Three candidates running for the Kirkwood School Board answered questions on a variety of topics from residents at a public forum Monday night at North Kirkwood Middle. At the forum, organized by the League of Women Voters, over 80 people showed up to ask their candidates their stance on several issues, ranging from sex education to budget cuts, to half-day kindergarten, among other topics.
The candidates present were Sara King, Scott Anderson and incumbent Andy Stewart. Candidate Hamid R. Hamrah, whose name is on the ballot, announced in February that he was withdrawing his candidacy for the school board. His name, however, will remain on the ballot.
Attendees filled out pieces of paper with questions. The questions were given to the moderator from the League of Women Voters. Each candidate had a minute to respond.
(Watch a video of the entire forum here)
On the topic of raising taxes for residents of the district, the three candidates said there is a possibility the board will need to increase taxes in the future. Anderson, who is chairman of the Kirkwood School District’s revenue committee, said the district had a slightly declining revenue. Anderson said he applauded the board for holding expenses down.
“But I am concerned that over time we are going to have to go back to tax payers for more revenue,” Anderson said.
King said she would like to have a more clear understanding about how the tax payer’s money is being spent.
“You have to really look at where the money needs to be spent and where we can cut costs and save before we come back to the tax payers for an increase.”
Stewart said he is hopeful the economy will turn around and the property values will increase so the district has more revenue to work with.
“If that doesn’t happen, it will be incumbent upon the school board and the administration to find ways to cut costs,” Stewart said. “We have cut several million dollars over the last few years and in addition to that we have slowed down an increase on teacher and administrator’s salaries, so we have been actively trying to find ways to cut costs.”
One of the residents asked how the school district should deal with the teaching of sex education in the schools.
Anderson said said some of the discussion should be left up to the students’ families, but also said he the school needs to be a place where sex education is taught.
“Those types of conversations need to happen,” Anderson said. “I support the notion that we need to drive those kinds of discussions among our kids. They are certainly talking about it among their own.”
King said there needed to be discussion between the parents and teachers so both sides were informed about what the children were being taught in school.
“Involve them (parents) as much as possible in the decision of how to approach that topic,” King said.
Stewart said not all families discuss the topic at home, so it is necessary that the school offers students the “underlying information needed.”
Half day kindergarten
Last year, the board of education approved free, full-day kindergarten for students in the district. Since then, a portion of residents have asked the board to include half day kindergarten for parents who feel it is more beneficial for their children.
Anderson said half day kindergarten could be offered in the school district, but not enough parents have expressed their interest in order to make it financially feasible.
“I believe in the decision on full day kindergarten and I think it was the right decision for the district,” Anderson said.
King, who has been vocal about her support for half day kindergarten, said she thought the school district rushed through the decision of offering full-day kindergarten. King also said parents should have a variety of choices for what would be better for their children.
“I don’t think that a one-size fits all for children is the best solution,” King said.
Stewart reiterated that the district is willing to offer a half day kindergarten but that there were not enough parents who expressed their interest in it.
“I support the half day, but there is just not enough interest,” Stewart said. “In the long term, our kids will benefit from our offering of full-day kindergarten.”
An important forum
Over 16 topics were discussed throughout the forum in nearly an hour. Moderator Kathleen Farrell, co-president of the St. Louis chapter of the League of Women Voters, said she felt it was a great success and hopes more people attend public forums with their candidates.
“You get to ask the candidates your questions and they have to answer to you,” she said. “When you read a pamphlet, you can’t do that.”