer full-day kindergarten and believe it is a huge advantage for the children that puts all children on a level playing field.
Casteel said the kindergarten enrollment numbers also support the decison for the district offering full-day kindergarten.
Will Parkway Keep Fern Ridge Alternative School Open
Applebaum said she is unsure of the school's future, but is sure the board will do what is best for the kids as it makes future budget cuts.
Feldman said there are no plans to close Fern Ridge and that it is an asset to the district and the students.
Casteel said the "system" is being evaluated in an effort to make it better.
Charter Schools Being Expanded Outside of St. Louis and Kansas City (An option currently in the MO legislation)
Although Appelbaum said she did not know enough about the issue to accurately address it, Casteel and Feldman both said the schools need more supervision to be affective.
"Most of them are extremely unsuccessful and they don't get the oversight that they need," Feldman said. "I think that if the purpose of the charter school is to improve the education of our children, I feel the charter school right now is doing our children a disservice."
"They're helpful in some ways, but as far as oversight and monitoring the kids and how they are doing, I have to disagree with them," Casteel added.
Election day is April 3.
*Editors Note: This article was update to reflect Beth Feldman's opinion that if is not adjusted and class sizes increase, she believes there will be more lawsuits filed by one or more school districts.